Idris Elba on why Second World War docuseries on black stories matters today

British actor Idris Elba has said the stories of black people who fought during the Second World War matter today from an “education” and “cultural appropriation perspective”.

The Luther star, 51, narrates the National Geographic documentary Erased: WW2’s Heroes Of Colour, which premieres ahead of the 80th anniversary of D-Day on June 6.

He told the PA news agency: “The importance is about the perspective of these wars and this part of the world and how history, if it’s slanted, can really leave out some important things to remember.

“It’s important to remember that black and brown soldiers were a very important part of strategising this war, populating the war, and that history really does matter.

“It matters from an educational perspective, it matters from a cultural appropriation perspective, and it matters that American troops were partly black.”

Elba said he was inspired by his “hero” grandfather who was born and raised in Kansas City before he was drafted to fight in the war.

“My granddad’s story is not in the film, but it’s in my heart,” he said.

Luther Photocall – London
Idris Elba narrates the series (Matt Crossick/PA)

“It’s something that my mum and I talk about, but we don’t know much about.”

The lack of knowledge available about his grandfather’s story motivated the actor when it came to making the series.

“It really did compel me and was part of the driver as to why we chose to tell these stories,” he said.

“My granddad is a hero to us. He’s a hero, not just because he fought in a war, but he’s a hero because he chose a better life for himself even after putting himself at risk for a country that didn’t recognise him on his return.”

Elba said his grandfather did not go back to the US after the war and instead ended up in West Africa.

The war series includes an episode that details the stories of the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion – the only all-black combat unit to fight on the D-Day beaches.

D-Day was the largest amphibious invasion in history, when the Allied forces landed on the coast in northern France in 1994.

The limited series additionally spotlights the forgotten troops who fought in Dunkirk, Pearl Harbour, and the Battle of the Bulge.

It serves to highlight how the experiences of black people in the Second World War inspired campaigns for freedom, including the civil rights movement in the US.

The first episode of Erased: WW2’s Heroes Of Colour will air on May 27 on National Geographic in the UK.