The James Bond character has always moved with the times, so why not now?

Is there any good reason that the spy cannot be played by a black star, asks Andrea Nagel

26 August 2018 - 00:00 By Andrea Nagel

Weeks of speculation about who will play the next James Bond has given rise to Idris Elba being named as a frontrunner. Not that that's surprising. For years his name has been bandied about to play the most famous English spy of all.
He even fuelled the flames by posting a tweet a few weeks ago, alongside a selfie of the top of his head that said: "My name's Elba, Idris Elba." And that was before he introduced his DJ set at London's Elrow club last week by playing the Bond theme song.
But true to form, social media has leapt at the opportunity to weigh in on whether Elba should be considered for the role, with some detractors suggesting that he isn't suitable because the character was created white by author Ian Fleming.
Despite having some fun with the rumours, Elba himself has said that it's time the role went to a woman and has mostly denied that it's been offered to him.
Fleming was inspired by a number of men, including officers he knew in the Naval Intelligence Division, when he conceptualised Bond in the early 1950s. When the film franchise started it was established early on that the appearance of the character would be malleable - he is after all fictional - and there were no rules about what Bond should look like.
People who say Bond cannot be black base their argument on the suggestion that the character was not written like that. But he wasn't written as blond and blue-eyed (as Daniel Craig is) either. Nor as having an Irish background (like Pierce Brosnan) nor as being Australian (as George Lazenby is). And if we're going to stick to the script, how could M, Bond's superior - male for the first 10 films - be played by a woman, Judy Dench, from 1995 to 2012?
Since the first Bond films, our hero has changed pretty drastically. The Bond of the early films definitely wouldn't have survived the #MeToo movement. Roger Moore's incarnation had its charms, but that Bond's humour is doubtlessly outdated.
Brosnan felt he had to let the audience in on the preposterousness of the films' premises: "When I played him, you have to let the audience in that this is a fantastic joke. What I am doing here, jumping off a motorcycle and catching up a plane, is completely preposterous. But for me you had to let them in."
He feels the modern Bond is too serious. Craig's Bond is more physical - he can parkour with the best French masters. He's all straight, smouldering sex appeal with none of Connery's Scottish charm, Moore's sly winks or Brosnan's self-deprecation.
But if there's anything the evolution of Bond has taught us, it is that to achieve box-office success, the character needs to be in tune with the times. As the world evolves, so should Bond, and his characterisation is not determined by the colour of his skin. Race isn't what drives Bond's motives, nor does it contribute to any situation in which he finds himself. His race would never fundamentally change any Bond movie.
Edward Ademolu, doctor of international development at the University of Manchester, points out that an argument for a black Bond unleashes a Pandora's Box of "Whatabout-me-isms": "What about a polyamorous, gender-nonconforming, effeminate, anti-misogynist Gujarati Indian as Othello? Or, can I, as a Liverpudlian-accented, shaven-headed, transgendered lesbian, play Sherlock Holmes?" he writes.
But all of this conjecture may in the end all be for nought as Elba stated this week, at the London premiere of his directorial debut Yardie, that he would not play Bond. Too black, too suave, too serious, too tall, too handsome, too cool?
Apparently none of these things precluded Elba from the role. "I like my martinis stirred. Not shaken," he told a reporter on the red carpet. "Jesus Christ, did I just say that out loud?"

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