This week I was asked to comment on Idris Elba’s flirtatious Tweets about being the next James Bond for BBC Radio Scotland. It got me thinking of the pros, cons, and eventually the audacity, of such a question…
The idea of Idris Elba as James Bond has been daring us to dream for the last ten years. The seemingly elephant-sized problem? He is a black man taking a traditionally white, British role. If this was a Harry Enfield sketch you’d have a ruddy-faced geezer down the pub thumping his fist in a puddle of pale ale shouting ‘that Idris! Taking all our women…and now our jobs!’
It’s difficult to appropriately disagree that we can’t have a black Bond – you might as well start your sentence with ‘I’m not racist, but…’ Just ask Joanna Lumley and the president of the James Bond Fan Club David Black who both fell down the potholes of political correctness en route to trying to salvage the essence of Ian Flemming’s fictional, yet very colonial white British icon.
…Essentially, here’s a black man being judged on the content of his character and not on the colour of his skin, and ain’t that the dream…
The James Bond books were written in post-war Britain, from Flemming’s house in Jamaica, when the UK was heady with imperial power. As the British Empire declined, Bond represented an inflated and insecure reflection of British masculinity; a shrine of hope reminiscent of sturdier times. Perhaps, as Brexit packs our suitcase and xenophobia creeps in, a black Bond is exactly what we need – a beacon of hope of what Britain can and should celebrate – our proud foundations of immigration and cultural diversity.
Perhaps what we’re failing to appreciate here is the progression in this discussion – Elba’s persona had transcended his race. He’s suave, brooding and wickedly handsome – perfect for filling James Bond’s boots. Essentially, here’s a black man being judged on the content of his character and not on the colour of his skin, and ain’t that the dream.
…But why shove golden boy Elba into such a shit-stained pigeonhole? Giving Elba the job would be more a shackle than a crown…
But let’s turn down the romance – we’re a long way to go before this applies to the average black guy. Truth is, this topic sticks because author Ian Flemming’s James Bond is white, Elba is black and we’re not sure we’re ready for that level of ‘woke’.
But why shove golden boy Elba into such a shit-stained pigeonhole? Giving Elba the job would be more a shackle than a crown. The cold, murderous, womanising baggage of 007, would see Elba provide a reinvention that Bond doesn’t actually deserve. Sure, it would broaden the appeal to the waning franchise to those who find empowerment in seeing themselves on screen, but who would that benefit? The black community being ‘accepted’ into a white world? It’s not acceptance people of colour want, it’s opportunity and space to make and hail our own heroes and for this not to be seen as a ‘risk’.
Aside from Shaft, Blade, Foxy Brown, Luther, and any Will Smith movie to name but a few, Black Panther is the latest to prove we do, can and crave black heroes on screen. Why get cosy in a James Bond smoking jacket when we can light up our own stories, characters and history.
p.s: While we’re on the topic…YARDIE is released in cinemas at the end of the month and is a film Idris Elba IS actually assigned to. It’s worth a watch.