Rant, Bond Rant.

I do not watch Doctor Who. There are two reasons: 1.) As a child it scared the bejesus out of me and 2.) Idris Elba.
With the recent Sony hacks that have hit the news,  the leaked emails and what not, one story that piqued my interest – the whole North Korean insult debacle is so boring and not at all surprising.  Did they really believe a dictator,  known for his whims and prepared to go to war with his neighbour, would let this slide? That is another blog. – back to my interest peaked.

After Angelina’s death glare,  and various supposedly ‘racist’ missives,  an ‘interesting’ – according to the UK press anyway –  leak has surfaced concerning Idris Elba. Apparently, there are plans afoot to put the sometime Norse world guardian, Luther lead and part-time deejay, in line to be the next and, first black, James Bond.  Hmm.
Here in Blighty,  the more right of centre twitter feeds have gone crazy. A black Bond? Black?! Bond is white! That is one of the more pleasant responses. The others hark back to the sixties and seventies and remind one of the bigotry that still bubbles under the surface of polite,  liberal, British, society.
The character of James Bond was created by Ian Fleming. A British super spy,  beloved by generation after generation,  it has spawned twenty-three films and,  after Fleming’s initial twelve novels,  there have been twenty-five further novels by various authors,  all following the template of the original works. So the character is firmly established. Some might even say a British institution. A white one.
So as a black man,  what is my stance on Idris Elba being a potential Bond? Not that it matters, but I think that he should be white. 100%, Caucasian, British white.  Why?     Because he is.

Unlike the other characters in the agent’s world; M, Moneypenny, Q, that are interchangeable,  as they all have obvious code names, unchanging jobs. James Bond is the character.  There are other agents; other double ohs, but there is only one James Bond.
A tangent: Doctor Who. The BBC program about an intergalactic alien, has, even with the advent of time, always inhabited the form of a middle class, a British white man, since its inception in the early sixties, it has never been challenged over its rigorous adherence to this particular trait.
The reason for this, I believe, is one of the enduring differences between the black experience in the UK and that of those born in the US. It is also the reason why an enduring white character can be spoken of as potentially – on celluloid – becoming black.
Every screen incarnation of James Bond has been created stateside. The films, though they have a considerable amount of UK input, are steeped in American production values.

Slick, bold, showy. These are not typical British flourishes. Doctor Who is British, BBC, through and through. Stagy and received pronunciation. As it ever was.  The US like and ‘do’ change. Mix things up, shake stuff around, it is a strength and a weakness. British do not do change.

When they do it tends to be at a glacial pace. A Doctor Who that is not a man or white, probably will not manifest in my lifetime. Want another example? Modern twist on Sherlock Holmes have been hits both here and in the US. The US version, Elementary, has retained the Sherlock character as a mildly autistic, white male. The Watson character, however, has been updated. Watson is now a Chinese/American, woman.

In the UK the characters have remained resolutely male. Not that this is a problem. The British version is utterly brilliant. It just illustrates the difference between the UK and the US.
Until the UK adopts the same approach to programming, black faces adopting major roles will always be tokenism, creating their own work or relying on the whims of the powers that be.

Minstrel

Back in the seventies, there was a television programme in the UK called The Black and White Minstrel Show. It would, as the title suggests, feature white entertainers in blackface make-up, doing various singing and dancing things. A different time; different sensibilities.

Such things are not seen on our screens anymore. The likes of the National Front, a right-wing organisation of my youth, and no-go areas in parts of London town are pretty much consigned to the past. I even live in one such area these days, with no thought of my safety being an issue because of my lifelong, deep tan.

The lot for the black man – and woman – has definitely changed in the preceding decades here in the UK, as it has in the States. Though they do have many issues of overt racism and oppression still prevalent in their society, conversely, they also have many examples of stunning success and role models to aim for and emulate, something that is sorely lacking in the UK.

Our “heroes”, for a black person growing up in the UK, are mostly American. Black history is not a big topic in the United Kingdom. There was no civil rights movement on these shores; no MLK, no Malcolm X. The incidents of racial attacks, slights, mistreatment and oppression never gained the sort of traction or garnered the kind of attention that becomes a “Roots” mini-series or “Mississippi Burning” Hollywood film.

