Chiwetel Ejiofor Urges Hollywood to Tell More Diverse Stories: 'It's Not Just About Numbers'
The Locked Down star feels the entertainment industry is "moving in the right direction" when it comes to including more diverse perspectives and creators in storytelling
In the two-plus decades since his big screen debut at age 19 in Steven Spielberg's Amistad, Chiwetel Ejiofor has carved out a successful and wide-ranging career. He's starred in more than 40 films, playing a variety of roles from a newlywed in Love Actually, to a drag queen in Kinky Boots, a sorcerer in Doctor Strange and the lead in 2013's 12 Years a Slave, for which he earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination.
"I've always felt very fortunate with the work that I've been able to do," Ejiofor, 43, tells PEOPLE in the latest issue. "Always wanted to try a lot of different things, and to put on a lot of different kinds of costumes."
The actor, who was born in London to Nigerian parents, says he's grateful for the opportunities he's had in the entertainment industry so far and is feeling hopeful about its future in pushing for more diverse and inclusive storytelling.
"What I think is really great is when the films being made are reflective of the world that you live in," he says. "It sounds like it's something that should be simple and straightforward and it's proved to be much harder to achieve.
"It's not just about numbers," he continues. "It's also about the nature of content. The nature of whose point of view is represented, and how. And whether that's accurate and whether it's empowering or not. It's moving in that direction."
Ejiofor's latest project is the dramedy Locked Down (now streaming on HBO Max), about a couple dealing with troubles in their personal and professional lives who spontaneously decide to steal millions. The film, co-starring Anne Hathaway and directed by Doug Liman (Mr. and Mrs. Smith), was written, filmed and released during the pandemic — and was a welcome distraction for Ejiofor.
For much more about Chiwetel Ejiofor, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday
"It gave me a little uplift, a morale boost," he says. "The twist is, in this pandemic, you can't even go to the theater or have a collective experience, and that's something we need as human beings."
Ejiofor, who was bit by the acting bug at age 13 while studying Shakespeare's Henry IV in English class, says he loves what he does for a living for the opportunities it provides him to get lost in different characters and different journeys.
"It's that thing when you fall into great literature, a great story, you feel a sense of peace because you're on somebody else's journey for a little while," he explains. "You're just hitching onto somebody else's thing. And it's showing you the world in a slightly different way.
"It's still the thing that is the most thrilling thing about the profession," he adds. "To get the opportunity to go into a different psyche, to see the world from a different viewpoint."
Locked Down is now available to stream on HBO Max.
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