I love Idris Elba. I really do. And I love the James Bond franchise. I’ve enjoyed — on some level or another, be it ironic or genuine — every Bond film since Dr. No. To many, the idea of Elba taking up the tuxedo is a perfect passing of the torch, bringing diversity and character and breathing new life into the franchise.
Except that I don’t want it. I don’t want Elba to be the next James Bond. It’s a curious thing, this idea, and perhaps my aversion to it is even more so. I have no problems with the idea of mixing things up, racially speaking, when it comes to casting. I certainly didn’t object to Elba being cast as Heimdall in the Thor films. But James Bond? No thank you.
You may ask why, and I’ll tell you: The idea lacks vision. It gives us nothing new and ultimately it doesn’t feel like progress for black actors and roles in Hollywood. I want to see black actors take on their own projects, become their own heroes. I want Hollywood to talk to the hundreds, the thousands of black writers and voices out there (and women, and minorities, and all underrepresented groups), and to use their ideas. I want freshness, rawness, newness when it comes to starring roles for minorities.
We think that we’re being progressive when we say we want someone like Idris Elba as James Bond. And I suppose, to a certain extent, we are. But we’re also addressing only a small corner of a vast problem that exists in Hollywood — it’s a lazy form of progressiveness. Not enough people are casting underrepresented groups in major or minor roles in movies. Not enough of them are being tapped to write, to direct, to create. That last one is the key, to be frank. It’s not just about the actors, it’s not even just about the directors. It’s about the creators. The ideas. That’s what we should be striving for. Don’t throw me a bone by casting a black man in a white man’s role. Give me a black person in a role made for him or her, with their own unique history and personality.
Which brings us to The Black Panther. One of the questions surrounding the upcoming film from Marvel, which will star Chadwick Boseman, is whether or not the director should be black. “Should be” is a relatively controversial way of putting it, I suppose. For me, though, the answer is yes. Yes, people will argue that there’s no reason that a white person couldn’t do it right. That may well be true. But there’s more at stake here than just whether or not the movie will be good. This is an opportunity for Marvel — and Disney — to make a statement. To show that they care not just about the product, but about the perspectives and history and ideologies behind that product. And were T’Challa and The Black Panther to become a franchise, I’m not saying that every film would need a black director. But that first one? The first major release, about the king of an African country, a wealthy, genius, superpowered black hero starring in his own film? Make no mistake, Black Panther is a critically important part of the history of minorities in comic books, much like Luke Cage is (albeit for very different reasons). And so yes, I think it’s important to have the perspective and thoughts of a black director.
Ryan Coogler, who directed Creed and Fruitvale Station, talked about it in a brief but excellent interview with Screenrant (read the whole thing here, it’s worth your time). He talks a bit about Scorsese, and how his best movies, like Mean Streets, are so great because they’re so close to his own life and experiences. He goes on to say, “I think that there is a potential for a greater truth when a filmmaker comes from a particular culture that they’re dealing with. That’s not to say that a filmmaker can’t work outside his or her cultural space. But I do believe that the opportunity for the film to have more nuance will come when you looking at filmmakers that bring a little bit of that from their personal experience.” Coogler makes the same point when talking about the responsibility implied with making a Wonder Woman film: “I don’t think that’s wrong of a studio to do. I think it’s actually responsible. It’s responsible because it’s their job to make the truest, best film.”
And that’s really the crux of it. I have no doubt that you can make a good Black Panther movie with a white director, and I’m sure the same could be said of a character like Luke Cage. But I firmly believe that with a good black director? Or with a new, original property? You could make something important. You could make something great.