Elba, Idris Elba – Coud he be the new James Bond?
With the New Year upon us, this post was meant to look forward to coming the months in hope, of new British television shows featuring Black British talent, like Cockroaches, a comedy coming to ITV2, starring Daniel Lawrence Taylor or The Hollow Crown featuring actress Sophie Okonedo, and to Black British cinema and the young filmmakers gradually turning heads. Like Kibwe Tavares, whose 2013 short, Jonah, was nominated for the Short Film Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and the Black British youth turning to online media outlets like Kickstarter, YouTube, and Tumblr to fund, produce and promote their creativity and diversity.
But then, alas, Rush Limbaugh, an American radio talk show host, spoke. Responding to leaked emails from Sony producers about Black British actor, Idris Elba, playing the next incarnation of James Bond, Limbaugh stated that “James Bond is white and Scottish. Period”. Limbaugh, in comments flagged by Media Matters, began his diatribe with the familiar, “I know it’s racist to probably even point this out,” and then continued anyway, explaining that, “Bond was never black – the character was always white and always British”. In fact, according to Limbaugh, having a Black British man playing James Bond would be like Kelsey Grammar playing Nelson Mandela or George Clooney and Kate Hudson as Barack and Michelle Obama.
There are differences between having actors represent real life people from different ethnic backgrounds, particularly minority backgrounds, and having minority actors play imagined characters from white backgrounds (just as there are huge differences, and multiple historical complications, between having white actors playing characters traditionally from ethnic minorities and black and other minority actors playing traditionally white characters – but that’s another long, long blog post). Big differences. Massive differences.
Characters like Bond and Doctor Who and Annie, who have also been at the center of casting debates, are fictional characters (just to clarify, they were made up in someone’s mind, sixty plus years ago) whilst Mandela, Rice and Obama are real life men and women (again to clarify, people who have lived, who have and continue to touch people both figuratively and literally). Gargantuan differences. Differences that Limbaugh acknowledges, but nevertheless dismisses.
Having anyone other than a black man playing Mandela would be historically inaccurate, although historical inaccuracies haven’t always stopped certain filmmakers (Angelina Jolie played a woman of Afro-Cuban and Dutch descent in A Mighty Heart). But having Elba play Bond, would continue the long tradition of different actors taking on the Bond mantle, just like how the Captain America mantle is now carried by African-American Sam Wilson or how black teenage Miles Morales now wears the Spidey suit in the Ultimate Universe (another longish blog post).
Like Elba, Daniel Craig (remember the fit everyone had when Craig was announced as Bond) was born in England, whilst Pierce Brosnan is Irish. But both are amazing Bonds and there is no doubt that Elba would be a fantastic Bond.
Anyhow, in Casino Royale, the 2006 reboot of the James Bond series, when asked whether he would like his Martini shaken or stirred, instead of the familiar “shaken, not stirred,” an irritable Bond responds, “do I look like I give a damn,” (a moment that, for me – along with Bond’s brutish and bloody opening fight – signaled a movement away from the original franchise and the start of a darker and more contemporary Bond).
So, the next time someone laments about a black man playing the next Bond, I shall simply respond – do I look like I give a damn.