Anthony Horowitz, author of the most recent Bond installment, Trigger Mortis, called actor Idris Elba “too street” for the iconic role. And I call “racism.”
In late 2014, British actor Idris Elba made headlines with fans and Hollywood insiders’ alike. Would he be cast as Bond in the next in the series, Trigger Mortis? In fact, this site ran an article on the issue entitled Idris Elba as a Post-Racial James Bond? Not So Fast. The article focused on the Bond character, originally created by author Ian Fleming in the 1920s. Fleming’s Bond was Scottish, he was white, and he was a white supremacist. According to the piece, the movies were more subtle, but pointed out that Fleming’s novels were, in fact, quite racist.
Since the 1920s and Fleming’s death in 1964, the Bond series has been penned by a wide range of authors, all commissioned by the original author’s estate. And, as I imagine these authors have kept to the original author’s protagonist’s personality, I’d also posit, the authors took poetic license and their work evolved with the times. I concede, Bond is a fictional character created to be a white man, a Scottish man, and a racist man. Today, with the upcoming casting of Trigger Mortis, this latest Bond novel/screenplay, the article questioned casting a black actor in the role. Some argued that because the character is supposed to be a white racist, he cannot be played by a black man. On the other hand, many cried flat out racism.
And, as an aside, I wonder, if James Bond is in fact such a racist, how did he end up in bed with so many non-white women? The first Black Bond girl was Trina Parks in Diamonds Are Forever (1973). Gloria Hendry made history in 1973 in Live and Let Die as Bond’s first black romantic interest, although when the film was first released in South Africa during the Apartheid era, the sex scenes were cut. Subsequent black actresses included Grace Jones in A View to Kill (1985), Halle Berry in Die Another Day (2002), and Naomi Harris in Skyfall (2012). No one complained that Berry she was “too street.” We all just watched, mesmerized, as she oozed out of the ocean in her orange bikini.
Just this week, in an article in Variety, Anthony Horowitz, author of the latest Bond installment, Trigger Mortis, re-opened the racist wound and found himself backpedaling to get out of what was clearly a racial slur. Fan and studio favorite Elba had been singled out for the role with the initial backlash (as referred to in the above article). Many proponents claimed, it’s fiction and it’s acting and we suspend disbelief all the time in movies and books. Elba is a great actor and would do the role justice. Those against casting Elba claimed foul citing artistic issues. Months passed, the uproar died down. And then, just this week, Horowitz called the acclaimed British actor “too street,” an obvious euphemism for too black, or simply, black. He stumbled on to say Elba was not suave enough, comparing him negatively to the ultra-suave Daniel Craig, who is, of course, white. It is this writer’s opinion that Horowitz needed a publicist to shove something large and doughy into his mouth as he went on to mention another good, but lesser known black British actor, Adrian Lester who might play Bond, but, certainly not Elba. By the way, I have nothing against Lester, he’s a fine actor. But, Elba would bring in the bucks. American bucks. I’m not a Hollywood insider, but I think you can take that to the bank.
Anyone who has seen Idris Elba act, knows he can act. And, anyone who has seen the man in a four thousand dollar suit, knows he is as suave as they come. Horowitz’ defense against his “too street” statement was that he’s a writer, and he chose his words clumsily. I’m not buying it. I’m a writer, and I am expected to choose my words quite carefully. He referred to Elba’s gritty portrayal of DCI John Luther, unable to get over the “street-ness” of that role. Idris Elba has 74 actor credits to his name on IMDB including the exceedingly suave Stringer Bell from The Wire, and countless others. One role that stands out for me is the ever so non-street role of Nelson Mandela in the recent Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013).
Mr. Horowitz, I don’t buy your excuses. You don’t see James Bond as black. Period. Unless you cast Elba in your next film, I’ll pass, thank you. Going with another black actor might sway me, but not bloody likely. You have tipped your racist hand and no amount of spin can make up for the damage done. Elba is just as, if not more, qualified to play this role than any actor I can think of, but of course, I’m not a casting director. However, I am a fan. And if he were cast, I’d pay full price to see this film in a theater, and I’d spring for popcorn.
As an audience we’ve suspended disbelief with Sean Connery, for the love of God George Lazenby, Christoper Cazenove, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig (and that’s not a complete list) all actors playing the same role, but with one thing in common, the color of their skin. And yet not all with the same talent, suave, Bond-ness. Oh, no. Don’t pretend for a second that we are buying your “street” excuse. And, by the way, I’d lose that term. It’s racist. Stop talking. Just write.
And that is the real issue. Racism. Whether it’s about Bond, or some other movie role, boys in hoodies, teens having a pool party at the end of a school year, or men driving on the freeway; it’s skin color. It’s how we think and talk about black people and it has to stop. And it has to stop now. “Too street?” No, the issue for so many is skin color and that issue needs to be acknowledged so it can be owned. And then it has to be addressed. Which is to say, stopped. By all of us. White people need to stop it. There is no cop out. Too street is racist. Too ethnic is racist. In the context of this article, we are talking about professional actors. Their job is to become someone else. So, the only issue is that people cannot see past skin color and it is time for that to be over.
As a white woman, I hesitated to write this piece. I often feel uncomfortable sharing my anger about racism. How dare I be angry? I have it easy. But I am angry for my friends, for the mothers I see in pain as their sons are senselessly killed. I’m angry for one of my closest friends who had to move because my city, a progressive liberal city, was a hostile, hateful, racist environment where she feared for her safety. I know friends worry about their sons, and brothers, who are targets, their men who are unfairly targeted and jailed. I’m angry for anyone who has ever been discriminated against because of their skin color, and it’s my responsibility as much as anyone else’s to make change. I can say that I will do my part. I will write about comments like “too street.” I will take actionable offense to racist jokes if I hear them. I have marched with my teenage son, in a hoodie, in peaceful protest against unjust verdicts freeing white police officers who kill unarmed black men. It is my job, your job, our job, as a community, as a world, as a society, to say “no more” to these comments, and to sanctioned societal racism. We have to fight. It’s our fight. It’s a human fight. Shame on you Anthony Horowitz. Look in the mirror and ask yourself, what did you really mean? Instead of backpedaling, look in the mirror and own up to your deepest, darkest thoughts. And make change, and if you’re not sure how you can help or what you can do, ask. Get involved. It won’t fix itself.
In the last line of that Variety article, Horowirtz said: “I know it’s racist to probably point this out.” And that’s it. That’s the “but.” “Maybe, it’s racist but . . . .” If you have to say that, then it’s racist. So you stop, and you stop, and you, and I will too, and she will, and he will, and do not do it. Ever. Again.
Also by Jenny Kanevsky
Photo credit: Getty Images