I do not watch Doctor Who. There are two reasons: 1.) As a child it scared the beejesus out of me and 2.) Idris Elba.
With the recent Sony hacks that have hit the news, the leaked emails and what not, one story that peaked my interest – the whole North Korean insult debacle is so boring and not at all surprising. Did they really believe a dictator, known for his whims and prepared to go to war with his neighbour, would let this slide? That is another blog. – back to my interest peaked. After Angelina’s death glare, and various supposedly ‘racist’ missives, an ‘interesting’ – according to the UK press anyway – leak has surfaced concerning Idris Elba. Apparently there are plans afoot to put the sometime Norse world guardian, Luther lead and part time deejay, in line to be the next and, first black, James Bond. Hmm.
Here in Blighty, the more right of centre twitter feeds have gone crazy. A black Bond? Black?! Bond is white! That is one of the more pleasant responses. The others hark back to the sixties and seventies and remind one of the bigotry that still bubbles under the surface of polite, liberal, British, society.
The character of James Bond was created by Ian Fleming. A British super spy, beloved by generation after generation, it has spawned twenty-three films and, after Fleming’s initial twelve novels, there have been twenty-five further novels by various authors, all following the template of the original works. So the character is firmly established. Some might even say a British institution. A white one.
So as a black man, what is my stance on Idris Elba being a potential Bond? Not that it matters, but I think that he should be white. 100%, Caucasian, British white. Why? Because he is. Unlike the other characters in the agent’s world; M, Moneypenny, Q, that are interchangeable, as they all have obvious code names, unchanging jobs. James Bond is the character. There are other agents; other double ohs, but there is only one James Bond.
A tangent: Doctor Who. The BBC program about an intergalactic alien, has, even with the advent of time, always inhabited the form of a middle class, a British man, since its inception in the early sixties, it has never been challenged over its rigorous adherence to this particular trait.
The reason for this, I believe, is one of the enduring differences between the black experience in the UK and that of those born in the US. It is also the reason why an enduring white character can be spoken of as potentially – on celluloid – becoming black.
Every screen incarnation of James Bond has been created stateside. The films, though they have a considerable amount of UK input, are steeped in American production values. Slick, bold, showy. These are not typical British flourishes. Doctor Who is British, BBC, through and through. Stagy and received pronunciation. As it ever was. The US like and ‘do’ change. Mix things up, shake stuff around, it is a strength and a weakness. British do not do change. When they do it tends to be at a glacial pace. A Doctor Who that is not a man, or white, probably will not manifest in my lifetime. Want another example? Modern twist on Sherlock Holmes have been a hits both here and in the US. The US version, Elementary, has retained the Sherlock character as a mildly autistic, white male. The Watson character however has been updated. Watson is now a Chinese/American, woman. In the UK the characters have remained resolutely male. Not that this is a problem. The British version is utterly brilliant. It just illustrates the difference between the UK and the US.
Until the UK adopts the same approach to programming, black faces adopting major roles will always be tokenism, creating their own work or relying on the whims of the powers that be.