Maybe Idris Elba will play a lawyer in the movies, but he’s not one for real, no matter how sexy he is. That didn’t stop him from parroting the same simplistic slogan that cops have used forever to persuade people from refusing to consent.
British actor and 2018 “sexiest man alive” Idris Elba recently told The Sunday Times that the #MeToo movement is “only difficult if you’re a man with something to hide.” Vanity Fair contrasted Elba’s uncompromising stance with remarks made by Matt Damon and Henry Cavill, who both had to walk back their criticisms of #MeToo’s potential excesses and their perceived sympathy for accused men.
The appeal of the simplistic is undeniable. Short. Pithy. The sort of “answer” anyone, no matter how mind-numbingly shallow, can grasp.
Valerie Jarrett and Shonda Rhimes tweeted praise for Elba. Essence said his answer was “perfect.”
Riding high after being floated as the next James Bond, which he rejected because Aston Martins weren’t sexy enough, it’s understandable that Elba would want to firmly establish his bona fides as the guy women can get the hots for without feeling like traitors to the cause. But his “perfect” answer was, well, a little too perfect.
Is #MeToo only a problem for men who have something to hide? I doubt Aziz Ansari—who was smeared in the pages of babe.net because of a bad date involving some misinterpreted cues—would agree. Or Stephen Henderson, the first black editor of The Detroit Free Press‘ opinion pages, who lost his job for vaguely-defined inappropriate behavior that had generated zero complaints. (My colleague Shikha Dalmia called this a clear case of #MeToo run amok.)
Whether Elba will nail the role of H.L. Mencken remains unknown, but as much as his simplistic solution to #MeToo, “only difficult if you’re a man with something to hide.” is palpably nonsensical, it’s exactly what the unduly passionate want to hear from a celebrity.
But the irony is that this sort of assertion is the one lawyers have fought against for decades from the police, who play on fear to overcome sound judgment and overcome an individual’s will.
Elba’s comment mirrors language we often hear from conservatives who defend the national security state, the TSA, the PATRIOT Act, and other incursions on civil liberties: You have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide. It’s an attempt to shut down legitimate criticism of well-intended but recklessly illiberal policies by making it seem like the only reason to oppose them is fear of getting caught.
Contemporaneous with this #MeToo pandering are the TrumpLaw cries on matters such as the “perjury trap,” where the sides flipped wildly when it was raised in defense of Michael Flynn and the cries were heard across social media that there’s no such thing, as long as people just “tell the truth.” The cognitive dissonance is enough to give you whiplash.
It’s hard to blame Elba for saying what he did. He’s got a brand to protect in troubling times, and who is at greater risk than the sexiest man alive? It’s almost begging for someone to come out of the woodwork and complain that he was a lousy date, or had a flaccid moment, or uttered a word years ago that sounded remarkably familiar to one that is taboo as of yesterday. Let’s face it, when you’re atop the pedestal, there is always someone trying to knock you off.
But Elba’s statement is utter nonsense, not that an actor would have any reason to know better. It’s not his job to think deeply, be intellectually honest or advise people on how they should conduct their lives. His job is to act, and to not get burned at the stake in an industry rife with progressive rapists. His job is to survive. But make no mistake, his advice is dumb and wrong, and exactly the sort of simplistic tripe that will end up harming others.
And there is no sexier car than the Aston Martin DB5.