You don’t have to be a racist to think that Idris Elba would be an awful James Bond; it’s pretty much only people who haven’t seen him in much since The Wire 15 years ago that genuinely believe this. If anything it would be helpful to have large-scale public screenings of his unexceptional performances in films like Bastille Day, Molly’s Game or The Dark Tower to remind audiences that he’s not only too old for a reboot, but just doesn’t have the chops for the big screen. Daniel Kaluuya would be a better fit for the role of Bond, and it’s embarrassing to hear Elba trotting out this same sad story every time he’s got something to promote. In The Dark Tower, a misbegotten Stephen King adaptation, Elba’s lumpen performance as gunslinger Roland Deschain is buried amongst a slew of chaotic elements; a massive novel reduced to 95 paltry minutes, a PG -13 certificate, the focus switched from Deschain to an 11 year old boy Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) who discovers a parallel universe behind NYC exteriors, constant references to other texts in the King multiverse that go for nothing. Producer Ron Howard has noted that The Dark Tower should have been a tv show rather than a film, and he’s right; what tips Nicolaj Arcel’s adaption into unfortunate legend is the truly awful performance of Matthew McConaughey as Walter Padick, supposedly the embodiment of evil but plays with such misguided elan that his every appearance provokes mirth. The Dark Tower is a good/bad classic, an unwieldy adventure that never lands a coherent idea, making fools of the high-priced talents involved.
People are always gobsmacked when I tell them that I have no interest in Idris Elba playing James Bond. Because of course, since I’m black, why wouldn’t I want to see a black James Bond? (which in itself is a racist attitude but that discussion can wait for another time.)
I’m not a fan of taking white characters, giving them a deep dark tan and then proclaiming to the world that now they’re black characters. That’s not how it works. When DC wanted a black Green Lantern they didn’t suddenly turn Hal Jordan into a black man. They created John Stewart, a black Green Lantern who became so successful as a character in his own right that for an entire generation of comic book fans both black and white he is THE Green Lantern. When DC came up with a black Superman they didn’t turn Kal-El/Clark Kent into a black man. They created a Superman from an alternate Earth who is black. Same thing with Spider-Man. Marvel didn’t turn Peter Parker black, They created Miles Morales, who is Hispanic/African-American.
To me, having a black actor play James Bond is as unthinkable as having Brad Pitt play John Shaft. The ethnic backgrounds of these characters makes them what they are and there’s no way of getting around that. And Idris Elba is too good an actor to waste on what I feel is essentially a casting stunt.
You want Idris Elba to play a James Bond type superspy? Fine. Then create an original black superspy character that he can make his own. There are plenty of them out there. Trust me.
Thanks for this Derrick! I’m less familiar with Elba’s tv work, which everyone tells me is great, but I’m a cynic about much of his films. I take your point about a proper re-thinking being required to recast a character in a different way. A black James Bond might work for me if they were going to remove so many of the old man elements from the films. But that would be a full reboot, a five movie plan, and that won’t be Elba.