This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
“My name’s Elba, Idris Elba.” The words will go down in our history as the moment when Idris dumped bucket loads of fuel on an already roaring fire of rumors about him taking on the role of James Bond. The actor of 45 exposed a photo of himself on Twitter with the caption, and fans naturally lost their damn minds.
Victor Olusina tweeted: “Do it for the people Idris! Black Bond!!!”
Kristal Garcia added: “I would watch the HELL out of a James Bond movie featuring you! And I haven’t watched a Bond movie in ages.”
And Vincent Wright wrote: “C'mon, Idris! Take the job, man!”
At the time, I was somewhere between “meh” and “OK.”
This whole black Bond conversation always felt iffy to me—like it was preoccupied with something romanticized. I mean, let’s really remind ourselves of the James Bond starter kit we’ve been working with for the past 65 years—a personification of peak “white” delight that can rock the everlasting fuck out of a two-piece suit. Devilishly handsome, tall, British as fuck, matched with a casual sexism torn straight from a Harvey Weinstein guide-to-trash manual (that’s you Daniel Craig). In this climate of Elba-as-Bond arguments (which is no longer happening), I could never ignore all that white privileged history. And while I’m not your tea-cup holding Englishman with the claim of Idris being too ‘street’ for the role—several black talents can do this—I’m also of the mind that if they do this shit in the future, they better do it right. We can’t sidestep the realities of a black Bond’s lack of white privilege just to advance white tears—though I love the taste. In truth, he’d have to be unlike any other Bond that came before him.
The world of a black James Bond demands an acknowledgment that not just any fuckboy can pimp dash cams, hired goons, women, and supervillains into a “mission accomplished” end credit. The average white-man-caked-in-foundation like Roger Moore, Sean Connery, or Pierce Brosnan have a privilege—a benefit of a doubt—the advantage of just “being.” When an MI6 agent is sent to a Russian state house dinner or tasked with operating within a foreign state with little to no ethnic presence, the debonair white guy is a likeness that can maneuver through that world. My man Sean Connery is not getting pulled over for driving a shiny Aston Martin DB5 in the heart of the US. And Pierce Brosnan is steady strutting his British butt into that fancy random ballroom without getting triple checked for his invitation/ID. An Idris Elba or *insert ethnic name* couldn’t do this. It would be like ignoring the plain reasons for so few black foreign correspondents in journalism or black spies for that matter—certain segregated societies just don’t fuck with ebony skin.
Here’s how I see a scenario going down: A black James Bond strolls into some high-class venue all suited up. Several security cameras pan in unison to the black spot on the screen. A security guard closes the distance as some server inquires, “can I help you?” My man, of course, declines the help, sits at the bar, and before he can order that expensive martini, he’s asked for a government-issued ID. In his obvious otherness, he realizes that he’s been spotted several times over before he can even begin the mission.
The reason I’m able to conjure this shit up is because it’s a feeling I’ve experience in some way or another. When I was 24, I spent a month in Europe with a few friends and visited Barcelona, Rome, London, Germany, and Austria among others. I’ve also traveled to Mexico and Cuba. Almost everywhere I went, there was a moment where I got this constant stare as if I was this extraterrestrial thing in a foreign land. I couldn’t always gauge if it was positive, but the fact was that in several spaces I stood out, and it gave me anxiety. I felt like I couldn’t be myself and that I had to have perfect behavior. That feeling is repeated whenever I enter a jewelry store or a white neighborhood. A black James Bond who didn’t reflect that would feel like a lie.
Now sure, a color-blinded society is all noble and great, but so are unicorns. Our reality is way off from that norm. So let’s not pretend like a black James Bond wouldn’t have to disguise himself as less than his counterparts (the help) to get the job done. Yes, his disadvantage would be in all the things his skin would imply (the propensity for being inferior). And his advantage would be his concealment within those expectations. Dropping in an actor like Idris Elba without much thought would be a complete fuckup next to all that. He’d stand out like a motherfucker. My man is a 6-foot-tall-ass Ghanaian of pure attraction, with a frame that screams “well-fitted.” Natural charisma aside, his British accent combined with his whole ebony shtick digs on a mainstream consciousness of what blackness can look like at level 100. This image is not only hard to avoid staring at (a terrible body for a spy), but traditionally, it’s threatening.
Black masculinity, in general, has historically been seen as a source of resentment. References to our big packages and large frames were used as a way to deprive black men of their humanity and agency over several centuries. Imagine that whole framework of thinking in a James Bond world if handled incorrectly. The whole franchise is already deeply buried in the morals of the 1950s: a time of royal pride and rolling in Aston Martins while fucking around with the side piece secretary. Adding a black face to all that debauchery would do nothing for the already fucked up image that black masculinity continues to operate in.
Listen, all I’m saying is that recasting any version of Bond with darker skin absent of a whole damn reboot is a trivialization of the black experience. A black Bond requires a change in character, setting, and maneuverability—and change his first name while you’re at it. Anything else is just a premature celebration of something that’ll hurt us, hurt our wallets, and hurt our dignity because there was no real ownership of what a black Bond should have represented. If we can’t radically redefine this character in the ways that make blackness radically different, keep shit across the pond so that others can create something more uniquely black.