As the bookies begin hedging bets for which actor will play Britain’s favourite secret agent and as Hollywood comes under fire for whitewashing its lead roles, the topic of ethnicity in blockbusters has become one of heated controversy. Idris Elba in particular has stirred the waters, dividing fans as to whether James Bond should be black. If so, can Bond also be also Asian?
Let’s look at the arguments on both sides, subjectively. Let’s begin with why Bond should remain white. Before we delve into this argument, it is imperative to note that we should not dismiss this viewpoint as ‘racist’. We’re better than that and this topic deserves a more educated approach than diminishing it to an insensitive race war. The character 007, who was created by Ian Fleming was originally Caucasian. Fleming himself resembled his creation to that of singer Hoagy Carmichael, who was Caucasian. Descriptions of Bond’s short black hair and blue-grey eyes can be found in novels such as From Russia With Love. Thereby, if Hollywood is to use Fleming’s character, they should remain consistent to his description. For die-hard fans of the franchise that have nothing but utmost respect for the character, Hollywood neglecting simple details about the character erodes away at its authenticity and devalues the entire franchise.
Secondly, if Hollywood is willing to neglect this simple detail about Bond, how far is it willing to go? As with any fictional character, there are certain characteristics that define him or her. Batman was written as a butch billionaire, Spiderman a scrawny, nerdy teen and for the case of Bond, a suave, tall and slender Caucasian British gent. If Hollywood neglects the Caucasian part of the description, they can equally neglect the characteristics too. If Bond is portrayed as a short, fat Chinese guy, is he still Bond? Whilst Bond being white may be regarded as a less important characteristic than for example him being British or tall, I would argue that it is the exotic cocktail of ALL characteristics that make a character unique.
Furthermore, if Bond is casted as black or Asian solely for political correctness or fear of offending minorities, this ironically devalues the intention of avoiding racism in casting. It is equally as racist if an actor is chosen because he is of a certain ethnicity as it is to exclude him from casting decisions for the same reasons.
Now, the argument for having an ethnic Bond. Bond as a character was conceived in the 60’s, where being ‘British’ largely meant that you were Caucasian. Nowadays, the term ‘British’ has widened to become inclusive of countless ethnicities. You can be of Asian, Jamaican, Indian or French origin but still be British. Thereby, if Hollywood is portraying Bond in the 21st century, by portraying him as black or Asian but still British, Hollywood is still adhering to Bonds original British characteristics. Having a black or Asian born Brit working for MI6 in the 60’s may have been unrealistic back then, but nowadays, the premise is undoubtedly more realistic.
Whatsmore, Bond’s other credentials such as his suave nature, dry wit and unparalleled charm are what sets him apart from other men, not the colour of his skin. If a male actor can pull off these characteristics, the colour of his skin is largely irrelevant.
It should also be noted that the role of M was originally written for a male, but Judi Dench knocked that role out of the park. Additionally, different actors from different races and even genders have taken on the roles of M and Moneypenny, so why not have diversity with the lead star?
The debate is at large, a balanced one. Purists and die hard fans of the series may be uncomfortable with diverging too far away from Bond’s original description, whilst other fans would be right to argue that diversity would bring a refreshing update to the character.
Let us know what you think!