There’s been a great deal of controversy these past couple of years about the future of the James Bond film franchise, a favorite among movie-goers who are into explosions and tuxedos. Current Bond actor Daniel Craig is poised to put down the 007 mantle before long, and of course a new Bond needs to emerge in his wake.
When an email between Sony and Columbia film executives was leaked in 2014, fans of the franchise learned that British actor Idris Elba was being considered for the role. Many fans of both Bond and Elba rallied around the idea, supporting the notion of a Black James Bond being cast in the venerable film series’ next evolution. However, this support was met with frustration as various officials, film critics, and fans expressed their own opinion that James Bond should never be played by a Black man.
In a great example of trying to cover prejudice up by rationalizing it into something else (aversive racism!), author Anthony Horowitz called Elba a “bit too rough” for the role. He further said, “It’s not a color issue… Is it a question of being suave? Yeah.” and then quickly backpedaled once he thought about how ridiculous he sounded.
It is, of course, preposterous to say Idris Elba wouldn’t pull off the suave nature of Bond with flying colors. I love Elba- his work as a detective with certain similar qualities to Bond in Luther and his godly presence in the Thor movies is commanding, and the man can positively radiate confidence when the role calls for it.
So, this first part of this post, call it Part A, should make it clear that, oh yes, I agree with supporters of the Elba For Bond movement. And I agree that the pushback to this idea is illogical, backwards-thinking, and completely racist. This fictional character who has appeared in 26 movies that are, let’s not forget, adaptations of the literary canon, can be played by anybody, and it’s not sacrilege. It’s fiction. It could be a gay Bond, or a Jane Bond, or a Black James Bond, and that would be fine. There’s no doubt that there is racism coming from the studios directly involved, the film industry writ large, and the general public on this issue. I’m on board with all of this.
But Part B starts here, and in this part I want to ask everyone who is up in arms about this: is James freaking Bond your benchmark for where we are as a society on important issues like this? Let’s remember that this is a franchise where if you say “My favorite James Bond is the one where it ends with him about to have sex with a hot model in a boat,” your conversation partner would actually have to ask “Which one?” in clarification. Maritime lovemaking aside, every single Bond still includes casual intercourse with women (often a handful of them) cast pretty much just to add sexiness to the film. Despite the occasional Bond Girl with martial arts abilities, women are objects in these movies. The fact that Bond Girl exists as a term is telling in itself.
And look, it pains me to say this, because I love movies with explosions and tuxedos and I want to believe they’re not bad for me. I’m huge Jason Bourne fan, I dig Batman and superheroes like that. And I like James Bond. But I have to admit to myself that many of these films promote a lone-wolf, brooding, strong-and-silent conception of masculinity that’s harmful to everybody.
So what I want to get across is, I agree that there is racism surrounding the Bond series. And I believe that because of Bond’s white male-dominated ethos, a Black Bond, or female or gay Bond, would be a triumph, and would speak volumes about the progress we will have made if the day comes when we have a such a version of the character. But I don’t think we should put our energies, our indignation, our righteous anger, into changing the James Bond franchise. The series represents so much of what hurts and marginalizes people because of their race, orientation, or womanhood that we almost need to laugh about it right now, and instead concentrate on less comical offending parties.
For example, superhero movies are less womanizing, less racist, and yet are still dominated by white men. There is progress to be made there, and we can and are making this progress bit by bit. I would petition Marvel Studios to give me more Black, female, Latinx, Asian, and disabled superheroes before I petition Columbia pictures to get their act together. I would focus on inspiring new spy franchises that uphold egalitarian values before I try to revolutionize the ones that have been around for decades, and have built up a lot of sexist, racist momentum. If the film industry changes around Bond, maybe Bond will follow suit.
So what do you think? Am I right that focusing elsewhere will result in a greater good than focusing on Bond? What other film genres need work? And to quote Anthony Mackie’s Falcon, one of the only Black comic book heroes on the big screen currently: When do we start?
Here are two good articles that go into the history of Bond and surrounding controversy more than this post does.