Author Apologizes for Saying Idris Elba Is 'Too Street' to Play James Bond
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.
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.
I'm really sorry my comments about Idris Elba have caused offence [full statement attached] pic.twitter.com/UD6ouA45Uv— Anthony Horowitz (@AnthonyHorowitz) September 1, 2015
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."
Is "street" the UK's version of "urban" in terms of coded racism? Idris Elba is a lot of things, but "street" ain't one of 'em.— Jamilah Lemieux (@JamilahLemieux) September 1, 2015
Street was not a good term to use @AnthonyHorowitz. You realize it comes off like coded racism when speaking of Idris.— X (@XLNB) September 1, 2015
Doubting Idris Elba's ability to play suave is bad but this was also coded racism when words like "Street" "Ghetto" "Hood" are used— arDONUT (@ArdoOmer) September 1, 2015
The coded racism around Elba playing James Bond >>>>>>>>>>>>>>— NLFMemes (@J_M_Cook) September 1, 2015
Elba is "too street" in much the same way that Obama was "too foreign," and King was "too communist," @jbouie— Ta-Nehisi Coates (@tanehisicoates) September 1, 2015
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.
"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.