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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I wrote about Labyrinth for the Guardian


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It’s finally happened. After years of wishing for it, willing it with enough might to rupture a few organs, and countless unrequited ideas pitches (despite already working for them as a subeditor), I’ve written a piece for the Guardian. I’d always promised myself that if it ever did happen, I wouldn’t read the comments after seeing so many scathing remarks on there. But actually everyone was really nice which made me feel pretty smugface. 

You can read the piece online here, or I’ve published the raw, unedited version below. 

Why I’d like to be … Jennifer Connolly in Labyrinth

I can’t remember the first time I saw Jim Henson’s magical animatronic adventure, Labyrinth. I was not quite two when it was released in 1986, but my parents are massive David Bowie fans so it’s not surprising I was introduced to it fairly early on. I was hooked immediately, and watched our VHS copy – complete with adverts, having been recorded off the telly – so many times it eventually warped and then snapped.

I would shut all the doors to the living room of our small London flat leaving my parents trapped in their bedroom, put the film on and act out each scene from memory as it played, pausing only to shout “don’t come in” as my parents inevitably tried to get out.

I was, of course, pretending to be Jennifer Connolly’s Sarah, the imaginative, if immature, teen who is struggling to adjust to life with her father’s new family and to her sisterly responsibilities to new baby, Toby.

Like my child self, Sarah is somewhat of a fantasist – she escapes the tedium of US suburbia by retreating to her books, reciting passages from her favourite, The Labyrinth: “Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the goblin city to take back the child that you have stolen.”

However, when she accidentally calls upon the story’s cruel Goblin King, Jareth – played by Bowie – to take Toby away, she’s forced to embark on an expedition through a seemingly nonsensical labyrinth to rescue her half-brother from the castle beyond the goblin city.

But this isn’t just a story about fiction becoming a reality, or goblins and Bowie’s impressive trouser-bulge, for Sarah, this is a journey into womanhood. As she passes through the labyrinth, she learns to cast aside the oft-repeated cry of “it’s not fair” and instead to tackle its deadly challenges and baffling riddles through logic, friendship and bravery – she is growing up.

She befriends various bizarre creatures and this motley crew – Hoggle: a particularly ugly dwarf, Ludo: a slightly dim, giant fur monster and Sir Didymus: a heroic fox-terrier knight who rides an old English sheepdog – provided me with company while watching as an only child, but as a teenager it was Sarah’s ability to make sense of a world that didn’t make sense that drew me to her. Burgeoning new sexual desires had sent my head spinning and my body was quickly changing. People suddenly treated me differently, men looked at me differently and London was opening up as an overwhelming city in a way it never had before. I was scared and confused, but Sarah’s perseverance in the labyrinth gave me courage, and still inspires me to keep going when things get tough.

It’s this cusp between childhood and adulthood, between hedonism and maturity that Jennifer Connolly – 15 at the time of shooting – captures so beautifully. She is confident and good looking, yet not as overtly sexual as women are so often betrayed on screen – a much stronger female role model than many available even today. However, the sexual tension between Sarah and the controlling Jareth is hard to ignore, despite Labyrinth being considered a children’s film. When she finally reaches the castle he begs her: “Just fear me. Love me. Do as I say and I will be your slave.” But Sarah resists his attempts to seduce her. She has learnt that she’s in control – that she’s now responsible for her own destiny.

“My kingdom is great. You have no power over me,” she replies, remembering the words from her book and Jareth’s kingdom dissolves. It’s a line I often repeat to myself when dealing with real-life goblins.

The London Perambulator – Nick Papadimitriou

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I was recently introduced to the work of Nick Papadimitriou by fellow MA student, Rachel Andrews (Thanks Rachel!) and it has blown my tiny mind. After decades spent researching and documenting London’s topography for, among others, Will Self, he’s put together a book, Scarp (great review by radio producer Tim Dee). It tells the story of the landscape surrounding his home in Child’s Hill, north London, through a mixture of memoir, nature writing and social history offering an account of a life lived on the edge lands, geographically and existentially.

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After battling a drug addiction, he took to walking and over the last thirty years he’s kept records of everything from the progress of building works to roads, animal behaviour, sewage systems, dead things and even the weather. He calls his work ‘Deep Topology’. The London Perambulator is a documentary about him, he’s a little eccentric, but absolutely fascinating. It features some words from an impressive list of friends too, including psychogeographers Will Self and Ian Sinclair as well as, bizarrely, Russell Brand (he just gets everywhere).

If you’re interested in London, non-fiction or just interesting characters, it’s well worth a watch. I can’t wait to read his book.