I’ve been a fan of James Bond for a few years now. At this point, I have seen over half of the movies, from the original “Dr. No” to the recent “Spectre” (neither of which comes close to being my favorite). By virtue of seeing many of these movies, I have gotten an idea of what can be expected from a movie featuring a specific Bond, because each actor brought their own spin to the role. On the most basic level, however, they are all the same — white, semi-attractive (if you happen to like British men), middle-aged males.
Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I heard that Idris Elba, a black British actor, had been suggested as a potential successor to the current Bond, Daniel Craig. The shock didn’t stem from a belief that a black man couldn’t play the role. Rather, I was confounded by the thought that a black man would want to play a character whose films epitomize a lack of political correctness. (For example, my favorite Bond movie, “You Only Live Twice,” is filled with a myriad of stereotyped Japanese characters).
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised; nowadays, media in general is working to increase the diversity of characters across the board. There’s no problem with this, considering that the media ought to try portraying a world that’s more realistic with regards to what people look like. Representation in this manner is a measure of how far we’ve come as a society. Besides, “Spectre” isn’t the only case of recreating a character by switching either their race or gender; I’m not a comic book person, but from my understanding, Marvel has rewritten the hero Thor as a female.
But there is something lazy about this manner of creating diversity, and it is this trend that I find especially problematic in media. For one thing, it is devoid of real imagination. The writers and producers who modify the aforementioned characters show a lack of creative thought behind their actions. Instead of putting in effort to develop a brand new character that fulfills all the media’s unwritten rules of diversity, they decide to change storylines and identities that have been established. With a little effort, they could, for example, write an engaging and sensitive tale of a spy (not British anymore) that from the beginning is meant to be black, or Hispanic, or any other ethnicity that isn’t white. But, they generally fail to make this kind of commitment to imaginative writing, sticking to simply uprooting old stories in the name of diversity when they should be establishing characters with a solid foundation.
Furthermore, the dependence on old established characters requires that the writers ignore many negative traits of the characters that they are changing superficially. At the risk of sounding like that R.E.M. song, James Bond is an alcoholic, misogynistic, all-night, prize fight kind of character — basically, a ‘60s invention that sort of fails to be compelling in the 21st century (not that many characters in the testosterone-powered action movie genre manage to do so). The same goes for Thor, who, assuming his persona in the current Marvel films is similar to the comic books, is a massive, thundering wall of super arrogance and pride. Both of these characters are, in this day and age, supremely archaic — treating women as damsels in distress if not totally as objects, and using violence as a first, instead of last resort — but it seems that their writers are content with overlooking those aspects for the sake of making token efforts at increasing diversity. It’s almost as if they are more concerned with selling the name in a new and acceptable way than with taking a moment to think about what these characters represent.
There is an alternative to making marginal changes in the makeup of characters that could have real meaning, but it would take real effort. Specifically, the people responsible for publishing them — most especially in film and television, but also in the various other forms of media — must get to work on writing multiple new stories from the ground up. They need to show more creativity in their writing than the sort of gender or race swapping that any remotely competent artist can put on the internet without caring to explain why the appearance has changed. A little imagination, and perhaps the next great action hero could be, say, a self-made Indian superhero who doesn’t fall into the “billionaire playboy” stereotype that plagues Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark.
So let Bond be the same old Bond. We can do much more with diversity than changing the face of one aging relic of a character.