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

The Week in Arts
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The Independent Online

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.