For the longest time, I was all for a black Bond, especially if the impeccable Idris Elba was playing the title role. I understand the fascination with the concept: Bond is an important part of Britain’s movie history and in some eyes, cultural identity. The problem is that the series is almost devoid of black British faces.
We have had great black British actors in the past, but in my opinion, none have the skills that Idris possesses. I have said time and again that he’s maybe the closest our country has ever come to a Denzel: Idris has effortless cool, charisma and fierce acting chops. He would be perfect as Bond.
My best friend is a big fan of Lee Child’s series of Jack Reacher books. When she watched the movie featuring Tom Cruise, she was mortified. Reacher, to her, had distinct characteristics, one of them being his height and build. Tom Cruise, although a fantastic actor (and I personally believe he was great in the role), to her mind could never be Reacher.
I believe this central argument, the birth and original concept of a character, is vitally important. I understand that some characters undergo rebirths and reboots, but some vital characteristics need to remain the same. It is clear as day in the first James Bond book, Casino Royale, that Bond is a tall, ex-military, alcoholic, white-bloke. His race, in my view, is vital to the identity of the character. Changing that one characteristic fundamentally changes who Bond is. It changes the history of the whole franchise and I personally think that is unnecessary.
When a new actor takes on the mantle of being the next James Bond, he shoulders the whole history of that series. Idris, as cool as he is, could never do that because he can never look like Bond. There is nothing wrong, or racist, in accepting this fact.
Not only that, if he was to be made the next Bond, he will always be the token Bond. He will be forever known as THE black Bond and, personally, I think he is far too good of an actor to be cosigned to that fate.
I think this lust for a black Bond masks a bigger problem in western popular culture – the lack of original and fictional black leading characters on television, film and literature. The very fact that Idris had to move to America to get a worthwhile role tells you all you need to know. Also, the fact that his breakout role was playing the villainous, but charismatic Stringer Bell on the greatest television show ever produced, aka The Wire, says a lot as well.
Popular culture has a black problem – making Idris or any other black actor James Bond doesn’t get to the heart of that problem.
I would prefer that authors, television and film writers start creating heroic and positive fictional characters from the ground up.
Shit, I’d love to see Idris play the role of a black spy named Jerome Fox, or something like that.