It’s not often that Kanye West has something interesting to say, but as the debate over whether actor Idris Elba could take over the reigns as fictional character James Bond rages, he’s finally hit the jackpot.
"Artists should be visionaries," he reportedly told the Sun this week. "A black James Bond would be visionary no doubt. Something that 30 years ago would have seemed crazy should now be something that is a real possibility.”
Elba has all the credentials of a perfect Bond – he’s suave, intelligent and he looks damn fine in a suit. Yet the idea that a black man could play the martini-swilling spy has gotten some stirred, and a few more shaken.
“Isn’t 007 supposed to [be] handsome?” Elba tweeted a few days ago alongside a selfie showing his beautiful – oh so beautiful – face, contorted into a half-squint. A reaction that showed true Bondesque grace and humour in the face of the unabashed racism that followed the Sony Hacks leak suggesting he could be in the running for the role.
So far, the controversial American talk show host Rush Limbaugh has been the most outspoken critic of the possibility. “But now [they are] suggesting that the next James Bond should be Idris Elba, a black Briton, rather than a white from Scotland” Rushbaugh fussed on his show last Tuesday. “Fifty years of white Bond because Bond is white. Always Scottish. Always drank vodka.”
This is an argument riddled with inaccuracies. There has only been one Scottish Bond: Sean Connery. The others were English, Welsh, Irish and even Australian. In fact, Ian Fleming only invented the character’s half-Scots, half-Swiss heritage after the cinema release of Doctor No in order to honour Connery. He hasn’t always drunk vodka-based cocktails either – as a functioning alcoholic he’ll drink anything from Dom Pérignon champagne to a Campari-based Americano.
Idris Elba on screen
Idris Elba on screen
1/5 Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom
Elba stars as late South African political leader Nelson Mandela in the Oscar-nominated Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Elba played 'passionate and ruthless' DCI John Luther in award-winning BBC One crime drama Luther from 2010 to 2013
3/5 No Good Deed
Elba stars as unstable escaped convict Colin Evans in 2014 thriller No Good Deed
Elba plays ex-military captain Janek in Prometheus, here seen alongside Charlize Theron
5/5 The Wire
Elba established himself in the US first, playing the role of Russell 'Stringer' Bell in drug drama The Wire
A man with such a penchant for booze, you might think, would die young, but if his Authorised Biography is anything to go by, he would be 94 by now. Yet the actors who have played him have ranged enormously in age – George Lazonby was 29 in Her Majesty’s Secret Service while Roger Moore was 57 in A View to a Kill.
Craig was hardly an archetypal Bond either with his blue eyes and blonde hair. The spy franchise has always adapted, always stayed fresh in order survive. Because that’s the beauty of fiction – you can do what you want with it. It exists to be visionary.
Elba – who is 42 – has said that he doesn’t want to be known as the "black Bond", others in the role were never defined by what made them different. And nor should he be. However, the movie industry’s track record of substituting white actors for characters of other ethnicities is not great.
The recent film Exodus caused a Twitter riot due to its “whitewashed” portrayal of Egyptians and Israelites. And as we all know, Hollywood's problem with race (and racism) is nothing new – Laurence Olivier once even blacked up to play Othello in the 1965 adaptation. So it's about time the industry faced up to its problem. After all, when the face looking back at them is as suave and handsome as Elba's, how can they resist?