David Lister: It's taken decades, but cinema is finally ready for a black Bond

The Week in Arts

Related Topics

The next James Bond film may have been put on hold for financial reasons, but that has not prevented a rather interesting debate on the letters pages of this paper.

When Daniel Craig eventually stands down, should he be succeeded by a black actor? It is, of course, recognition of how far we have progressed with colour-blind casting in the past 10 years that this can be seriously debated and could realistically happen.

One reader suggested that charismatic actor Adrian Lester would be perfect for the role. It was Lester who made the biggest leap for colour-blind casting when he played Henry V at the National Theatre in 2003. When I broke that particular story in The Independent, it was just that – a "story". It wouldn't rate a single column inch now, any more than a black Romeo or Lear would.

The National's artistic director Nicholas Hytner cast Lester in the role, and I remember saying to him over lunch that many people would inevitably remark that Henry V wasn't black. "And he didn't speak in blank verse," replied Hytner.

It seemed a glib response, but it wasn't. It was the perfect response. We are prepared to believe so much that is utterly unrealistic or anachronistic, so why should colour be an issue? For most people working in the arts, and for a great many audiences, it no longer is, but that's not to say that we should assume that everyone shares that opinion. Yesterday, a reader wrote rather cuttingly that perhaps we should have a short-sighted Bond, or 007 in a wheelchair. Her memory is short. One of the great film portrayals of a sexy secret agent, Michael Caine as Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File, did indeed wear glasses.

But while I and, I am convinced, many others would have no objection to a black James Bond, I think too that colour-blind casting is not as simple or as all-embracing as is often claimed. Henry V is a semi-mythical figure to us now; James Bond is a fictional character. Although neither could have been black in their time and place, it's no longer something that bothers film or theatre audiences. Such figures have that semi-mythical status, and naturalism is to a large degree superfluous.

But what if it's a figure whose face we really do know, whose mannerisms we really know, whose whole persona we really know? There we enter new and much trickier territory. Would audiences be comfortable with black Queen Victoria on film? A black Roosevelt? A black Hitler? Or would such portrayals be as distracting and unnerving as a white Nelson Mandela? These are subjects never addressed, even by the strongest advocates of colour-blind casting.

Colour-blind casting is really a misnomer. We have certainly reached the stage where we can legitimately contemplate a black Bond or Bourne, a black Falstaff or Robin Hood. It is a huge advance on the attitudes of even a decade ago. The next stage, the casting of figures from contemporary history, will be more difficult.

Lynn Redgrave, political fighter

Lynn Redgrave, who died this week, was one of the most engaging actresses I have met, and hers is a story that I'm sure will one day find its way on to screen. She was largely ignored by her famous actor father Sir Michael (his diary entry for the night she was born was about the play he was in but neglected to mention Lynn's birth); she had an inferiority complex about her starry siblings Vanessa and Corin (in one childhood game Vanessa and Corin played prime minister and American president and Lynn was the president's dog); and her marriage ended when her husband fathered a child with their daughter-in-law.

Funnily enough, while her publicly left-wing siblings were thought of as the political animals in the family, it was Lynn who had the biggest political battle. In 1981 she embarked on a court case against Universal Studios who, she claimed, fired her for breastfeeding in her dressing room. It cost her $500,000, it had an unsuccessful conclusion and she was put on a studio blacklist. But she appeared before congressional committees and her cause was embraced by feminists and working mothers across America. Only one Redgrave has been a catalyst for real political change.

Broadway is not the Royal Court

The news that Enron is to close on Broadway after one week has sent a shudder through Britain's theatre world. Though rather over-praised in my view, Enron was one of the most lauded plays of recent years over here and was expected to knock 'em dead in New York. I wonder if one of the reasons for its failure on Broadway could be that Americans don't share British theatre's aggressively negative view of big business and don't appreciate Brits preaching or having a laugh at the expense of their institutions, even ones that have been catastrophes. The New York Times's critic declared that Enron was "a flashy but laboured economics lesson".

Sadly it has proved an economics lesson for the show's producers, with the Broadway closure likely to cost over £2m. A flamboyant expression of liberal distaste can have them cheering to the rafters at the Royal Court. That doesn't mean it will also go down a storm on Broadway.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, centre, attends a news conference at Chigi Palace in Rome  

Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

Andrew Grice

When a small amount of desk space means the world

Rebecca Armstrong
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own