Idris Elba: Hollywood erased stories of black soldiers from Second World War

idris elba: hollywood erased stories of black soldiers from second world war

Erased: WW2's Heroes of Colour, directed and produced by Idris Elba, tells the forgotten stories of black soldiers who fought in the Second World War - DISNEY

Hollywood has erased the stories of black soldiers in the Second World War and saturated screens with white troops’ heroics, Idris Elba has said.

The Luther actor, 51, is currently researching the history of his own grandfather who fought for the United States and was stationed in Burma during the conflict, before later emigrating to Ghana.

“There’s this particular story that hasn’t been told, which is the idea that the war was populated with people of colour and you just really never saw that, ever,” he told The Telegraph.

Elba said the camera had been “deliberately” shifted away from focusing on Allied soldiers of colour and said their contributions had been wiped from the history books.

He made the comments while promoting his upcoming National Geographic documentary series Erased: World War II Heroes of Colour.

idris elba: hollywood erased stories of black soldiers from second world war

Elba has been researching the story of his own grandfather who fought in the war and was stationed in Burma - NBC

The four-part series, narrated and produced by Elba, highlights the contributions and sacrifices of soldiers like the all-black 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion and the 761st Tank Battalion.

The 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion stormed the French beaches of Utah and Omaha on D-Day, and the 761st Tank Battalion – more commonly known as the Black Panthers – received around 300 Purple Hearts for their heroism in the “Battle of the Bulge”.

Elba, who starred in HBO’s The Wire, said: “I am just fascinated by storytelling that’s definitely evident in my life and career choices.

“I like to tell stories, you know [I’ve] dabbled in telling factual and fiction.

“This story really gripped me, the understanding of World War Two from a different perspective was fascinating to me.

“There was an untold story in all the hours and hours, and pages and pages of literature and film and documentaries you’ve seen of World War Two.

“There’s this particular story that hasn’t been told, which is the idea that the war was populated with people of colour and you just really never saw that, ever.

“You just never saw it, on D-Day, Dunkirk, all those, Pearl Harbour, you never saw a depiction of anyone but just white soldiers, and that was fascinating to me.”

idris elba: hollywood erased stories of black soldiers from second world war

Frank Bland and his wife Irene Bland hold a portrait of Frank's father, George Bland, one of the soldier's featured in the new series - NELSON ADEOSUN/DISNEY

When asked why there hadn’t been a mainstream focus on such soldiers, he said: “It was systematically not documented or erased from the history books, the most heroic moments were favoured and retold and retold.

“But the stories of black and brown soldiers were never highlighted.

“In fact, which is why we called the show ‘Erased’, they were erased from view, erased from telling, not in reality because these people, some of whom are still alive, some of their families, their legacies are still alive.

“But the camera was shifted away from them almost deliberately. So that’s why I think these stories aren’t well known.”

Elba said it was for this very reason he was struggling to find much detail about his own grandfather on his mother’s side.

“I would have loved to have had my granddad’s memoirs, you know. Where he was, where he was going, what he was doing, and what was his decision making like”.

Stephen Woodson, whose father Cpl Waverly B Woodson served with the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion as a combat medic, said the documentary helped him understand the hardship his father had endured

“He was truly a heroic man and would do anything for his fellow man.”

The series will be released on National Geographic at 8pm on Monday 27 May, a week and half before the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

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