Site Overlay

The Idris Elba Controversy and why Roger Moore is not a racist

What started as a very small rumour a few years back has since become a full-blown media frenzy: Idris Elba as James Bond.

London born actor Idris Elba
London born actor Idris Elba

For more than two years, the rumours that British actor Idris Elba (42) could or would indeed be next in line to step into Daniel Craigs shoes as legendary agent James Bond 007 have firmly cemented themselves in the online community as well as the print media. After having died down for a short while, the rumours were once again fuelled by the contents of hacked E-Mails from the cyber attack on SONY PICTURES in November 2014.

2712A4C900000578-3015757-image-a-34_1427544353704The newest chapter in the ongoing controversy has just recently been opened with an alleged comment by Ex-007 actor Sir Roger Moore in the French Magazine “Paris Match” in which he reportedly said, Elba could not take on the role of agent 007 because he wasn´t “English-English” enough. Almost immediately, the media went crazy and so did users on Twitter who weren´t shy to call Sir Roger everything ranging from “ignorant old fool” to “racist”. On March 28, Sir Roger Moore posted a brief statement on Twitter in which he denied the accusations. The Bond Bulletin has looked into Paris Match magazine to check the facts on what was really written in the magazine:

Page 11 of Paris Match Magazine issue 3436 from March 27, 2015
Page 11 of Paris Match Magazine issue 3436 from March 27, 2015

On page 11 of the magazine, Sir Roger Moore gave his comments on his fellow actors who have played James Bond in the past as well as Daniel Craig who is the current actor to portray 007. At the bottom of the picture/comment montage is the comment in question entitled “Idris Elba, the next Bond?” When translated into English, Sir Rogers comment reads like this:

“A few years ago, I said that Cuba Gooding Jr.
would make an excellent Bond, but it was a joke.
Although James was played by a Scot, a Welshman,
an Irishman, I think he must be English-English.
Nevertheless, it is an interesting idea, but unrealistic.”

So much for the original translation from which everyone is entitled to form an own opinion. First and foremost it becomes clear that all Sir Roger Moore did was stating his opinion that James Bond should be played by an English actor which would naturally include Idris Elba as he was born in Hackney, London and is as English as Sir Roger himself. It is the remark “English-English” that leaves room for debate. What does it mean to be “English-English”? Does it refer to a genetic predisposition? No – the answer can be found in the history of James Bond and Ian Fleming, the man who created the fictional character. By reading the Bond novels, we are given just enough information about Bond to form an image of how he might look like in real life.

In a 1957 sketch commissioned by Ian Fleming to aid the Daily Express comic strip artists, we see his vision of James Bonds appearance – an English Gentleman type with gentle facial features and an overall mysterious but determined demeanor. But it was illustrator John McLusky who felt that Fleming’s 007 looked too “outdated” and “pre-war” and changed Bond to give him a more masculine look with sharper features.

Flemings Impression
Flemings Impression
McLuskys impression
McLuskys impression

Through the Bond films, starting with ‘DR. NO’ in 1962, cinema audiences across the globe were introduced to the film producers vision of how James Bond should look like. Scottish actor Sean Connery very closely resembled McLuskys impression of 007 and over the course of five films between 1962 and 1967 he became the most iconic representation of Bond that most people automatically think of when they hear the name James Bond. Back in the day, it was only a handful of people complaining that Bond wasn´t played by an Englishman but by a Scot. The fuzz was minimal. George Lazenby, an Austrailian, took over from Connery in 1969 for only one film. Following Connerys return for one more Bond adventure in 1971, Sir Roger Moore took on the role in 1973 and made eight Bond films until 1985 – the longest serving Bond actor in the history of the film series. Welsh actor Timothy Dalton stepped into his shoes in 1987 and again in 1989 but left the role while a six year legal battle had threatened EON’s productions of the Bond films. Bond returned to the cinema in 1995 with Irishman Pierce Brosnan playing legendary 007 for a total of four films over the course of seven years. Daniel Craig, the only Bond actor beside Sir Roger Moore who was born in England, took on the lead in 2006 and has since, with nine years being James Bond, come closest to Moores 12 year tenure as 007.

