Tuesday 21 April 2015

Article: Double No Seven: Ruminations on a Black Bond

By Leslie Byron Pitt

One of the most recent things that’s irked me has been the needless chatter about a Black James Bond. When the ramblings of Idris Alba being considered as a possible contender for Bond when Daniel Craig hung up his Walther PP7, I pretty much ignored them. As I do with so many film rumours these days. There’s never any groundings in such talk. When I used to podcast with My friend Iain, we drastically altered our “News” section as we began to find populist film sites and blogs to become cluttered with obnoxious clickbait. Whatever people thought of our Cast, we quickly realised didn’t really wish to be a part of the rumour circle jerk. We found ourselves trying to dig for more interesting conversation pieces. The black Bond Idea had me burrowing once again. Searching for film talk that’s I would find far more interesting.

Despite quieting down slightly, I found that, once again the maddening talk and so called “controversy” bubbling to the surface. Former Bond star Roger Moore had himself branded as racist when voicing his views. While Yaphet Kotto, previously a Bond Villian (and still the only black one) was suddenly found back in the news when asked how he felt about the matter

I dread to read what the comments are like on these type of articles. When a precious 50 year old franchise appears to be threatened by the horrible cloud of multi-culturalism, suddenly allow seemingly normal minded people spew their inner Alf Garnett all over their keyboards. Despite this, I too have reservations about the idea of a Black James Bond. Of course, it’s not out of any bizarre patriotic pride (for the most part). So even though Mr Alba has quelled the fire by taking his name out of the hat. I still feel I must stand up and lip off about this subject. Because the internet.


Part of the reason, I don’t wish for a Black Bond is down to the aforementioned comment threads. I find it astonishing just how quickly things like this can turn the country into a Springfield-like mob mentality. These days, when something doesn’t go our way, no matter what it may be, people sprint to the internet to inform others that such and such is not going their way. Like a huge global interconnected network mother, the internet merrily facilitates our nonsense. I mean, hey, look at what I’m doing now.

I was previously working in Customer Service, and the angry customers first port of call was to inform me that they will be “spreading their complaint on the internet” in order to get what they want. Even if it was their fault. The same thing occurs now in the media that we consume. Not in the now quint way in which we observed Trekkies write in on mass to save the ailing show. But in a childish, petty way as they feel that creatives only allowed to listen to the audiences entitled ass.

Although the mission statement has been altered somewhat, the Daniel Craig is not Bond site still remains. It has now achieved the original boycott plans, but remains a vivid testament to how we as viewers over react when threatened with change.

If we’re not organising virtual sit-ins and expecting them to go viral. Look at how we insult people who do not agree with us:

This “debate” over the UKIP manifesto continued with Mr Bunker (Yeah, we get the reference) claiming that his first response was not racist and continuing to ask about whether the entire manifesto was read. Unfortunately the insipid way this gentleman launched into infantile conflict first as opposed to engaging cultural journalist Musa Okwonga like a grown adult, not only obviously negates further response, but speaks volumes of how many look at not just the political process. This type of juvenile outburst happens a thousand times a day to so many people, famous or otherwise. It suggests to me one thing: If this is the maturity that we look at political discourse, imagine the intelligent discussion we’d have about a Black Bond. As stated before, I dread to read the comment boards.

As much as Mr Elba would get many women drooling, Britain as a whole doesn’t appear to be mature enough to deal with even the idea of a Black Bond. I still live in a world in which black men are considered thugs and criminals by proxy in real life. Britain still sells middle class white period drama as it screws its face at post colonialism and multi-culturalism. It was only in the 60’s that landlords only had No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish signs. Just look at how the media now use Katie Hopkins as a conduit for foreign policy. Labelling immigrants as vermin and not giving a toss if they die. I mean, that’s basically what Bond does anyway, but can you imagine idea of having a Black British characterisation of this? Many can. For completely the wrong reasons. 

I don’t honestly think such long standing British franchise where man fights for Queen and Country can have a Black Lead fit in snugly. I’m sure the BBC still gains complaints when they dare try and arrange EastEnders to appear more like the how the East End actually looks.

The Culture

As we’re talking about the British audience and their culture. Do I, as a young black individual need to see a black male playing the blunt killing instrument that Bond is? Do I need that prickly feeling that occurs when the audience agree that's all we, as black males, can be?  This same audience that takes Al Murrays Landlord a tad too seriously? It's hard to see a something like a Black Bond when we live in a country who’s far too quick to bemoan the volume of foreign players in its Top football league and not consider the structurally weak coaching system in place when its national team suffers. At its best, British culture and entertainment and our processing of it, provokes, challenges and triumphs. At its worst, it struggles to connect the dots.

