Idris Elba – 2 Female Writers Say They Were Removed From His Production With No Credit, Worked On Play For 4 Years
Two female writers are sharing their experience of working with Idris Elba. And it’s safe to say, according to them, it wasn’t the best experience. Sarah Henley and Tori Allen-Martin wrote an open letter and say they were booted from a play, Tree, that’s presented by Elba and director and playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah. The project debuted at the Manchester International Festival last year and is gearing up for its next run in London. It’s slated for shows July 29 – August 29. And Henley and Allen-Martin said to their surprise, they aren’t credited in the play, despite creating the entire concept and working on it for four years before being pushed out.
They claimed in their letter they were “bullied and silenced.” They accuse the producers of the play of trying to bribe them with money.
“For us it’s been devastating proof of the way doors are shut on women, and on the underdogs. We became completely disposable because we’re not famous or important enough. We were expected to shut up, lie down, and take it.”
The concept was created in 2013 after Allen-Martin collaborated with Elba on his mi Mandela album that September. Two years later, he suggested Allen-Martin create an idea for a musical that would use the music from the project. That’s when the idea of Tree was first born. Allen-Martin then brought Henley into the project. For the next three years, the ladies worked closely with Elba but things went left when Kwei-Armah was brought on board in May 2018. That’s when things went let. They said he made it obvious he had,
“clear intention to write the piece.”
He also wanted to direct it.
“On the 18th October Idris and Kwame filmed a promo shoot for MIF & YV production. We were unaware of this happening until we found out via Kwame’s Instagram.”
“Also on that day, there was a phone call out of the blue from Idris to Tori to say he was sending over a revised synopsis by Kwame, and that he had only just seen it himself. We were a bit confused as to why Kwame would be writing a synopsis. When the email came later that day, in the cover letter at the top it had Kwame’s clear intention to write the piece stating ‘when I sit to write the first draft…’. This was very surprising to us after what he had told us when we met. A quiet panic set in.”
They added that he kept many focal points of the play
“including the premise, timelines, and time-zones, most of our characters and their relationships to each other and many of the plot points.
But changed other vital parts.
“In our opinion, our story of hope and celebration had become more of a black trauma narrative and it had been politicized in a way we weren’t happy with, with certain race issues (including a character based on Tori’s mixed ethnicity) contorted in a way we felt was detrimental to the show and the way mixed ethnicity is viewed as a result.”
On October 29 the project was announced without their names. They were given an offer to write a new draft of the play based on Kwei-Armah’s changes. They would have also had to agree to not get any recognition or credit, and basically be ghostwriters.
They were officially fired in November.
“We had been kept in the dark for months whilst the project moved forward, and had repeatedly responded as promptly as possible, as well as trying to speak to Kwame directly to see if we could find a resolution, which was denied.”
While Elba hasn’t released a statement, his Green Door Pictures along with the Young Vic and the MIF said they were “deeply saddened” to read the article. They added they were
“passionate about supporting and nurturing emerging talent within the creative industry from the widest variety of backgrounds”
They said they were
“committed to ensuring fair representation on stage and behind the scenes.”
They recognized that the ladies were a part of
“exploring ideas for a project based on Idris’ original concept.”
But also said,
“The fact of the matter is that MIF and Green Door did not feel their proposed direction was artistically viable,” they wrote. “It was decided by these producers that the show needed to go in a very different direction with a new writer attached, using Idris Elba’s original concept as the starting point.”
Kwei-Armah also tweeted a response.
What are your thoughts about this situation? Let us know in the comments.