I have a confession to make. I’ve been lying to my teenage son and it’s time to come clean.
My big fib? Well, since he was little, I’ve always told him when he grows up he can be whatever he wants to be and do anything he wants, within the limits of what is physically possible.
Except it’s not true. Say he wants to be an actor. If he works really, really hard, and gets into prestigious acting schools like RADA or LAMDA, and everyone who sees him considers him to be brilliant and he goes on to win BAFTAs and Oscars – he still won’t ever be cast in one of the most iconic film roles, James Bond… because he’s black. At least he won’t if Ralph Fiennes has his way.
The actor who plays M in the spy franchise left me shaken and stirred when he said 007 should never be played by a black actor. Instead, he says black actors and women should have their OWN films to show what they can do.
“I would like to see a great black actor inhabit a Bond-like persona, but not necessarily be in the same franchise,” he told Newsnight. “I think we could remake the idea of Bond as a woman or as an actor of any ethnicity in another vehicle.”
Fiennes sounds like creepy characters Tubbs and Edward from TV comedy League of Gentlemen, but instead of a Local Shop that’s only for Local People, for him Bond is a white role only for white men. He’s utterly wrong. Art – including film and television – is meant to challenge the status quo, not conform and reinforce it.
When hit TV series 24 launched in 2001 it was called unrealistic because it starred brilliant black actor Dennis Haysbert as the US President – and there had never been a black president.
Years later when Barack Obama was elected, people genuinely asked if this was made possible by Haysbert’s role. I think it probably was – seeing is believing right?
Hamilton, the record-breaking musical, is about America’s Founding Fathers, including Alexander Hamilton and George Washington. In it, white historical characters are played by actors of colour and that hasn’t stopped it winning every award going, from Tonys to Grammys, Emmys, and even the Pulitzer Prize for drama. The colour of the cast wasn’t a distraction, it fundamentally made it better.
Likewise with Bond – people show up for the gadgets, fast cars and corny one liners. So keep what’s left of your hair on, Ralph. I’m sure if Idris Elba, John Boyega or Chiwetel Ejiofor take on the role, they’ll be just fine. At the very least they can’t be any worse than George Lazenby.