The name’s Bond, Diversity Bond

‘The name’s Bond, James Bond’ are among the most iconic cinematic words ever uttered. The moment you hear them, you are instantly transported back to Sean Connery’s first outing as 007 in Dr. No. No matter how much rebranding he goes through, Bond is inseparable from that image. Even those such as myself who didn’t grow up with Sean, will tell you – Bond is Connery, no ifs no buts.

It is perhaps for this reason that those assuming the mantle of Bond post-Connery, have always found it to be something of a poisoned chalice: Roger Moore was considered too comedic for instance, Timothy Dalton too sulky, and Pierce Brosnan too bland. In reality, all of Bond’s latter incarnations have brought something to the role – but for the hard-core fan, it was always a somewhat crude imitation.

Connery’s shoes have been notoriously difficult to fill, as witnessed by the extensive list of those who either didn’t get the part, or in rarer cases famously turned it down. David Niven, Rex Harrison and Cary Grant were dismissed on the grounds of age. The British accent was a bridge too far for many, including Christopher Lambert and Dick Van Dyke (yes I know). Mel Gibson was too Australian, while Peter Snow (yes that one) at 6 foot 5 was too gangly. Oliver Reed meanwhile, was simply too Oliver Reed, and Lord Lucan kept disappearing.

The role is a demanding one: physical suitability and the requisite action-packed performances aside, the character appears to exert a unique pressure. Perhaps it is the extensive publicity, or possibly the knowledge that you can only ever be considered second-best. Whatever it is, many former Bonds have become disillusioned with the role. Asked whether he would consider playing Bond again after his fourth instalment, Daniel Craig famously remarked: ‘I’d rather slash my wrists.’

One issue for any aspiring Bond is that he is only partially fictional; Fleming’s description of Bond leaves little room for manoeuvre. Physically, Bond is 6 feet tall and 168 pounds, and according to Fleming (who worked in naval intelligence) is a ‘compound of all the secret agents and commando types I met during the war.’

In terms of traits and tastes, Bond also shares a remarkable similarity with Fleming, bordering on the semi-autobiographical. Both hold the rank of commander, share the same love of scrambled eggs, custom-made cigarettes, gambling, and golf (even having the same handicap).

The minutiae of what constitutes a suitable Bond is something that shakes the vodka martini of the mildest Bond fan. Even Daniel Craig, perhaps the most accomplished actor to inhabit the role, was initially lambasted for the crime of being blond. In the run up to his first outing in Casino Royale, a campaign was launched to prevent his desecration of the role by calling for a boycott.

So it is little surprise that the rumours Idris Elba is ‘part of the conversation’ to play the next 007 have raised a Roger Moore-esque eyebrow or two.  A black Bond is newsworthy, and those who wish to dismiss the race issue as somehow irreverent are being downright cowardly (however understandable in the cancel culture climate).

When rumours first emerged of Elba playing the part of Bond way back in 2015, post-Fleming Bond author Anthony Horowitz expressed concerns about his suitability:

For me, Idris Elba is a bit too rough to play the part. It’s not a colour issue. I think he is probably a bit too ‘street’ for Bond. Is it a question of being suave? Yeah.’

Another getting their knickers firmly in a twist over the miscasting was Joanna Lumley, who commented:

‘Idris Elba is stunning – and was incidentally in Absolutely Fabulous – but I don’t think he is right for Bond, who is quite clearly described in the book. I’m colour-blind when it comes to acting, but Idris Elba is just a zonking great star anyway.’

So there you have it – Elba doesn’t match the book description of Bond, but it’s absolutely nothing to do with him being black. While of course no one wishes to fall foul of the race card, James Bond’s bio would be unlikely to get him hired at the BBC: born in 1920 or 1921 (depending on which source you trust), Bond is the Eton and Geneva-educated, multilingual son of a Swiss mother and a father from the Scottish Highlands. Trying to extract Sadiq Khan-approved diversity from that, would leave Harry Houdini asking questions.

The question of a black Bond perfectly illustrates the contradiction of our time: namely, that for all its advertising, white privilege isn’t paying much of a dividend to its shareholders. The woke, in their cultural hegemony are simultaneously demanding we celebrate the ‘diversity’ of all-female remakes and Black Panther, while airbrushing the dreaded straight, white male out of existence.

Even historically, it is now routine to see white characters who have overdone it on the sunbeds. Joan of Arc, Roman soldiers, Margaret of Anjou, Friar Tuck, Guinevere, and Victorian soldiers to name but a few, have all been proudly presented as black. While the same standard is never applied elsewhere: can you imagine Ross Kemp playing Martin Luther King, or Ray Winstone as Nelson Mandela? I doubt it.