Some may think this a good thing. We obviously never suffered as much as our American cousins; were never treated with the same contempt. If only that were true. There are reasons why it may seem that the black man’s lot in the UK is better than that of his US counterpart.

With the global reach of the internet and proliferation of video cameras and mobile technologies, the sins of a few can be related to the world moments after they have happened. So we know of the continued oppression of black men by those who wear badges Stateside.

We know that they act with little fear of punishment because all who have committed similar crimes have walked away, the lives of those affected less important than a rabid animal. The USA is a country that has embraced gun culture, much to the detriment of many a passed, black soul.

Still, they have black moguls at the other end of the spectrum. Oprah, Tyler Perry, Jay Z and Beyoncé, are a few of the modern moguls, but before them, there was Berry Gordy, James Brown, and even Sam Cooke, names adding to the rich history of black achievement in the USA.

In the UK, names of well-known black people are harder to come by. In the traditional fields of sport and entertainment, we still maintain a credible presence, beyond that? It is a struggle.
Since the eccentric enunciations of Sir Trevor MacDonald, there has not been a black face that has regularly graced our television screens. A quick google of ‘UK black newscasters’ throws up Sir Trevor, Moira Stewart and June Sarpong!

In music and sport, the proliferation of black personalities is of course higher. Having said that, the ‘superstars’ of our national sport, football, are all white. The music business is more interesting. In the traditional black music genres; soul, dance, jazz, and rap, the dominant artist of recent times, lauded and acknowledged for their sound, have all been white.

The avenues to advancement in this country, as it tells itself that it is fair and liberal and modern, offer very little for those that are dark of skin, regardless of the field. It is no accident that young black boys are routinely pointed out as amongst the worse academically performing demographic. They have no one to follow or aspire to.

That is not to say that all black people are struggling hand to mouth. There are many well-educated, working, middle-class black people. What there are very few of are those making the step up to the top table, having the ear of those who help to shape society. There are a few, the former trade union boss, Lord Bill Morris for one, but they are rare and largely not immediately recognisable to the masses.

Is it racism? Is it cultural inertia? Is it, as some would have you believe, that we, as a people, are just not that smart? Perhaps it is all of those. Some say that as people, we are too fragmented, and don’t embrace family the way that say Asians do. Yet are we not the same people who have managed to create one of the largest, most famous, street parties in the world – The Notting Hill carnival – for half a century? Even as Notting Hill became more affluent and the well-heeled residents tried to end the tradition, it maintained.

As a people, we are as capable, intelligent, inventive and attractive as any other in the UK, so why, after so many years, in these supposedly enlightened and colourblind times, do we still seem to be lagging behind everybody?

Oh Anna….

Anna Akana – https://www.youtube.com/user/AnnaAkana/featured – is an Asian actress, comedienne, and filmmaker with a channel on YouTube that has – including me – over one million subscribers. Her viewing figures are approaching the hundred million mark and she puts out opinionated and entertaining content on a regular basis.

Her monologues to camera, generally interspersed with snappy, comedic, skits are amusing and inspired. She tends to radiate a positive vibe, evident in most of her content output and monologues to camera.

As a fellow would-be filmmaker, I am a supporter of her works and enjoy many of her skits. Unfortunately, what I am not loving are her short films and it hurts me to say that! Let me first say, they are not terrible.

They do tend to be overly female-centric (she knows a lot of women!) and mildly dramatic. They are well shot, edited and framed. The acting is good, though – and I am no actor – the material does not give them enough to invest in, so they generally look as though they are acting.

Anna directs and mostly writes all of the films. She also tends to be in them; not always the star, but in them nonetheless. She also makes a LOT of films and content! In the past year alone she has made six shorts. Six. For anyone who makes films – especially as she also directs and appears in them – this is a lot, even if they are short films.

What is really disappointing is that pretty much every film is a good or great idea. I cannot help but feel that if she had taken more time to work on the scripts and explored the ideas further, she probably would have made a stronger, more resonant film by now.

My hope is that in 2015 she paces herself a bit more so that she might put out the great short film I am sure she is capable of creating.