There's been a bit of a controversy in the movie world about the suggestion made that British actor Idris Elba be hired to play 'James Bond.' It should be noted, mind you, that Idris Elba has said that at the moment he's not interested in playing 'James Bond. Nor has an offer been made to him. But the outraged concern is there, just for the suggestion because, who knows, it could happen. This outraged concern, you've probably figured out at this point, is that the character is white, and Mr. Elba is not. Now mind you, I haven't read any of the Ian Fleming novels, so I don't know if the author ever made clear that his secret agent was actually white. And if not, then the portrayal by white actors in the movies may not be accurate after all. So, the "concern" would be moot. Though perhaps the fictional character was described as white in the novels. It seems unlikely, though certainly possible.
There have been some people trying to explain away this "confusion" by saying that "007" is just a designation for agents whose code name is "James Bond," so he could be pretty much anything. But that's only a convoluted rationale to describe different actors playing the role over the decades and has nothing to do with the novels, which ultimately is the foundation. Further, that "theory" was thrown out the window in the recent Bond film where they dealt with the childhood of 'James Bond' and his parents.
By the way, I understand the reason why some people might be annoyed on literary grounds if filmmakers screw around with a literary creation they had nothing to do with. However, I don't get that sense here, since it seems to have far more of a racial component to the angst, not a literary one. An observation I make based not only on what is said, how virulently it's said, and that they only reference the movie adaptations for whom they claim 'James Bond' is -- rather than the novels where the character was actually created.
Here's the thing, though, for anyone "concerned" and angst-ridden by the idea of a black actor playing a fictional literary character who may possibly be white -- or may not be. The movie version of British agent 'James Bond' has been played over the decades by a wide variety of actors, some of whom aren't, in fact, actually British, but rather are in real life Irish and Welsh, and (as actors) they just pretended they were a British character. Indeed, the very first actor to famously play the fictional British character and set the standard was Scottish. Going further, none of the actors playing the fictional 'James Bond' were actually, really secret agents, but were in truth pretending! In fact, actors throughout history have regularly gotten hired to play characters of different ethnicities than themselves -- they just play the character as written on the page. Going back to Shakespeare's day, and earlier, men even portrayed women, and audiences accepted that the characters within the play were women. This season in New York, Dame Glenda Jackson will be returning to Broadway to once again play the male title role in King Lear.
So, here's my thought for those people who are profoundly upset that Idris Elba (a wonderful actor) might ever get hired as 'James Bond,' and need a comforting way to deal with it -- they should just look at it as him stretching his formidable talents and playing the character as white...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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