Historically speaking, the music industry has always been a highly competitive and implicitly unfair industry. Musicians must not only rely on talent and voice to make their mark but also on looks and overall image. Singers may have the right vocal range and overall voice to create amazing music but fall flat in what’s currently in demand.
In an upcoming docuseries, commissioned with the Canadian Broadcasting Centre (CBC) and British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), actor Idris Elba and his wife Sabrina Elba uncover racism in the music industry with their docuseries, Paid in Full: The Battle for Payback.
Elba is one of the very few actors to publicly challenge what many know but fail to discuss or combat in the industry. He was first upfront about racial injustice in the industry when he publicly stated in an interview that he wanted to be acknowledged as only an actor rather than a Black actor. According to Esquire UK, Elba stated, “I stopped describing myself as a Black actor when I realized it put me in a box.” Elba stated this in reference to the limitations he felt skin color put on his career. Despite the disdain he received from fans on social media and the need to defend himself, Elba’s words spoke volumes.
In this docuseries, racism in the music industry is examined, specifically how the industry exploits Black artists. Elba’s previous words regarding disassociating himself with the Black label makes a profound statement as to how Blacks are viewed in entertainment, thus proving his rationale for producing this docuseries correct.
The music industry’s treatment of Black artists
There’s no doubt that there are many successful Black artists. From modern and more mainstream artists like Beyoncé, and Lizzo, to classics like Aretha Franklin, and Lionel Richie, many Black musicians have worked hard to make a name for themselves in the music industry.
Despite the success of many Black musicians today, there has always been a musical divide. Historically, Black artists often don’t get the credit they deserve, especially for their contributions to jazz, rock and roll, and even country music. Even today, Black artists still are seeking respect.
In 2020, Rolling Stone did a piece on racism in the music industry and detailed how Black artists are often kicked out of spaces that are socially accepted as white. For example, when Lil Nas X’s hit single, “Old Town Road” became a sensation, it quickly got kicked off of Billboard’s Hot Country Songs. Meanwhile, when white artists emerge in music spaces that are commonly Black, like hip hop/rap and R&B, they face less criticism.
Exploitation in the industry
What’s unique about Elba’s docuseries is it delves into not only present-day but the history of how Black artists were treated in society. Paid in Full serves as an exposé on the racism present in the industry. This docuseries is set to explore the lack of accountability taken by industry professionals to ensure that Black musicians are rightfully compensated financially.
Exploitation plays a huge part in the music industry’s treatment of Black artists. Black musicians are often not properly accredited for their work or even recognized for their contributions to the industry. Elvis Presley’s musical career can be used as an example. Presley often sought inspiration for his music from Black artists and performers he saw at Black music clubs. Despite his influence stemming from Black musicians, Presley himself has been coined the King of Rock & Roll.
What purpose does this docuseries serve?
Generations of inequality and prejudice need to be up for discussion rather than swept under the rug. The importance of Elba’s docuseries is it challenges the status quo. This production also asks the big questions regarding how Black people are treated in the industry and how we as a society can shoot for equality and make amends for years of loss. This production is not simply a music documentary but much more.
Elba’s series allows for the problem to be heard directly from the sources who reap the effects. Most importantly, with the problem being illustrated through this production, it would be irresponsible for the industry to not come up with a solution. Through his work, Elba examines what reparations are owed to Black artists who never got the recognition or paid the monetary value they deserved. Ultimately, Paid in Full highlights the issue of Black artists not being treated according to their worth in terms of compensation and recognition.
Hopefully, this docuseries will serve as an eye-opener for viewers to see what really occurs behind the scenes of the music industry and will also give a voice to those affected by the prejudice in music.
“This is a story that touches all of us. It’s about the people who created the soundtracks of our lives in popular music and the pain of their exploitation. It’s also about bringing the music industry to account for the injustice inflicted on generations of musical talents who have been deprived of their rightful rewards both financially and in terms of status and respect. At the heart of it is the need to make amends — granting acknowledgement and paying back what is due,” Elba explained in a recent statement according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Paid in Full: The Battle for Payback is set to premiere on the BBC and CBC networks.
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Beverly is a Technical Writer by profession who enjoys all things celebrity news and pop culture.