Is Idris Elba ‘too street’ to be James Bond?

Updated 8:41 AM EDT, Wed September 2, 2015

Story highlights

Author criticized after he says Idris Elba is "too street" to play James Bond and later apologizes

Aaron Arnold: Elba is eminently qualified for the part; too many want to keep black people "in their lane"

Editor’s Note: Aaron Paxton Arnold, an entrepreneur and lifestyle consultant, is the founder of MusicIsMyBusiness. He’s written for publications such as Forbes and Fast Company. Follow him on Twitter: @MrMIMB. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

CNN —  

Should Hollywood star Idris Elba be the next James Bond?

Aaron Arnold
Aaron Arnold

Not according to Anthony Horowitz, who’s writing a new book in the Bond series. He was quoted by the Daily Mail saying Elba is “probably a bit too ‘street’ for Bond,” claiming it’s a matter of him not being “suave.” When I heard that, I laughed and naively thought to myself, “He’s probably being facetious, right?”

Not suave enough or “too street”? The guy (Elba) has only graced the covers of Essence, GQ and most recently Maxim magazine — being the first man to appear on a Maxim cover. He couldn’t be talking about the guy who women adore and lust over, including my own mother (sorry, Mom, for telling your business), who describes him as beautiful.

But after going online and examining the comments further, I went from laughing to feeling a deep sting. And not because I have known Elba personally and found him to be one of the most humble people you’ll meet as well as a committed father.

As a fan of the James Bond franchise (my favorites being Roger Moore, Sean Connery and Daniel Craig), I think Elba would be an awesome Bond because his body of work is as wide-ranging as that of any actor (black or white).

From playing Stringer Bell in “The Wire” to Nelson Mandela in “Mandela” to his upcoming role in “Star Trek,” Elba’s work is as diverse as a bag of Skittles and definitely more so than any actor who has played James Bond — no disrespect to Daniel Craig. Even the public has recognized this, showing their support by petitioning for him to be the next Bond.

Horowitz apologized Tuesday after his remarks came under criticism, saying, “I admit it was a poor choice of word. I am mortified to have caused offense.”

Ultimately, his initial comment didn’t sting because of James Bond, it stung because it was a reminder of how the world isn’t changing fast enough when it comes to the stereotyping and typecasting of people of color. It stung because it echoes the sentiment of not just Hollywood, but also corporate America and even sports.

His statement was a reminder that whether you’re an actor or accountant, if you’re a person of color, there are those who feel you should stay in your lane. And despite the recent breakthroughs in Hollywood and indie films, corporate America and even the White House, for people of color, there’s still an enforced stigma that we are supposed to act, walk, talk, like and think a certain way.

It stings, just like I am sure it did for black quarterbacks in the ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s. National Football League teams would draft a black college quarterback and convert him to a defensive back or wide receiver. Not because the black quarterback wasn’t good enough but due to racist ways of thinking, the player was said to be not cerebral enough to handle the position. That theory has since been disproved time and time again via black QBs: Doug Williams (Super Bowl winner), Warren Moon, Steve McNair, Russell Wilson (Super Bowl winner), and Cam Newton to name a few.

Recently, star actress and artist Zoey Kravitz, who has over 1 million followers on Instagram, discussed the platforms and mediums generally reserved for white actors. In the August issue of Nylon magazine, Kravitz talked about her experience when she went to audition for a small role in the “The Dark Knight Rises.” She said, “They told me that I couldn’t get an audition for a small role they were casting because they weren’t ‘going urban. … It was like, ‘What does that have to do with anything?’ I have to play the role like, ‘Yo, what’s up, Batman? What’s going on wit chu?”

Then there was the outcry of angry fans when it was announced that African-American actor and former “The Wire” and “Fruitvale Station” star Michael B. Jordan would be playing “The Human Torch” in Marvel Comics’ upcoming “Fantastic Four” film, formerly played by white actors and who was also white in the comic book. Jordan was met with a spate of racist criticism but eloquently responded in an Entertainment Weekly piece titled “Why I’m Torching the Color Line.”

“Some people may look at my casting as political correctness or an attempt to meet a racial quota, or as part of the year of ‘Black Film.’ Or they could look at it as a creative choice by the director, Josh Trank, who is in an interracial relationship himself — a reflection of what a modern family looks like today,” Jordan said.

So I say to Horowitz, who is indeed a brilliant writer, is Sean Connery, the original James Bond, too street? I hope you think so, because Sean Connery is known for defending hitting women and proudly admitted it in a Barbara Walters interview in the 1980s saying, “I haven’t changed my opinion (regarding hitting women). No. Not at all. I don’t think it’s bad, and I think it depends entirely on the circumstances, and if it merits it. If you have tried everything else – and women are pretty good at this – when they can’t leave it alone and want to have the last word, then you give them the last word. But they’re not happy with having the last word, they want to say it again and get into a really provocative situation. Then, I think it’s absolutely right.”

Now if that’s not too street, I don’t know what is.

Note: An earlier version of this article gave an incorrect first name for Anthony Horowitz.

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