“I’ve always detested the phrase ‘Black Bond,’ I just don’t understand it.”
So spoke Idris Elba in reply to the mentioning of his name in connection with the most successful film franchise in history. In an interview on ITV earlier this year, the star of The Wire and Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, dismissed the possibility of playing the iconic British spy, despite calls for him to do so by many fans.
The idea of a ‘Black Bond’ is one which has been discussed in fan forums for a while, and though Elba might denounce the phrase and indeed the question altogether, it is one which has been quietly growing in importance for a while now. Debate is on, and many seem to object to this idea, as they see Bond as a permanently “white” character.
In the books and films, James Bond is a quintessentially British character devoted to preserving the safety of the realm, and as such has been dearly loved for over half a decade; the box office figures are a testament to this fact. But the extent to which the films do not stay true to Ian Fleming’s originals shows how far we have come from the ideas espoused by the novels. We wince as the older Bonds devour one helpless and feeble woman after another – a feature particularly prevalent during Roger Moore’s laughable tenure. William Boyd, one of several authors to write extensions to the series, admits to having toned down Fleming’s racist and sexist stereotypes. The crassly titled fifth chapter of Live and Let Die, “Nigger’s Heaven”, doesn’t do Fleming’s cause any good either.
Since Daniel Craig took over with Casino Royale in 2006, the film franchise has been updating itself. Jeffrey Wright became the first black actor to portray the CIA operative Felix Leiter, and similarly, under Sam Mendes’ direction, Naomie Harris pulled off a thoroughly independent and capable Moneypenny. Even the comparably underwhelming Quantum of Solace showed an awareness of contemporary environmental concerns; the commodity for which Bond is fighting, is a water supply.
Although this liberalism might be slightly jarring juxtaposed with Bond’s enduring patriotism, directors and scriptwriters clearly do not feel bound to Fleming’s original vision of Bond, and rightly so. We should feel comfortable with reinventing the indisputably prejudiced stories which have nonetheless captivated readers and viewers for decades. If we can accept the updating of so many other aspects of the franchise, we can also accept the updating of its hero. Being British is not synonymous with being caucasian, and therefore neither should Bond.