Idris Elba has said the motorsports industry needs to follow in the footsteps of the film world by working to better represent the diversity in society if it wishes to “secure its future in an ever-changing world”.
The Hollywood star, 49, has launched a new initiative, called Speed Academy, with Total Karting Zero which aims to discover and nurture young motorsports talent from underrepresented communities.
Elba, who is a self-confessed “car nut” and has previously participated in rally car series, explained there is a “narrow entry point” into motorsports due to expenses and opportunity but hopes the scheme can highlight that there are “pockets of talent everywhere”.
Elba told the PA news agency: “I think it’s important to improve, the future is diverse there’s no doubt about it. It’s a statistical fact that the world is becoming more and more diverse.
“It’s just the nature of evolution and so if motorsports want to represent that evolution in any way, they need to plant those seeds now.
“It’s the same in my industry of filmmaking. For a long time the television did not look like the world that it represents, it was very skewed to a certain type.
“And there had to be an exodus of thought around how we shift that and it stemmed from the actors and the casting to the storyteller and the productions.
“And you look at television now, you look at casting, it’s a wider spectrum of our human race.”
He emphasised how this has improved the reach of the film and television industry, adding: “So for the motor industry to secure its future in an ever-changing world it needs to follow suit a little bit.”
The Luther actor said he wants his new scheme to help improve representation in motorsports as he feels that “just because you come from a certain background doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have an opportunity to enter certain industries”.
To launch the initiative, Elba put out an open call to find future racing talent aged six to 16 from unrepresented communities, offering a chance for them to race to win long-term Speed Academy scholarships.
Hundreds of applicants responded and they were narrowed down to 29 young people who went head to head at the 2022 SABIC E-Prix race held at ExCeL in London over the weekend.
Nine young people were chosen to receive the development scholarships and ongoing training, with the majority of recipients being young female racers and one aspiring engineer.
Elba said he thinks providing opportunities like this is a “gamechanger” adding: “One of those kids might end up driving a Formula E car in 10 years, five years, who knows, but at least the opportunity was given to an area that hasn’t had that before.”
The actor also reflected on the “massive impact” seeing representation in your industry can have as he recalled how a visit to his school in Newham from The Full Monty actor Paul Barber “changed his life”.
“He was tangible proof that you can be from a community like ours, where it’s majority black and brown people, and you could end up like Paul.
“And he sat in a room and said, ‘Listen, you might not take drama seriously now but I made a good living out of it and I’m enjoying it and it’s a great career’.
“It changed my life because I was like ‘Wow it’s actually possible. Look at this guy he’s just like me’.”
Elba said he plans to expand the initiative into more communities and then wants to find a way to replicate the programme in different countries.