I wrote a piece for The Independent about Idris Elba and James Bond

Still from The Independent online

Idris Elba for Bond! I wrote a little thing on the matter for The Independent (and you can read it here), or take a gander at my unedited version below. The self-denied racism that has accompanied this affair is something I’ve found quite shocking (‘it’s not about him being black, it’s about James Bond being white’ – that sort of thing) and I may write a follow up blog about it soon. Hope you enjoy… x

It’s not often that colossal noggined rapper Kanye West has something interesting to say, but as the debate over whether actor Idris Elba could take over the reigns as fictional character James Bond rages, he’s finally hit the jackpot. Speaking to The Sun this week he said: “Artists should be visionaries. A black James Bond would be visionary no doubt. Something that 30 years ago would have seemed crazy should now be something that is a real possibility.”

Elba has all the credentials of a perfect Bond – he’s suave, intelligent and he looks damn fine in a suit. Yet the idea that a black man could play the martini-swilling spy has gotten some stirred, and a few more shaken. “Isn’t 007 supposed to [be] handsome?” Elba tweeted a few days ago alongside a selfie showing his beautiful – oh so beautiful ­– face, contorted into a half-squint. A reaction that showed true Bondesque grace and humour in the face of the unabashed racism that followed the Sony Hacks leak suggesting he could be in the running for the role.

The most prominent of these racists is perhaps controversial American talk show host Rush Limbaugh. “But now [they are] suggesting that the next James Bond should be Idris Elba, a black Briton, rather than a white from Scotland” Rushbo fussed on his show last Tuesday. “Fifty years of white Bond because Bond is white. Always Scottish. Always drank vodka.”

This is an argument riddled with inaccuracies. There has only been one Scottish Bond, Sean Connery. The others were English, Welsh, Irish and even Australian. In fact, Ian Fleming only invented the character’s half-Scots, half-Swiss heritage after the cinema release of Doctor No in order to honour Connery. He hasn’t always drunk vodka-based cocktails either – as a functioning alcoholic he’ll drink anything from Dom Pérignon champagne to a Campari-based Americano.

A man with such a penchant for booze, you might think, would die young, but if his Authorised Biography is anything to go by, he would be 94 by now. Yet the actors who have played him have ranged enormously in age – George Lazonby was 29 in Her Majesty’s Secret Service while Roger Moore was 57 in A View to a Kill. Craig was hardly an archetypal Bond either with his blue eyes and blonde hair. The spy franchise has always adapted, always stayed fresh in order survive. Because that’s the beauty of fiction – you can do what you want with it. It exists to be visionary.

Elba – who is 42 – has said that he doesn’t want to be known as the ‘black Bond’, others in the role were never defined by what made them different. And nor should he be. However, the movie industry’s track record of substituting white actors for characters of other ethnicities is not great. The recent film Exodus caused a Twitter riot due to its “whitewashed” portrayal of Egyptians and Israelites. Laurence Olivier once blacked up to play Othello in the 1965 film of the same name. Isn’t it about time Hollywood evened things out?

 

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