Spectre is set to be Sam Mendes’ last James Bond film. Until recently the film was anticipated to be a solid, well-acted action addition to the Bond back catalog. However, in the lead up to its release, the movie has become subject to controversy along with the whole 007 franchise.
Daniel Craig has fronted the Bond movies of the last nine years, beginning with Casino Royale back in 2006. If it comes to you as a surprise that Craig has had the gig so long fear not, I too did a double take – or at least found myself raising an eyebrow. However Craig has caused a greater stir with announcements he made in an interview with with Alex Bilmes for Esquire concerning his future as the world renowned intelligence officer.
At first he talks about following Skyfall. It was a prospect that all those involved were daunted by, and for good reason. When asked if he will reprise the role after Spectre he gives a less that definitive answer: “I have a life and I’ve got to get on with it a bit. But we’ll see”.
However, when considering his tenure, he remarks:
“Hopefully, my Bond is not as sexist and misogynistic as [earlier incarnations]. The world has changed. I am certainly not that person. But he is, and so what does that mean? It means you cast great actresses and make the parts as good as you can for the women in the movies.”
It is undeniable that broader cultural changes have effected the world of 007, fantasy realm though it is. Granted we still use the shorthand ‘Bond Girl’, but these characters are not the air-headed eye candy of the Sean Connery era. In Craig‘s first outing as the man with a licence to kill he was acting opposite Ava Green. Vesper Lynd (Green) is every bit Bond’s equal and that is why he falls in love with her. Almost a decade later the ‘Bond Girl’ is Monica Bellucci. It is impressive enough that the role is given to an actress of 50. To have cast a ‘Bond Girl’ three years the leading man’s senior is quite something quite remarkable – albeit overdue as remarked on TYT’s Poptigger.
It is worth noting that Craig admits that while the Bond series is no longer sexist Bond the character is. However, the sexism is no longer demonstrative of a balance of power or set of social values. Since 2006, Bond’s regard for women is symptomatic of trauma, a character flaw that is allowed to speak for itself.
Yet even as gains are being made on a gender front, racial front continues to prove obstinate. Whether or not the future of the franchise features Daniel Craig it will only feature him for so long. Craig‘s return being uncertain has reignited debates about Bond being played by a non-white actor. The debate was first sparked following the Sony hack last year and, once again, Pop Trigger was there to cover it. Back in December it came to light that Idris Elba was among the actors being considered to take up the mantel in the event of Craig‘s departure. With the discussion of the franchise’s future now prescient again author Anthony Horowitz has weighed in, saying that Elba is to ‘street’ and ‘rough’ for the role in an interview for the Daily Mail.
On its face, Horowitz‘s choice of words might be taken to imply a racial bias. However, that is not quite accurate. To quote the interview in full, he said:
“Idris Elba is a terrific actor, but I can think of other black actors who would do it better.” He names Adrian Lester, star of Hustle. “For me, Idris Elba is a bit too rough to play the part. It’s not a colour issue. I think he is probably a bit too ‘street’ for Bond. Is it a question of being suave? Yeah.”
So while the comments may have led to an outpouring of disapproval based on racial prejudice, the initial comments are in fact the result of preconceived notions of sophistication in relation to social class. Furthermore, such a reaction is based on the assumption that an actor with a working class background either would not or could not develop the accent or mannerisms of a part.
Chris Cabin of Collider proposes that with these like comments Horowitz was: “trolling for publicity — his new Bond novel comes out Sept. 8th”. That is speculation, but the consequences of these comment have been considerable, including a heartening piece from The Independent.
Still, irrespective of how Horowitz‘s view were received, they cannot fail to draw attention to the way we regard social changes, along with the knock on effects said changes have on the staple features of popular culture. There is a knee-jerk reaction that change is bad. Yet in examining the proposition the notion becomes risible very quickly. Granted all the previous Bonds have been white, a fact that should tell us something about the historical balance of power, but it reveals very little about 007 per say. After all, when we think of the character of James Bond the colour of his skin is not the trait that springs most readily to mind.
British intelligence officer, prolific womaniser, semi-professional drinker. A crack-shot who’s tasty with his fists and armed to the eyes with gadgets. Loner. With the proviso that those central tenements persist it would in theory be difficult to have a problem.
Speaking for myself, not casting a Bond as posh would present an interesting opportunity in terms of story-telling. Historically Bond has a product of the upper class, an Etonian no less. Statistically, being posh and English means one is likely to be Caucasian. However, like many English public schools, Eton has offered places to individuals from low income backgrounds in the form of scholarships. What would it imply for Bond if he were a student such as this? Growing up within the establishment without being part of it could conceivably lead to the sense of isolation that is intrinsic to Bond’s character. Moreover, it would make for great continuity with the brooding quality that Craig has brought to the role during his tenure. In this way, having Bond portrayed as neither white nor upper class has the potential to be interesting and perhaps an outright boon for the future of the franchise.
What do you make of the 007 franchise historically? What are your hopes for its future? What do you make of Elba as Bond? Let us know in the comments section below!