I say this because slapping in a Black Bond is the kind of annoying liberal quick fix that agitates feelings rather than provide any real progression. For instance; I'm never really surprised that these kind of conversations constantly circle around what a white audience thinks, rather than a black one. A white audience who is very quick to inform black people how to feel about racial issues. Once again, consider social media and those lovely comment pages. Yes, Black actors get asked about Bond, and who would say no to wanting to play 007? It makes for a nice soundbite and of course an actor has got to eat so they would be delighted to be offered a multi film deal such as that one. 

Me as a viewer, however, has always been ok with a White Bond, as have my parents who introduced me to the film series. My Dad’s favourite is Thunderball. He is incorrect. That aside, neither parents have ever been clamouring for a drastic change in the character. The argument, of course, is that a Black Bond would be for a younger culture. However, I personally find that ever since my first Bond movie at the cinema (Goldeneye), I’ve always found it amusing that Bond is a relic of sorts. A Black Bond is the type of sexy upgrade that negates the history of the character, which includes the books and their liberal sprinkling of racism. I don’t really want that forgotten. In fact I’d rather it be remembered so we as a culture can come to terms with just how tolerant Britain actually is.

Badass Digest writer Phil Noble Jr rightly reminds us that: “Bond was a power fantasy for an empire in decline.” I’m actually quite happy to agree with him there. I was never surprised when the likes of Jason Bourne, had the men behind Bond pull up their bootstraps and look into make the series tick again. Yet even in Skyfall, the most recent entry, the film, while very enjoyable, still had to battle against the traditional aspects that make Bond what he is. Even in Goldeneye, M was considering him a dinosaur. I’m not sure we need to see a black actor mixed up in this particular tar pit.

Let’s not forget that a Black Bond doesn’t just mean a change of colour, it also means that there would most likely be an alteration of culture as well. Changes that would provide some fascinating dynamics, but would mostly cause more problems than anything else. The overwhelming whiteness of those behind the camera. An audience, who was ready to contemplate mob rule over a BLONDE Bond. The economical hedge bets by nervous execs if such changes were to occur. It seems like a needless headache.

Of course, all this pondering means nothing to a large grasp of an audience who would possibly respond with a nonchalant shrug before a loud groaning of “IT’S ONLY A MOVIE!” And yes that would be the nicest response. Yet it’s the jumbo geeks and uber fans that will moan louder and become more disruptive with it. Is there any point of trying to place any action towards this kind of conversation, when studios are still struggling with minorities within other genres and roles? Should a studio such as Sony, whose had far more troublesome worries in recent times, fight a consistently unsatisfied audience over another controversy?   

I mean, who does this choice honestly serve? The idea of a Black Bond doesn't excite me as a Black British viewer as much a new circle of black directors. A Black Bond or five BAME writers allowed to create new exciting scripts? Give me a couple more black producers who can get projects off the ground. These things are far more important to me as a viewer. It’s better to hold wealth than to be rich. A Black Bond could possibly give us a spot of richness. The things I have just mentioned would head us towards wealth.

A Future?

Of course, if we really need more ethnic minorities playing in this universe, would it kill the studios to have a Felix Leiter spin off? I’d happily buy tickets to an espionage thriller with Jeffrey Wright as the lead. It could be stylish, possibly more cerebral and could play well as not only an unconventional choice, but as an original product based only slightly on existing material.

The annoying thing about Bond, with the rights being owned by Sony, we face a bigger problem than Race. We see Bonds British culture in its cast and crew and location of Pinewood. Yet profits flow back to the U.S. Think about that. How British are these films anymore in the most basic sense?  Before we start mucking around with race, it would be nice for Britian to look towards gaining a decent sense of film culture (not dominated by Hollywood) and a fully functioning film industry in Britain which doesn’t live so precariously via tenuous links once more. With the lower budget British gangster film doing well for British film (which happily displays a solid sense of diversity) wouldn’t it be nice if a forward thinking bright sparks could look towards building similar models before evolving the system? I may be a ridiculous idealist, but imagine if we were able to grow such models. In my rose tinted vision, we wouldn’t need to bother the Sony behemoth, because we could have something else to look forward to. If however, we actually do achieve the right amount of harmony to have a Black Bond, with a well written new history and an open minded audience...Chiwetel Ejiofor?