Wednesday, 24 October 2012

James Bond: Could Idris Elba be the first Black 007; and why is that such a problem for some?

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So the internet has been awash with the rekindled (for many it never really unkindled (it’s a word!) rumours / hopes / fears that a black James Bond (That’s what he’d be called) is closer than you think. Not only that, but that Idris Elba is on the radar of the Bond films’ equivalent of M, producer Barbara Broccoli.

The We want Idris Elba for James Bond Facebook page currently stands at 20,735 likes; so this is not a small thing. There are of course many people, friends of mine included, who don’t believe that James Bond should ever be anything other than a white man. But with the character having changed height, hair colour, accent (technically nationality surely – ‘Scottish British’ to ‘English – British’)  not to mention being played by an Australian (George Lazenby), a Welshman (Timothy Dalton), a Scotsman (Sean Connery) and an Irishman (Pierce Brosnan), as well as two Englishmen (Daniel Craig and Roger Moore). But Bond himself is more than happy with the possible change.

In fact back in 2009 current Bond, Daniel Craig, said…
“… I think we might have reached the moment for a [non white] 007. I think the role could easily be played by a black actor, because the character created by Ian Fleming in the 50s has undergone a great deal of evolution and continues to be updated."”

So what would be a problem with a black Englishman (or from any other part of the U.K) playing Bond? Well not a lot really, but it would certainly be a problem for a number of people. The simple fact is some people simply just don’t like change; they also often don’t ‘understand’ how the films they ‘love’ work.  Here’s an example of an anti ‘Black Bond’ opinion…

“…I'm not sure how they would explain Bond suddenly becoming black. Idris is great and he'd make a great Bond, but at the same time I don't want them to recast the character as randomly having a change in skin colour, nor do I want them to reboot the series again to explain the skin colour change that way…”

Well, there’s nothing to explain. Every change in actor is effectively a partial restart/ reboot anyway. Sure, you call upon the character’s background, but Timothy Dalton is very clearly NOT Sean Connery, or Roger Moore; yet there’s no 2 minute aside where it is explained that Bond has been recovering from all over burns and broken bones, explaining his change in appearance and sudden lack of a Scottish accent. So why would you assume that this is any different. What, because he’s black he now has to have come up from ‘Da streets’, been raised in Tottenham on a council estate and only turned to the military and then spying after a promising career as a footballer for Arsenal was cut short by injury? No, Bond’s background would remain almost entirely intact. Not that there’s usually a need to get into Bond’s past in such detail, but that which makes the character who he  is, is not changed in any way by his skin colour. Being British (English really) is, loving his country is important. You merely have to look at Britain’s successful Olympic team from London 2012 (for example medalists Nicola Adams, Jessica Ennis, Mo Fara, Antony Joshua, Lutalo Muhammad, Anthony Ogogo, Christine Ohuruogu and Louis Smith) and you’ll quickly be reminded (or shown) that the idea of somebody being British Heart and soul, and having to be white is very, very outdated indeed. In fact perhaps the most representative, as showcased in Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony for London 2012, would be a mixed Race Bond.

So ask yourself, what is there about Bond, in the books you've read and/or the films that you have seen, that means his character only works if he is white? Tarzan may work on some levels, but you lose an awful lot if you change his colour; The Black Panther wouldn't work on any level if he was white and Prime Suspect becomes utterly pointless if the protagonist is a man. But Bond? English/British? Yes. Handsome, a lady killer? Yes Smooth and sophisticated? Yes? White? Why? What about him being a smart, deadly, slightly damaged, British ex-Military, well educated killing machine means he has to be white? In the 1960s maybe there’s an argument for it; there’s certainly an argument that he would be less useful as a covert operative at many of the Cold War antagonists; but those days are over and it is the 21st century?

Elba in a Guardian interview…
“So would you fancy a spin as the legendary superspy? "Who wouldn't like to play Bond?
Do I think it will happen? No, but I've got what it takes to do it. I can run around, flirt with ladies and drink. Plus I'm English."
As for the actual cause of the current debate; Skyfall star Naomie Harris told The Huffington Post…
“I didn't realise that there was this talk, and then I did a film with Idris, and he said that he met Barbara Broccoli…And that it does seem like there is a possibility in the future that there could very well be a black James Bond. And I would have to vote for Idris because I just finished working with him and he's a great guy."

…So, and of course there are no details here, it does seem that the owners of the James Bond films are open to the idea. There is little doubt that if this happened there would be a huge noise (not necessarily negative) in the press and this wish would go immensely unfulfilled…
"I would do it, but I don't want to be called the first black James Bond. Do you understand what I'm saying? Sean Connery wasn't the Scottish James Bond and Daniel Craig wasn't the blue-eyed James Bond. So if I played him, I don't want to be called the black James Bond."
Sorry to correct the great man himself, but Craig was very much discussed as the first “Blonde Bond” when he got the part; so if his hair colour is getting a mention, you’d better believe whoever ends up as the first non-white James Bond, will be getting that. Of course, what matters is how you’re remembered. Craig has already cemented his legacy as arguably the best Bond. IF Elba get the job, he simply needs to do well and make sure that the skin colour thing is at best a footnote; as it should be. Still I guess fans of Elba can at least look forward to the probable Luther film, not to mention Thor: The Dark World and Pacific Rim.
Suited up for Pacific Rim

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