It’s not as if the Bond franchise hasn’t been accommodating, either. Moneypenny is currently black. So too is Felix Leiter, while Bond’s replacement 007 in No Time to Die was black (and female to boot). The rumours are Justin Trudeau even offered to black-up for the role of ‘M’ as well, but was advised against it so soon after the election.

The issue of where to draw the line between the woke, and the Bond purists is an interesting one. If the woke had their way (as they increasingly do), white characters would only ever be played by minorities, with white actors restricted to self-cameos – but isn’t that why it’s called acting? It would also lead to even more farcical complaints than we currently tolerate. Shouldn’t Daniel Day Lewis have made the effort to acquire cerebral palsy before starring in My Left Foot? And was Steve Coogan culturally appropriating paedophilia when he portrayed Jimmy Savile?

On the flip side, the purists might need to reflect that it is indeed acting, and that a credible performance ought to suffice. If Elba were planning to ‘white-up’ for the role, that might cut it. Failing that, I’d say that the attempt to install a black Bond well and truly crosses the line, and I’d go further – that the desire to do so is a political move.

And if you’re being political, surely black doesn’t go far enough? It’s too bad George Floyd died before he could be offered the role. Why not a disabled, transgender Muslim instead? Or perhaps go gay? How about Owen Jones, fighting off Blofeld with nothing but Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book to defend his honour?

Elba himself is astute enough to recognise the politics of the Bond situation, as he admitted when first considered for the role:

I think it’s more about, we just want to have a black guy play James Bond rather than Idris Elba, the actor, play James Bond. That’s the part that I’m like, ‘Ugh, come on’

And he’s right. No matter how many diversity boxes a black Bond ticks; no matter how many Guardian column inches it fills, and how many orgasms Lenny Henry has over it, a black Bond is still no guarantee of box office success – which I suspect is why Elba is still merely ‘part of the conversation’, rather than a done deal.

James Bond is not just a character. He is a uniquely British institution, cinematographic icon, and one of the highest-grossing media franchises of all time. In 2015 the value of which was estimated at $19.9 billion. Recast him as black, and he will cease to be Bond. Die-hard Bond fans will switch off (41% oppose a non-white Bond), and others will replace them – which is the point surely? If an audience exists for new projects, that audience is poorly served by imitations of old favourites. Write some new stories, and reel the audience in honestly.

As of 2015 (yes I can’t be bothered to check further), Bond has survived 4,662 assassination attempts. Whether he will survive the latest Bond villain of wokery, remains to be seen. If Elba lands the role, one thing’s for sure: the name will no longer be Bond, James Bond; I know it, and Elba himself knows it, which is why I’m going to give him the last word: ‘There’s no such thing as a ‘black Bond’.

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17 Comments on The name’s Bond, Diversity Bond

  1. So that there’s no danger of white privilege raising it’s ugly head, or perceptions that moral relativism is ignored. How about me? I’m somewhat inconvenienced at present but I’m sure strings can be pulled to swing my release for long enough to unleash my acting talents onto an undeserving world…

  2. Let us be honest. If they cast a black man as Bond it won’t be because they are ‘colour blind’ and it won’t be because he is the best actor. It will be a deliberate act of attack on ‘traditional’ British culture.

    • What really needs to be addressed is why a fictional early cold-war agent, created as an antidote to Britain’s 5 year flirtation with Soviet socialist statism, when the country seemed to be in terminal decline, when rationing was still in force and the secret service appeared to have been taken over by a crowd of louche homos, needs to be portrayed by anyone other than the type of man that the author intended. There are any number of all-dancing, all-singing action men, and women, flinging themselves around the screens of cinemas worldwide to have made one particular hard-drinking, heavy-smoking, womanising troubador redundant; especially as he should now be well into his 90s! In fact the next film could be titled “On her Majesty’s 100th Birthday Telegram.”

  3. Queen Lear, Ruler of the Great African Empire of Transwakanda, with three daughters, a Japanese, an Arab and a Hindu…a joke? No, watch the arts pages of “The Guardian”.

