Why I’m Not Interested In A “Black James Bond”
I can only think of a handful of African-American movies remade into film and television shows that I actually enjoyed. And out of those enjoyable remakes, there are only three that I would describe as memorable.
The first was The Wiz, which I would dare to say is far superior when compared to the original Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland. I mean, the cast, music and head nods to Black culture make the film pretty authentic in its own right. The second is the black cinema classic, Carmen Jones, which is based off of a French opera of the same name. You can’t get anymore extraordinary than Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte on-screen. And lastly, I love “Sanford and Son,” which some might not realize is the African-American version of the British sitcom, “Steptoe and Son.” But even if you were aware and had actually seen the original series, Red Foxx’s comedic genius helped “Sanford and Son” stand alone on its own merit.
But to be honest, the rest of the black versions of films and television shows over the years have been, for the most part, pretty forgettable. That includes Death at a Funeral; Cinderella; About Last Night; Guess Who (which was an extremely horrible remake of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner); I Think I Love My Wife and The Karate Kid (but I’m wondering, is that really a remake or just part of a series of films under the same theme?). I might have to turn my Black card in for saying this (good, because the benefits sucked and the credit rate was horrible), but when it comes to the Black version of mainstream flicks, most times I prefer the original versions – even if there isn’t a single black person in them.
I’m bringing this up because as much as I love Idris Elba (and in my Sofia from The Color Purple voice, “Lord knows I do”), I really don’t want to see him become a “Black James Bond.” Just like I really didn’t need a black version of Steel Magnolias. Or a Black version of The Honeymooners. Or a Black version of Annie.
It’s not like I’m not a fan of any of these films – at least the original versions. And it’s not like I don’t want to see more Black people in Hollywood get work. I have written many times before about the lack of depth and diversity in Hollywood, both behind, but in particular, in front of the camera. I have in the past taken issue with the common film and television trope, which likes to paint Black women as sexless church girls who don’t travel beyond the Caribbean islands. And I don’t like that all contemporary black couples are shown as middle class bores and updated versions of the Huxtables. I also don’t like the idea that Black films don’t touch on supernatural beings or ghosts because of Jesus. I can’t think of a single other writer (okay, there are others) who desires more options in terms of themes and characters in Black cinema than I do. And let me be clear when I say that the five or six original Black films and television shows around these days aren’t enough to say that the conversation about the need for more diversity in Black cinema needs to come to an end (because we love to point out the exceptional Negros in Hollywood, like Shonda Rhimes and well…Shonda Rhimes).
I understand the need for us to see ourselves in roles outside of the new norm of Tyler Perry flicks. But I also firmly believe that seeing more of us taking up roles in Hollywood, as well as creating characters and content outside of stereotypes and norms, is more than just having a Black face in the place of a white one. Rather, it’s about having the ability to shape our stories and images without the influence of the larger dominant culture (i.e white supremacist culture), period. The kind of white influence and meddling, which produces the likes of Rush Limbaugh. When talking about the recent Sony email leaks scandal, Limbaugh blurted out his feelings about the possibility of seeing everybody’s favorite Black Englishman suit up for the role of the first ever Black 007:
“Now Sony is suggesting that the next James Bond should be Idris Elba, a black Briton rather than a white from Scotland. But that’s not who James Bond is, and I know it’s racist to probably even point this out.”
Why yes, you are racist Limbaugh. It’s a fact that most of us have known for years. Therefore, there is no need to overthink this one. It’s also a stupid argument considering that Sean Connery is the only white from Scotland to play Bond, whereas the rest were mainly whites from the UK.
But Limbaugh’s admitted racial issues aside, as I mentioned earlier, I could also do without seeing a Black James Bond. And not because of some fake humbleness about not being handsome enough– nice try Elba! No one who fools around with K. Michelle while possibly playing an expecting father can claim the shy-guy role. We know which dude in the club you are, Elba. I still love you though. Call me.
But really, it’s because I hate the idea that James Bond has to be the standard in international espionage films anyway. First off, he’s a white guy in a world that is majority brown – that means that he stands out like a sore thumb. That part of the Bond lore never made sense to me. Secondly, he is a womanizer, who in spite of his charm, doesn’t treat the ladies in his life all that well. And how do folks not have an ounce of respect for video vixens and basketball wives, but give men, who smut around the world, passes? Where are respectability politics when you need them? And thirdly, who wants to watch a film where the brotha’s main interest as a spy is to help white supremacy thrive in the world?
Not I. Forget 007, give me the spook who sat by the door…
Or better yet, give me something entirely new and original. As Elba put it (in comments made to NPR before he tried to get fake humble on the Internet): “I just don’t want to be the black James Bond,” he said. “Sean Connery wasn’t the Scottish James Bond, and Daniel Craig wasn’t the blue-eyed James Bond, so if I played him, I don’t want to be called the black James Bond.”
Yes, let’s not campaign to have Elba be the Black version of anything. But rather, let’s campaign for Hollywood to make roles for black folks that are better than Bond.