Casting a New 007: Can James Bond be Black?

Curator's Note

During the midst of a global pandemic, we have seen ongoing protests concerning the representation and equality of Blacks globally. On September 6th, the celebration of Idris Elba's 48th birthday reignited social media discussion about the British actor succeeding Daniel Craig as the new James Bond. Although never seriously considered for the role, many fans found the idea of Elba playing James Bond to be unacceptable. 

According to a GQ article, Craig was not the popular choice for Bond when chosen back in 2005, and after receiving backlash from fans on the decision, Craig began to doubt himself. Therefore, it would not be the first time protests have emerged due to choosing a particular candidate for the role. The James Bond fan base has a history of being a tough crowd to please and have a particular image in mind when it comes to the portrayal of 007. But what does this image look like exactly?

To some Twitter users, it is not the image of someone who is Black. The racially charged backlash towards the potential casting of Elba suggests that a Black actor could not accurately portray the image of Ian Fleming's fictional British Secret Service agent. Along with other criticism, author Anthony Horowitz called Elba out as being “too street” to play James Bond on Twitter. A Saturday Night Live episode also addressed fans disapproval through call-out culture on Twitter in a segment called “Can I Play That?”

Director Antoine Fuqua stated that “it is time” to allow a non-white actor to play Bond. The Blaxploitation film era has proved repeatedly that the unsuspected person can provide additional nuance to a classic spy narrative. A 2018 survey published in The Hollywood Reporter stated that 63 percent of Americans wanted Elba as the next James Bond. However, older fans did not encourage a change in the character's race as if it took away his quality as a spy. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Elba expressed that he worried about the weight of being James Bond, especially with the majority of the negative conversation surrounding the color of his skin. The discussion of Elba becoming the next James Bond moves beyond casting 007 and speaks to a larger concern of the type of roles some audiences consider Black actors to be acceptable for. 


Eva, I am so glad you have brought up the discourse around who will succeed Craig as Bond, since that conversation, as you show, has been such a major part of this franchise's last few years.  While I recognize that Elba is now highly unlikely to ever play the part, I hope that the consistency and passion of the discussion around his potential casting has done enough to open up the possibility for a POC to earn the role after Craig.  Though similar conversations, like Michael B. Jordan playing Superman, have not panned out, I am encouraged by Barbara Broccoli's comments to Variety that Bond "can be of any color" (though she did stress that he remain male, which is a conversation for another day).  Likewise, Lashana Lynch's role in No Time to Die - purportedly as a replacement 007 - reads as an encouraging response to the Elba discourse, even though it does not go far enough.  Time will tell whether Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson, and EON follow through on their statements or if they were hollow sentiments.

A really great piece, Eva, covering a lot of ground (and about a million tweets!) in a short piece of writing! The idea of 'acceptability' is always interesting to me, as it's inherently connected to 'marketability'. I think the scale and scope of the Marvel franchise has -- eventually, and after countless tiresome white-man-centric appetisers -- demonstrated that there is an audience for protagonists who aren't straight white dudes. But the rub is whether the Bond franchise can throw off the exhausting arguments of Britishness and the originator's intent, in order to allow a fresh take on 60+ years of same old, same old. God I hope so.

Very good points. While I support a non-white James Bond, I would rather not have Elba be Bond, simply because  I think he could do better. While I am fond of the Craig films, I don't think they fully realize his talent, where as recent films like Logan Lucky and Knives Out explore more of his range, particuarly his comedic one. Elba is a fantastic actor, but has a very uneven resume. For ever Luther and The Wire you find several Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengance and The Dark Tower. But I suppose that's more represnative of my complicated relaitonship with the Bond films, a lot of fun, but not something I ever think of as a standing example of screenwriting. 

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