Bond, James Bond With a Jamaican Accent
By Kevin le Gendre
When Daniel Craig was named the successor to Pierce Brosnan for the coveted role of James Bond the prophets of doom went into overdrive.
If headlines such as “James Blond!” barely concealed scepticism then “James Bland!” shot down Craig for lack of charisma before he’d even had a chance to draw that fabled Walter PPK.
Imagine Colin Salmon, the non-blonde and non-bland British actor of Jamaican descent had nailed the role. What would the headlines have been then? “The name’s Bond, black Bond!” Or perhaps more provocatively - and more prejudicially - “The name’s Bond, blud!”
The intriguing thing is that Salmon has actually been in the last three films about the world’s greatest secret agent, cast as Charles Robinson, stoic chief of staff of M, played by Judi Dench. It seemed a fearlessly progressive twist: ethnic minorities and women in reasonably strong parts in a Bond film.
Dench’s casting seems an inspired one, now resonating with important shifts on the international political stage. As Casino Royale opened a few weeks ago and millions saw M rapping Bond’s knuckles without so much as a flutter of her eyelashes, Hilary Clinton and Ségolene Royal won the hearts and minds of scores of voters in America and France.
But if M can be a woman, Bond still can’t be black. Especially not at this point in time. Again look at the state of the world: it is currently defined by the war in Iraq, which, lest we forget, reveals a brazen imperialist stance on behalf of the west, a desire to occupy foreign lands.
When Ian Fleming actually wrote Casino Royale, the first Bond novel in 1954, Britain still ruled Jamaica and Nigeria. The character was birthed at a time of colonial power, the spectre of the Cold War and “foreign gangsters”, as 007 describes dodgy Cubans in For Your Eyes Only.
Now in 2006 we have come weirdly full circle; instead of foreign gangsters we have foreign terrorists and the War On Terror is the Millennium remix of the Cold War.
Any archetype of the terrorist is the other, the towel-head, the Muslim fanatic, the dark man, the non-white man. The antidote, the counterweight to this effigy of Evil is the Anglo-Saxon embodiment of Good. It makes perfect sense for Bond to be blond.
Right on cue the major subplot of Casino Royale is global terrorism and its iconic action sequences feature 007 blazing helpless natives in far-flung Madagascar. A kind of natural order in the Bond aesthetic is retained: the hero conquers abroad.
Despite the liberties taken with Fleming’s texts by filmmakers that tenet has always remained untouched.
Wherever Bond goes and whatever he does, he assumes the position of omnipotent demi-god. He’s a missionary with a gun instead of a bible.
We’re wrong to think the president of America is the most powerful man on earth. 007 is. Real power doesn’t spring from ownership of nuclear stockpiles and control of the C.I.A but charm and sexual prowess.
No woman wants to sleep with George Bush. Every woman wants to sleep with James Bond.
More to the point, every woman on earth. Bond travels the world and gets laid. His mythology only computes if he is an international being, armed with a license to cross all legal and geographical boundaries; he owns wherever he disembarks.
007 is the ultimate sex tourist because he doesn’t have to pay for his pleasure. Well, what if the sex tourist himself were as “exotic” as some of his conquests? Things could become confusing.
In the unlikely event of Salmon or, say, Adrian Lester becoming the next 007, the scriptwriters would have to answer profound questions about this exoticism, this foreign quotient, this otherness in a black Bond.
Moreover this would mean the black community, or should I say the disparate black communities in the UK, having to confront the expectations, clichés and stereotypes that we may have of ourselves.
What kind of accent would we want our Melanin-charged hero to have? If a black Bond had too little blackness in voice, gesture, walk, demeanour and attitude, then that might constitute a whitewash. Then again it might not. We don’t all talk the same way.
The debate would really be stretched to breaking point in a remake of Dr.No. How would we feel if we heard a black Cambridge graduate, an indestructible lady killer, the coolest man on earth, utter a pinch of patois among the locals as he ran riot in Jamaica, land of his forebears.
Would our educated selves, the B.A in us [Think Gil Scott-Heron], identify with such black talk? Or would we suck-teeth in dissent? Worry not. That dilemma, one suspects, will neither come soon or “soon come.”
Kevin le Gendre is a London-based freelance journalist.
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