Rumors about the casting of Idris Elba as the next James Bond, a role most recently occupied by Daniel Craig, have caused somewhat of an uproar on the Internet over the past couple of months. Why? Elba would be an African American actor assuming a role that has been historically played by white men. “He was white and Scottish. Period. That is who James Bond is and was,” said conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh.
Race in film is a sensitive, polarizing topic that requires a type of nuance lacking in the Twitter-sphere. Many Internet denizens believe that casting a black actor as Bond undermines the character’s identity. Social media users like @Rob_Simple have voiced their concerns that “Idris Elba WOULD make a great James Bond except for the fact that he’s black and James Bond isn’t.” Some argue that casting Elba would be a gimmick to appease liberal audiences.
However, 007, unlike many other fictional characters, is more of a concept than an actual person. He’s an embodiment of suave, British sex appeal mixed with the lethality and thrilling lifestyle of an international spy. It’s not who Bond is so much as what Bond is. And, as we’ve seen over the course of Bond’s lengthy cinematic career, he is not confined to the cultural ideals of any particular era. Bond has evolved over time as our culture’s ideal of a sexy, skilled secret agent has changed.
This transformation illustrates that outside of the basic identity (of a character who is talented, suave and sexually appealing), there really isn’t anything specific that defines Bond. Each actor has brought something unique to the role with their entirely distinct personalities. Even their nationalities have been subject to change (Connery, who originated the role, was the only Scottish Bond to date). For all intents and purposes, Daniel Craig’s Bond is an entirely different person from Pierce Brosnan’s or Sean Connery’s Bond, though they all share those same essential Bond mannerisms.
So, in this day and age, why can’t a black man be Bond? Or, for that matter, must Bond even be a man? With concepts of race and gender becoming ever more fluid, perhaps the Bond of today is better off looking different than the Bond of the 60s and 70s. Perhaps, creatively speaking, altering Bond’s race or even gender is the next step in creating a Bond for this modern age.
Ultimately, though, the guiding factor in who Bond is should be left up to the creatives assigned to the job. It is an artist’s vision that creates compelling characters and stories. So let the minds behind the wheel of the Bond franchise make their own call, or else we could end up with a more diverse yet creatively inert 007 – an unfruitful trade-off.
Andrew Allen is a sophomore majoring in communications.