    • @Hugo Fuerst
      Next best thing: “Bitten by the Bard bug…Denzel [Washington] aims for King Lear… following his screen performance…as the slasher Scot Macbeth” – Baz Bamigboye, Daily Mail, 4 February 2022.
      Sadly the colonial devastation and brutal slavery imposed by the Evil White Man on the Magnificent Civilizations of West Africa meant that no trace has been left of the drama and poetry similar to the output of racially privileged and eurocentric DEAD WHITE MALES like Shakespeare, Racine, Goethe or Dante, but as a gesture to non-racist non-stereotypical casting, and as a quid pro quo under the equality legislation, one could choose historical figures for stage and screen from this part of the globe – maybe Toby Jones as the Great Statesman St Nelson Mandela, Simon Pegg as the Great Emperor Mansa Musa and Warwick Davis as the Great Warrior Tshaka Zulu. Suspension of disbelief is par for the course.

      • If a white non-trans woman is wanted instead of Jones, Pegg or Davis, to keep things ultra-woke, why not the ubiquitous national treasure Dame Judy Dench for all three parts?
        Question: who should play Golda Meir – Helen Mirren, Maureen Lipman, Gal Gadot, or Scarlett Johanssen? Not, I think, Whoopi Goldberg in current circumstances (only the name fits).

        • @Sandra Cooke
          How about Jewish activist Rachel Riley to branch out in films as the gorgeous Golda? After all, another Rachel – Weisz – played the almost as alluring Deborah Lipstadt in the David Irving libel movie.

          • @ Jimmy Williams
            Rachel Riley? Heteronormative male chauvinist sexist colorist conceptions of “beauty”. Isn’t this a hate crime ipso facto (if I may use a DWE Latinism)? Her “ability” at maths also makes people who can’t add up feel inferior and is therefore offensive and upsetting. Isn’t “brains as well as beauty” a phrase that should be banned – along with so-called “flirting” i.e. sexual abuse?
            According to “The Guardian” (8 February 2022 CE p.12) the step forward is for so-called “disabled” actors to play major central non-“disabled” parts (not just an actor with so-called “radial dysplasia” playing Richard III with so-called “scoliosis” as reported). “Time we had that lived-experience played properly.”
            Meanwhile, because of the affirmative-action catch-up reparation, only “black” people should play “white” people, although otherwise only blacks should play black people, only gays should play gay people, only senior citizens shoud play “old” people, only Jewish people should play Jewish people, only Mormons should play Mormons, only Communists should play communists, only horses should play horses even in pantomime, only chimpanzees should play chimpanzees, only dog should play dogs (correct “breeds” albeit socially constructed preferable), only beans should play beans (no wax imitations), only pearls should play pearls (no paste), &c.
            As for social interaction outside the Matrix, white people should only marry black people, “able” people should only marry “differently abled people”, policemen should only marry “offenders”, Christians (any left) should only marry non-Christians.
            This isn’t Hitler’s Germany, after all.

  4. I await breathlessly the announcement of the first black Miss Marple.

    I’m taking a risk in writing this, but in my opinion any black man or woman who wants a career as an actor or actress ought to go back to his or her own country and do it there. England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales are white countries, and we don’t want black people on stage or TV any more than we want them here in real life.

    For God’s sake go (and take Boris with you)!

  5. Personally I lost interest in James Bond films after the novelty of the first one, and as an English teacher used two of the books to illustrate the author’s similar formulae in dialogue, description and action. However, he is a British “agent” of the Cold War years as culturally and historically as specific as Sexton Blake, Sherlock Holmes, Dick Barton, Father Brown, Miss Marple, Christopher Foyle, Hercule Poirot, Jules Maigret, Sam Spade, Dick Tracy – or Precious Ramotswe for that matter. To “create” in 2022 an archetypal white man to “look like” a Black African is an anglophobic racist insult. Idris Elba and other black actors have given good peformances as original cops or detectives in their own right.

  6. Yes, agreed. The Owen Jones comment did make me laugh! If people want to see a black British spy on screen, why not write a new role for such an actor? Isn’t it rather insulting to “let” them play our characters?

      • The notion (pushed by David Baddiel) that Jews should play Jews, Gays should play Gays, &c raises its own problems. The late Antony Sher who was both made an excellent Disraeli (though more Ashkenazic than Sephardic in physiognomy) but also Richard III (who was neither). On this basis we would need a Danish prince to play Hamlet instead of the half a dozen women over the years, and it would presumably rule out a Chinese lesbian playing (say) General MacArthur or a disabled Afro-Caribbean homosexual playing (say) Eva Braun. Authenticity matters. And actors ACT.

          • @ Robert Sharpe
            How about comedian/actress Rosie (“I am proud to be gay and disabled”) Jones but “white” instead, then?