Saturday, 21 February 2015

Casting James Bond: a Black and White Issue?

I recently became aware of what seems to have been big news for a week or two on the airwaves. If you're curious why I'm often finding things out long after everyone else, well its because North East Lincolnshire isn't exactly a hub of gossip or centre of learning. Plus I work 12 hour shifts on the docks were battery operated devices including mobile phones and tablets and pads are not allowed. So I routinely fall into a media black out. So if it doesn't make it to the mess room radio I'll probably have to play catchup.

No matter though, it seems some of the fallout related to the Sony Hack concerns one James Bond, a secret agent and alcoholic womaniser. In some of the thousands of e-mails leaked a conversation over whether or not the next James Bond should be played by a black actor, specifically one Idris Elba. This caused quite a stir, but then James Bond is a franchise that never fails to create a stir. When Daniel Craig was cast as Bond there were months of "debate" about whether or not he was capable, with the consensus leaning heavily in the direction of he wasn't. with many reasons cited. There was the usual comparisons to Connery which have dogged every other actor to play Bond, some on the internet rejected him out of hand because he had blonde hair, and other silly reasons. When Craig was made to wear a life jacket (above) for a publicity stunt he was publicly mocked on British television even though he wouldn't have been allowed to get in a boat without wearing one. And that was all before his first film had been released.
 After the role of Bond was boldly established by the original 007, Sean Connery, the
standard was set for all Bond actors to follow. And from George Lazenby to Pierce
Brosnan, Bond was cast with men that were universally regarded as handsome, tall
and naturally charismatic, as would be the case with any leading man's role.

Why then did Bond producers take the image of Bond to a new low by hiring the
likes of Daniel Craig, and[sic] actor who can at best be described as average, rough if not
downright ugly, is a question that no one in their right mind could answer.
And of course there's been a debate going on for years about the characters attitudes toward women, constant drinking and willingness to murder. So it isn't really that surprising that the possibility of Bond blacking up added more fuel to this decades long fire. And for some reason it also failed to surprise me that this potential change to a British film icon wound up more then a few media types in America either.
 "Idris should be the next Bond," Sony Pictures chair Amy Pascal wrote, reportedly to a fellow studio executive.
That was enough to set conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh into a tizzy. Bond, he said on his radio programme last week, has a distinct ethnic profile that Mr Elba, who is black, doesn't fit.
"He was white and Scottish, period. That is who James Bond is," Limbaugh said, adding: "I know it's racist to probably even point this out."

 I don't know why finding that out didn't surprise me it just didn't. This Limbaugh fellows argument seems to be representative of the others I've seen so I'll stick with this. I actually don't believe the argument itself is racist -now that is different from using an argument to make a racist point- because its pretty much true, Ian Fleming created the character James Bond and as part of his creation he came from a certain background. He was white, British and had a Scottish background, though his Scottishness was pretty subdued compared to his "Britishness" aka Englishness. He also came from a fairly well to do background having attended a number of very respectable public schools including Eton. And he was in his 30's in when the books were written meaning he was probably born some point in the twenties. So yes it would stretch credibility to have a black actor play someone with that background. It wouldn't be impossible though, there were a small number of students at these posh boarding schools from the Empire whose parents were not only wealthy but very highly connected to the British Empire and establishment.

If your objection to Mr Elba or whoever is purely motivated by a love for the original idea of James Bond and you're worried that this change goes against Flemings wishes, then I understand and don't think that's racially motivated. I don't really know this Limbaugh fellow I'm only aware of him for several viral youtube clips of some absurd rants so can't really judge. And usually I agree with this line of argument, if a film wants to adapt a book then in general I think it should strive to remain as faithful as is reasonable. But I think that argument for James Bond expired decades ago, the franchise has already moved far beyond what Fleming intended and for good reason, a faithful adaptation in this day and age would be dated by about forty years. For a start Fleming believed you can rape a lesbian straight.

Even back when Connery was still knocking back shaken Martini's the films had begun to move away from the literary character. Bond the book protagonist was quite ruthless and the action was written completely seriously, Bond the film character was increasingly comedic and less vicious, he had no qualms about killing but only when he had to. After Roger Moore came along the films were firmly entrenched in fun action comedy.

Just compare theses two trailers, Dr No

"Licensed to kill,  whom he pleases, where he pleases, when he pleases"

"More excitement, more thrills, more spills"

But starting to go back the other way a bit. But the changes go beyond special effects and tone, the background of James Bond's world and MI6 has also radically changed. A key subplot to Golden Eye was the tension between Pierce Brosnan's James Bond and Judi Dench as the new M. Specifically because M is a woman, Brosnan got over that as she proved herself capable. The role of women in the films in general have been revamped, there still used as a attractive bait for the audience but female characters went from damsel's in distress (often disposable) into secondary characters capable of actually doing things and helping out. That was unthinkable to Fleming, which was why the only female characters to have a biggish role in the books were the ones working for the baddies. We also have the fact that film Bond's background simply has to be different from Fleming's because otherwise Bond would be pushing 90 and be the anachronism. Britain has changed and so must Bond's background, and that's assuming that Bond has always been the same character played by different actors. When I was a kid watching the old Bond films, I assumed that James Bond was a code name along with 007 because he couldn't possibly be the same guy. So if that's the case, then there simply isn't any real reason not to have a James Bond be black, or come from any other background. 006 from Golden Eye was the son of Pro Nazi Cossacks and he had no trouble fitting in with the MI6 crowd.

So unless Idris Elba simply doesn't have the acting chops for the role (personally I haven't seen him in many roles) then I really don't see a problem here.


  1. stop trying to bring yor pc nonsense into everything you pinko.

    1. You must really hate post Connery James Bond.


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