First of all: Happy John Boyega Day! Today –and forevermore, quite frankly – John Boyega belongs to all of us, not just Nigerians. Just like sister Lupita is for Africa. Kenya alone cannot commandeer all her shine!
Much has been written and commented about Black representation (or the lack of) in film, particularly in the realm of fantasy and fiction. Even to the casual observer, it is obvious that actors of color get the most work on big budget films when there is a slave narrative to be told or the haphazard biopic depicting our two kings: Mandela and MLK. That’s what has made John Boyega’s casting as a Storm Trooper turned Jedi so exciting for many of us. I mean, according to Hollywood and science fiction, there are no Black people in the future… and certainly none in space! This notion has led to an outcry from entertainment critics and consumers alike. We want to see more people of color starring in iconic roles! We want to see actors and actresses of color portraying complex characters beyond the tired tropes we’ve been dished out to date! We want Idris Elba to play ‘James Bond’!
James Bond, eh?
This is where discord rears its head in our collective chorus. While we do want more representation in the mainstream arts, we can’t decide how to achieve that goal. Should roles that have traditionally been played by white actors be opened up for Blacks, Asians or – gasp – people of Middle Eastern descent? For instance, could Shah Rukh Khan convincingly played Matt Damon’s role in The Martian? (Personally, I don’t see why not. After all Chiwetel Ejiofor played a scientist named Venkat Kapoor, which is about as southeast Asian as a moniker can get.) Or is it up to Bollywood and other non-western film industries to produce their own versions of The Martian and cast the lead with their preferred ethnicity? Some people say yes, emphatically! We have a duty to stop feeding off the fruit of Hollywood and build our own industries!
That’s all well and good, but back to Idris and the ‘James Bond’ question.
Perhaps of all theoretical casting possibilities, this has given folks on both sides of the divide the most angst; has caused the most perplexity. There is no doubt that Idris Elba is a fine actor (a fine MAN, period), a great box office draw and has all of the qualities of a leading man. He would make a far better Bond than Timothy Dalton or George Lazenby, in my humble opinion. The only problem is Idris is Black. Blackety- Black. True, African Black. And a lot of people can’t see past his color and allow for him to portray a Scottish spy who serves in Her Majesty’s most clandestine intelligence agency. Because Black.
I understand and appreciate the struggle that these people find themselves trying to navigate. It’s far more comfortable and convenient to neatly categorize people and put them in a tidy box where they “fit”. Unfortunately, migration patterns and global integration mean that fewer and fewer people are able to identify as one thing specifically. So as Black as Idris Elba is, there is no escaping that he IS a British man – of African descent – and therefore could in real life function in the role of an intelligence operative. However why people are more comfortable with Black men performing the duties of an ‘everyday superhero’, but find discomfort with a 2hr 38min fictional flick portraying the same responsibilities is something only they can explain. It’s beyond me.
Personally, I do think it’s time that we developed our own iconic characters and I would love to see a globally recognized spy of African descent and origin in film. Of course, developing such a character would not come without significant challenges. Part of what makes James Bond such a universally loved character is that his existence is plausible and all of his feats –although Herculean – are feasible. A lot of that has to do with Bond’s supporting cast. Moneypenny is as efficient as she is dedicated to the cause of national defense. She is always at her post as you expect. Q has a first-rate lab in which he designs and develops gadgets for James in order to make each mission a success. But most of all, James Bond has the benefit of traveling around the world with a British passport in white skin.
Ei. Can an African man enjoy these same benefits and manage to get his spy work done? Let’s be realistic.
First we’ll have to pick a country in which to build our African James Bond. Such a man’s effectiveness will really depend on the country of origin. Mauritius James Bond would most likely be the most successful, since that country has the infrastructure and international integrity to support spy work at this level. Ghana James Bond? Not so much.
His passport would only allow him access to certain countries without a visa, and even then he may face discrimination at immigration. Ghana James Bond would frequently find himself selected for “random security” checks, have all his belongings confiscated and summarily his cover blown. Constant power failures means Ghana Q would be perpetually behind in his R&D for Ghana Bond. No R&D means we would constantly be putting Ghana James Bond at risk. As for Ghana Moneypenny, the less said about her, the better. Poor woman is probably rocking herself to sleep after dealing with the constant sexual harassment and requests from her family for money because she’s the ONLY one amongst the lot who’s managed to get a job in Ghana’s dumsor ecomini. Ghana Moneypenny is never at work.
And as far as field work? Kai! There would be no high speed chases to catch the bad guys because traffic patterns would always be clogged. The roads and networks in Ghana make no sense. If Ghana Bond were to rely on the services of the local police force for back up, he’d be S.O.L because the government will have spent the money needed to purchase police vehicles to brand city buses with NDC colors, thereby allowing Ghana Bond’s quarry to escape into the ubiquitous bush. Every thief and armed robber escapes into a ‘bush portal’ that materializes at just the critical moment. True story. Read the Daily Graphic. We don’t catch thieves in Ghana because they always find a bush to escape into.
Oh! And let’s not forget the perpetual requests from Ghana Bond’s relatives to “carry something small” upon his return/departure to abrokyi. The sniffing airport dogs would have a field day with the koobi. This would only lead to further detention.
Ghana James Bond will never be great…or at least not as great as British James Bond. He could find some greatness at his job, but only within the confines of his office. He can be a superhero of spreadsheets, or something.
And that’s not his fault. It’s his government’s fault. If we were to develop such a character given out current realities, he’d be a tragic, uninteresting cartoon of a man…and that’s why no one has written a script for Ghana James Bond today. The struggles he would face are just not worth it, and no movies-goer would appreciate (or believe) the depth of lies and fabrications that Ghana Bond’s creators would have to descend to in order to make Ghana James Bond remotely interesting.
The struggle. The spy struggle is so real.
Did you enjoy this post? Then you’ll LOVE my new book “Madness & Tea”, coming out on e-books on Christmas day!