There is a great axiom that goes something like this; ‘politics make strange bedfellows.’ I have found this to be occasionally true in my intellectual life. However, it never fails to be unnerving when I look up, survey my surroundings, and glean who my often unorthodox views match. So I am certain that you can imagine my concern when I found myself agreeing, at least in part, with Conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh regarding Idris Elba playing the next ‘James Bond.’
Now this is not a case of my failing to recognize that ‘James Bond’ is a fictional character that provides writers and directors incredible flexibility in regards to whom can play this, once again, fictional character. The genre of fiction provides options for casting agents, thespians, and directors that are not simply not available when presenting historically based non-fiction projects. However, an exception is routinely provided to white directors producing historical period pieces; for example, Ridley Scott, in the recently released Exodus, was able to change the race of both the Egyptians and Jews. However, I do not desire to be sidetracked by such matters at this particular moment.
Now I do not have any problem with the ‘James Bond’ character Ian Fleming created, being portrayed by the London-born Idris Elba. However, Rush Limbaugh appears to be particularly perturbed by this revision of the classic character for the following reasons. James Bond “…was white and Scottish. Period. That is who James Bond is, was.” As he has a tendency to do, Limbaugh continued his rant and conveniently made the genres of non-fiction and fiction synonymous by positing that if Idris Elba could be the next 007, there should be no resistance from Black America if Kelsey Grammer were cast as Nelson Mandela or if white actors were cast as President Barack Hussein Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Obviously, Limbaugh is refusing to acknowledge the options that fiction gives to movie producers and directors, options that are simply not available, or should not be available, when creating non-fiction historical period pieces.
Chris Rock makes this very point when he relates, “I remember when they were doing Starsky & Hutch, and my manager was like, “We might be able to get you the part of Huggy Bear,” which eventually went to Snoop Dogg. I was like: “Do you understand that when my brother and I watched Starsky & Hutch growing up, I would play Starsky and he would play Hutch? I don’t want to play f—ing Huggy Bear. This is not a historical drama. This is not Thomas Jefferson. It’s a movie based on a shitty TV show, it can be anybody.”
I find little ground to support Limbaugh on this matter, at least from the perspective that he is presenting it. However, I do agree that Idris Elba should not be the next ‘James Bond’, however, for woefully divergent reasons.
This entire matter reminds me of a scene in Spike Lee’s film Bamboozled, when a group of writers, all of them white except for the lead character in the film Pierre Delaqua, played by Damon Wayans, meet to discuss a new project. One of the white writers, realizing that he will be working on a Black comedy, notes the absence of Black writers involved in the project by proclaiming that he is a damn good writer and is ready to write. He neither cares nor is concerned by the absence of Black writers and attributes their absence to either refusing to work for the pay or simply not being good enough writers to work on such a project.
Therein lies the crux of the reason why I have an issue with Idris Elba being the next ‘James Bond.’ Put simply, I feel that Elba is in many ways being forced into such a role as a result of the lack of either the quantity or quality of such roles being created about the Black experience. The reality of the situation is that there are so few roles available to occupy the talents of the embarrassment of riches that we have right now among Black actors (Samuel L. Jackson, Jeffrey Wright, Denzel, Charles Dutton, Idris, Laurence, Danny, Cuba, Don Cheadle, Ving, Michael Jai White, etc.) and Black actresses (Angela Bassett, Aunjanue Ellis, Halle’, Taraji, Nia, Sanaa, Whoopi, Thandie, Viola, Queen Latifah, Kimberly Elise, Regina King, Alfre, Oprah, Lupita, Phylicia Rashad, etc.).
Amazingly there are a few Black actors, well one in particular, who lays the blame for the alluded to dearth of roles for African-American actors and actresses at the feet of Blacks, not Hollywood Studios capable of ‘green lighting’ such ventures. Anthony Mackie, who has appeared in several films of note such as Million Dollar Baby, foolishly related that the absence of Black roles is attributable to Black actors and writers whose laziness precludes them from telling their stories. Even The New York Times, in a piece titled, “Hollywood’s White” refutes Mackie’s asinine assertion by penning, “The consolidation of a black presence in the movies and television did not signal the arrival of a postracial Hollywood any more than the election of Barack Obama in 2008 spelled the end of America’s 400-year-old racial drama.”
As in any overcrowded industry, the competition for work in Hollywood is fierce regardless of race or gender. According to Black Hollywood insiders, the above statement is inaccurate for Blacks pursuing either on-screen roles or positions as writers at major production companies for one particular reason; it relates that there is work to be fought over. According to Black Hollywood insiders nothing could be further from the truth. Hollywood icon Chris Rock related the following. “It’s a white industry. Just as the NBA is a black industry. I’m not even saying it’s a bad thing. It just is. And the black people they do hire tend to be the same person. That person tends to be female and that person tends to be Ivy League.” Very few Blacks are working regularly in major films in front of or behind the camera. Although times have ‘gotten better’, that improvement is relative. Rock chimes in again with a most poignant observation regarding Black men in Hollywood. “But how many black men have you met working in Hollywood? They don’t really hire black men. A black man with bass in his voice and maybe a little hint of facial hair? Not going to happen.”
So as I previously stated, I partially agree with Rush Limbaugh regarding Idris Elba’s appearance as ‘James Bond.’ I have no doubt that he would most likely be the best ‘James Bond’ that the world has ever seen, I just think that it is patently unfair that there are not similar stories being written and produced for African-American actors/actresses that contextualize the voluminous issues facing our community. It appears that Idris Elba may not have much a choice in regards to pursuing the role of ‘James Bond’, because not working at all is not much of a choice at all. Just ask any of the out of work Black actors/actresses, they are not hard to find.
James Thomas Jones III