Author Apologizes for Saying Idris Elba Is 'Too Street' to Play James Bond

Anthony Horowitz was accused of using coded racism in his comments about the British actor.

(Photo: Mark Cuthbert/Getty Images)

Sep 1, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

Earlier in the summer, British actor Idris Elba personified the adventurous spirit of James Bond when he drove 180 miles per hour on the coast of Wales, breaking a land speed record set by race car driver Sir Malcolm Campbell in 1927.

Despite his thrill-seeking pastimes and action hero good looks, the 42-year-old star of The Wire isn't quite suave enough to play Bond, if you ask novelist Anthony Horowitz, the U.K.-based author who has come under fire for some divisive comments.

"For me, Idris Elba is a bit too rough to play the part," Horowitz, who wrote the book the upcoming Bond sequel Trigger Mortis is based on, told The Daily Mail recently. "It's not a colour issue. I think he is probably a bit too 'street' for Bond." After his comments set off a Twitter storm, the author issued an apology on Tuesday, stating that he was "mortified" by his choice of words.

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Emails leaked during last year's Sony hack revealed that studio cochair Amy Pascal considered Elba for the famous role, which would make him the first actor of color to play Bond. The Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom actor put the speculation to rest in April, when he told reporters that the rumors were just that, and credited current Bond man Daniel Craig for starting them years ago.

While Horowitz said his opposition to Elba had nothing to do with race, many readers found it hard to interpret "street" as anything other than a coded word for "black." On Twitter, critics equated the term "street"—which seems like a strange way to describe the Golden Globe Award winner whom GQ named one of England's 50 best-dressed men—to other coded words sometimes applied disparagingly to black figures in pop culture, such as "urban," "thug," or "ghetto."

This kind of language is all too familiar for actors like 26-year-old Mad Max: Fury Road star Zoë Kravitz, who last month told Nylon magazine that she couldn't get an audition for Batman: The Dark Knight Rises because casting directors thought she was too "urban" for the movie. "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?' " she said.

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The misguided pushback doesn't always come from the casting directors of comic book movies—audiences, too, have threatened to boycott films in which actors of color have been cast as beloved superheroes or action stars. In recent years, fans have cried out on social media over the casting of Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four, Amandla Stenberg as Rue in The Hunger Games, and Elba as Heimdall, a Norse god in the 2011 and 2013 Thor movies. The common theme among these movies—the Bond series included—is that they're franchises. Save for The Hunger Games, many of their story lines date to the 1940s and '50s, an era when the lead characters in books, television, and movies were often depicted as white men.

"Fans often seem to believe that if a character is changed from white to black, they will no longer be able to identify with that superhero," Aaron Kashtan, a transmedia storytelling scholar at Georgia Tech, told The Atlantic last year amid the outcry over Jordan's casting in Fantastic Four. It's worth noting that the comic book series was created in 1961, nearly a decade after British author Ian Fleming wrote the first Bond novel, Casino Royale, in 1953. Two dozen movies and six leading actors later, the famously smooth playboy of a secret agent has yet to be portrayed by a black man.

It's not just the casting of Bond that's stuck in the 1950s—the movie's representation of women, too, is from another era. That's according to Craig, who recently suggested to Esquire that the franchise is desperately in need of an overhaul. "Hopefully," he said, "my Bond is not as sexist and misogynistic as [earlier incarnations]. The world has changed. I am certainly not that person. But he is, and so what does that mean?"

That's something the next Bond—which will apparently be neither Craig nor Elba—will have to figure out.