Within the past few years there has been a notable trend in the African American community among, entertainers and fans to hold some Caucasian entertainers such as Macklemore and Iggy Azalea, in contempt for “appropriating Black culture.”
However there is also a notable irony in the fact that when actors like Idris Elba are being considered for a role like James Bond, this is seen as a celebration of racial inclusion and increased cultural understanding. Elba’s consideration for the role of Bond is no doubt controversial, especially to “social critics” such as Rush Limbaugh, who recently expressed much disdain at Elba being considered for the role.
This controversy affords us the opportunity to explore the delicate interplay between Artist’s (author’s) vision, and the recycling of characters to explore new narratives. Concerning Rush Limbaugh’s recent comment that James Bond is “White and Scottish,” there is an important dynamic that underlies both the nature of this conflict and the controversy surrounding it.
While I do not support the general ideologies that Limbaugh holds regarding race in general, as a fan of Bond (and an African American) I am inclined to agree with his sentiments regarding Elba portraying Bond. The fact of the matter is simple; James Bond is “Scottish and White”, as he deserves to be.
When Ian Fleming developed Bond as a character he did so based on himself and his personal experiences. It would be inappropriate to portray Bond as a black man for several reasons.
Firstly, because as a writer myself I know the intimacy and care involved in crafting a character, especially when creating one so close to your own character and history. The identity of Bond being Scottish is as integral to his character as his propensity to manifest Aston Martins and supermodels with swigs from a Martini glass.
The racial and cultural identity afforded to the character of Bond is intricately tied to the name and persona of Bond. If Elba agrees to the role, he will successfully portray a womanizing super spy; however he is not a true Bond, and besides this is not what we need.
Imagine how different the narrative of Harry Potter would be if the series was called Dean Thomas. We would have ended up with a completely different book series. Ultimately a black Harry Potter runs into the same problems as a Black James Bond, it simply is incompatible with the author’s vision.
Secondly, I question Sony’s (and by extension Hollywood’s) motive for wanting Elba to portray Bond. While it is cute that Hollywood is making steps to appear more inclusive, portraying Bond as being of African descent is not a true step forward.
If the motivation is to promote increased tolerance and integration of Africans into Caucasian culture then this is merely a step sideways. There are staggering nuances that come with being of African descent, and given the nature of Bond films, the context is not appropriate to explore it.
Bond films are about allure, danger, and the fantastic. The first Bond film to portray a Bond of African descent can’t simply skate over the fact that he’s Black, but at the same time, this is certainly not meant to be the movie that “solves racism.”
So in the end there is no real point to James Bond being Black, it makes no real statement. I do acknowledge that it is very important for Blacks to develop a greater presence in more areas of film, especially out of the niche roles of the overly aggressive black guy full of one liners and the black lady who’s easy on the eyes but ultimately doomed to be an irrelevant supporting actress. We also need to have much more movies where Blacks are portrayed in genres other than sports drams, R&B musicals, and feature length Slavery/Jim Crow reminders.
The solution then, I propose, is not to racially appropriate “White” characters, but to further develop and create “Black” characters. We need to create characters and film franchises that contain people of African descent who are just as compelling and complex as the characters we see in the franchises that we do love. The point is that rather than looking to make White characters Black, we should stop making so many campy romantic dramas and start making some bone breaking, bourbon drinking, natural hair black women loving, 64 Ford Mustang materializing, CIA badass.
We have tried this in the past with mixed success but the point is we simply have to keep trying until we break into the mainstream. Ultimately one black actor portraying a white character will not set the stage for the great existential paradigm shift that Blacks have been waiting for. We must also be extremely wary of the motives film producers and directors are keeping while pushing movie agendas forward.
Most importantly of all, as African Americans we must ask ourselves whether we are holding other races (primarily Caucasians) to unrealistic double standards while we lie in wait for opportunities to turn a profit on other culture’s narratives and art.
After all, isn’t Idris Elba portraying James Bond, just another form of cultural appropriation?