There’s really no denying it: some conservatives have persistent hang-ups about race, and it undermines their more rational, perceptive views on other matters. A relatively trivial but revealing example occurred in the aftermath of the Sony computer hack by North Korea (or Hacker X). One of the revelations was that Sony, which owns the James Bond franchise, was seriously considering re-booting the character, currently played by the estimable, but aging, Daniel Craig, with a black British actor (be sure to mock anyone who calls him an “African-American), Idris Elba.
If you are unfamiliar with Elba, you should watch the British series “Luther” on Netflix. He’s terrific: athletic, sexy, charismatic and passionate, not to mention his aura of cold-bloodedness and danger—in short, perfect for James Bond. But Rush Limbaugh, apparently seeking to retroactively validate the title of Al Franken’s book, “Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot,” decided to use the threat of non-traditional casting to make liberal heads explode, his mission in life:
“That’s NOT who James Bond is, and I know it’s racist to probably even point this out: We had 50 years of white Bonds because Bond is white. Bond was never black. Ian Fleming never created a black Brit to play James Bond. The character was always white. He was always Scottish.”
It is hard to pack so much idiocy into five sentences, but Rush is up to the task. James Bond is a British secret agent: race doesn’t factor into the stories at all. We’ve had 50 years of white Bonds because that’s the conventional way of portraying the character, that’s all. Rush’s argument here is just “Everybody does it.” So what? James Bond movies are entertainment, and if an entertaining James Bond film can be made with Elba as Bond, and there is no reason in the world why not, then James Bond can be black.
The argument that Bond was “never black” is just as fatuous as the initial objection to Craig because he is blonde and blue-eyed. (I think Craig is the second-best Bond ever, next to the uber-Bond, Sean Connery). What the hell does “Ian Fleming never created a black Brit to play James Bond” mean? To my knowledge, Ian Fleming didn’t “create” any actor to play James Bond. He based Bond on the mysterious Bill Stevenson, the British espionage mastermind who is the subject of the jaw-dropping biography “The Man Who Never Was” by Ewen Montagu. There is nothing in Stevenson’s life that wouldn’t be plausible if he had been black.
And someone should enlighten Rush that there is nothing mutually exclusive about being Scottish and black.
Bond’s best friend in the Fleming novels is Felix Leiter, a CIA agent. Leiter is white in the novels, but when he was played by black actor Bernie Casey in “Never Say Never,” many critics felt that he was the best Leiter yet, and so did I. Rush didn’t complain, either. Leiter, by the way, loses a leg and a hand in a shark attack in the Bond series as written by Fleming, but has always been played by four-limbed actors. Ian must be rolling in his grave.
Amazingly, Mediaite’s usually reasonable conservative-ish reporter Joe Concha doubles down on Rush’s biased lunacy with a post titled “Rush Is Right: James Bond Is White – Here’s a Very Big Reason Why.” Do you know what that “very big reason” is? The reason Concha finds so compelling is that Fleming envisioned Bond as a white guy. Well, he had to envision him as something.
Thornton Wilder envisioned Dolly Levy as a middle-aged Jewish woman, but that didn’t keep a young Barbra Streisand from playing the role in the film version of “Hello Dolly!” (based on Wilder’s The Matchmaker) or Pearl Bailey, an African American, from bringing down the house as Dolly in her long running stage tour. Author Jim Grant describes his character Jack Reacher, the hero of a series of novels as popular as the Bond books were when the first film was made, as 6’5″ tall with a 50-inch chest, weighing between 220 and 250 pounds, with ice-blue eyes and dirty blond hair. Naturally, the actor cast as this blonde behemoth in the first film adaptation was….Tom Cruise, who sleeps in a tea cup. Yet the film was successful, Cruise is slated to do another Reacher movie, and Grant called the first film “fantastic.” (Rush, strangely, was silent) Size is far more central to Jack Reacher’s character—he beats everybody up— than race is to James Bond.
Would Fleming object to a black Bond? Who knows? Who cares, other than Rush and Concha? I guarantee that Charles Lutwidge Dodgson ( aka Lewis Carroll) would have retched at the idea of a post-pubescent actress playing “Alice” in a film version of “Alice in Wonderland,” but that didn’t stop Tim Burton from casting one, or the movie from being a hit. Davy Crockett would retch if he knew he had been played by Billy Bob Thornton in the latest film about the Alamo, and Davy was real. Rush didn’t kick about that either, nor is he upset about Marvel Comics giving a sex change operation to Thor, who is a world-famous mythological male Norse god, so he now looks like this:
In the case of Thor, one really could say that this isn’t who Thor “is,” since the character is an icon of Norse legend, female warriors in that mythology were Valkyries, and Thor was no Valkyrie. As a fictional creation, however, the only constraints on how Thor is portrayed are imagination and effectiveness: does the new version entertain and add something of value to the character? I’m dubious about Girl Thor, but I’ll give it a chance. I have no doubts at all that Idris Elba, given a decent script and director, will do James Bond proud.
So to Rush size doesn’t matter, age doesn’t matter and gender doesn’t matter when it comes to film versions of characters, but something as superficial and, in this instance, irrelevant as color is a big deal (unless it’s just the icon’s pal, and not the icon himself.) It seems to me that Limbaugh’s objection arises from a racial bias: changing James Bond’s race is deeply disturbing to him, and there is no rational reason for it. Conservatives don’t like change for change’s sake, but opening up traditional white characters to new audiences and interpretations is not that. It is one of the best and most valid uses of diversity.
You know who Ian Fleming really would have objected to as James Bond?