Casting a Black Actor as 007

There was a bit of a buzz floating around on the Internet a few days ago, regarding the possibility of Idris Elba (above) assuming the James Bond mantle after Daniel Craig leaves the role (read it here). This was based on comments made by Craig several years back, and it opens up a long-running topic that I talked about for many years.

Since the film debut of James Bond in 1962, six actors have played 007 (provided you don’t count the early versions of Casino Royale), and many more have been mentioned and considered for the role over the decades. In 1973, Roger Moore replaced Sean Connery as Bond in Live and Let Die, blowing the perfect opportunity to cast a black actor as the secret agent.

As anyone who has seen Live and Let Die can tell you, it is for all intents and purposes a blaxploitation, and it was the perfect chance to cast Bond as a black man. The actor that would’ve been perfect for the role was stage-trained Calvin Lockhart (above left). Unfortunately the producers lacked any real sort of vision, and it wasn’t until recently that a black actor’s name ever seriously came up as a possible candidate to play Bond. Before Daniel Craig was cast, Colin Salmon’s name had been mentioned as a possible successor to Pierce Brosnan. Salmon (above right) was already a veteran of the Bond franchise, and I doubt he was ever considered that seriously for the part.

For several years now I’ve been pulling for Chiwetel Ejiofor (above) to be cast as Bond. And as much as I think Idris Elba would be great, I think Ejiofor would make a better 007. But the reality is that neither is likely to be cast in the role any time soon, nor is any actor of color (I’d also like to see an Asian actor cast as Bond). I think I would be cool if only white actors were ever cast as James Bond, if great black actors were given better opportunities to star in movies similar to the Bond films. Ejiofor, Elba, and Salmon are all great actors, and could easily carry any action film as well if not better than Jason Statham, Clive Owen, or even Daniel Craig. But the problem is that Ejiofor, Elba, Salmon and many other actors are seldom given the opportunities of their white counterparts.

Think about it like this, after his Oscar-nominated performance in The Hurt Locker, Jeremy Renner was cast in The Avengers, Mission: Impossible 4, and The Bourne Legacy, bringing him into two existing film franchises (both which he is being groomed to take over), and one soon-to-be huge franchise. Meanwhile, his co-star from The Hurt Locker, Anthony Mackie, is just another black actor struggling to catch a real break in the industry. And this is not to take anything away from Renner, who is a good actor, but was he really the best actor to take over the Bourne franchise? Why not someone like Michael Ealy (below), who is an action star just waiting for an action film to cast him in the lead? Ealy has the looks and charisma to carry any film, but as long as Will Smith, Denzel Washington and Jaime Foxx are working, there’s almost no need for any other leading black men.

Of all the major films scheduled to be released in 2011 holiday season (November and December), only one has a black actor in a lead role (Eddie Murphy in Tower Heist), and two have Ving Rhames in supporting roles (Piranha 3DD and Mission: Impossible 4). That is a sad indictment on the film industry as a whole, and speaks to the limited opportunities available for black leading men (and don’t even get me started on black leading women, ‘cause that’s a rant for a different time). Like I said, I’m more than willing to accept white actors as James Bond, or Jeremy Renner in the Bourne series, but I want to see more actors of color (Asian, Black, Latino, Native) in quality leading roles. Is that really too much to ask?

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