All Bonds in order: Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig
All Bonds in order: Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig

Is it a mere coincidence that the only two English actors who took on the role of 007 have been in the role the longest? Yes! Despite Daniel Craigs success in the role, he had the longest breaks inbetween films with four years separating ‘QUANTUM OF SOLACE’ in 2008 from ‘SKYFALL’ in 2012.

With this history in mind, back to Idris Elba. He is an Englishman, no doubt about it – born and raised in England. Since this fulfills the essential and preferred characteristic for a Bond actor in the perception of audiences, it can only be his descent that is most likely to spark any kind of small-minded “English-English” debate, even without the unintended help of Sir Roger Moore. Elbas father was from Sierra Leone, his mother from Ghana and after their marriage they both moved to London where Idris was born in 1972.

Sir Roger Moore in his duty as a UNICEF ambassador
Sir Roger Moore in his duty as a UNICEF ambassador

At this point, it is absolutely important to make it unambiguously clear that any kind of discrimination cannot be tolerated in any way of life and towards any person on this planet no matter where they were born, what skin colour they have or what way of life they are leading! If one person is an avid supporter of exactly that, it is Sir Roger Moore who has been an UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 1991 and has since received many awards for his humanitarian work including the Order of the British Empire (CBE) as well as the German Federal Service Cross. In this regard, it comes as an even greater shock that the media should feel it necessary to attack Sir Roger and accuse him of racism for a misinterpreted comment as he was clearly not referring to Idris Elba not being English enough but rather stating his view which reflected Ian Flemings impression of Bond being the typical stiff-upper-lip, posh but fearless English Gentleman stereotype of days gone by. Idris Elba just doesn´t fit into that projected image – he is a very talented, modern and trendy actor with a huge potential.

In December 2014, radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh added fuel to the fire by commenting on the rumours in a very strict and unmistakable way:

“James Bond is a total concept put together by
Ian Fleming. He was white and Scottish.
Period. That is who James Bond is, was.
But now (they are) suggesting that the
next James Bond should be Idris Elba, a black
Briton, rather than a white from Scotland.
But that’s not who James Bond is.
I know it’s racist to probably point this out.”

These remarks, as Limbaugh stated himself, are far more racist in nature as Sir Roger Moores comment in the Paris Match Magazine could ever be. However, the core element – the skin colour – represents the overall opinion of the Bond Fan Community that would struggle to accept a black James Bond, even openly reject him and thereby all the more create a real mess of memorable proportions even surpassing the hatred for Daniel Craig when he took over as the “blonde Bond”. Even with the danger to overuse these examples, it would equally not be acceptable for a white actor to portray film characters such as “Shaft”. The experience of not being accepted as an actor in such a particular role like James Bond, who has a worldwide audience with millions of fans, after you have given everything to the role must be far greater than figuring out in advance that taking on this role is probably not the best career choice.

In an interview with NPR in 2011, Elba himself debunked the myth that he would be the first black actor to portray James Bond:

“I just don’t want to be the black James Bond.
Sean Connery wasn’t the Scottish James Bond
and Daniel Craig wasn’t the blue-eyed James Bond,
so if I played him, I don’t want to be called
the black James Bond.”

With this being said, the hope remains that the rumours about Elba succeeding Craig will finally die down and everybody can calm down. In todays media world, a single choice of words or the false wording of a sentence that leads to misinterpretation can spark so much hatred which easily spreads through social media where anyone is entitled to weigh in with one´s opinion and people easily forget the fine lines between well-founded arguments and insults. Sir Roger Moore is not a racist and anyone who thinks otherwise should take a long hard look in the mirror and reflect on their own day-to-day behaviour.

Racism ist not an opinion, it is a crime!

Benjamin Lind

Author: Benjamin Lind

Benjamin Lind became a James Bond fan at the age of 15 and has since closely followed the production of every film since 'Tomorrow Never Dies'. Apart from writing about Bond, he is a founding member of the James Bond Club Germany and holds a position as advisor in its executive committee. In 2016, Lind released a charity documentary film entitled 'A Bond For Life - How James Bond changed my Life' in support of UNICEF.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.