I have a rule of thumb I’d like to share. If I find myself having a rather in-depth conversation inside my head, where I explain in great detail my views on a given topic, then I should write that down as a blog post. It happens a lot. Now, I may be starting this post talking about writing, but the meat of the thing will not be: I wanted to set the scene for you all before I jumped in to some very hot water.
A few moments ago I watched the trailer for the new Tomb Raider film, staring Alicia Vikander, due to be coming out in the very near future. I was a big fan of the original films. They were the first time I had seen lead action roles taken by Gerard Butler or Daniel Craig. Try and imagine that world now, if you can. I know I can’t: it’s utterly inconceivable. No 300, nowhere falling, and no James Bond.
I remember enjoying Angelina Jolie’s acting in both films; the believability of her accent, perfectly describing the class and background of the character. It made her a fully-realised female action hero. However, I also remember the press coverage of the films. It essentially gave the impression that the character, for all her strength and intellect, was no more than a pair of tits with a gun. It was not the best advert for a pair of films which were about the intelligence, strength and capability of a woman.
These recollections, and my joy at an acting talent as strong as Alicia Vikander taking on the role, led to one of my frequent inside-my-head-only radio interviews, where I am asked my opinions. Chances are that I will never be asked by Martha Kearney to tell her what I think, but in my head I often am.
What I thought in that moment was that I am glad that there is a new Tomb Raider film. Good. That I am glad that there is a new Tomb Raider film, because it may put paid to the clamouring every few years to have, for instance, James Bond played by a woman. I can honestly say that I am not a fan of the idea of regendering existing male, human, characters. I want more female lead characters to be built from scratch. I am a fan of equality at every level, so I should want a female Bond; shouldn’t I?
It’s his past that is problematic. Every iteration takes on the history of those which precede him: A female Bond will have raped Pussy Galore in the barn, as Sean Connery’s did in Goldfinger; they will have issued each and every misogynistic quip of Roger Moore’s Bond; they will have married Dame Diana Rigg in Italy. OK, some things would be an improvement. I do not want Bond to be a rapist; neither do I want Bond to be a woman who treats other women with such utter, open contempt.
The next question which always follows is an obvious one by extension: Should the next James Bond be black? Right now, with the level of social inequality and institutionalised racism we have in the UK, I cannot see a character of James Bond’s background having African heritage. That saddens me: I really hope it’s not far off. My issue is with our country: we haven’t come far enough. I want to see many more black people excelling in every sphere imaginable. It’s just too late for Idris Elba’s Bond.
The problem may be British public schools: I can’t imagine an orphaned black lad making his way through Eton, being kicked out for sleeping with a maid, then being sent to Fettes. That is the story of Bond, not of a real person. Excuse my cynicism, but I feel that such a boy would be unlikely to have become a celebrated, international rapist killing machine for the service of the motherland.
For me it has absolutely nothing to do with the colour of someone’s skin, or the background of their parents, their grandparents: it is about logical consistency. Fiction asks us to suspend our disbelief. The Bond character is so unbelievable that it would not take a huge push to topple the house of cards once and for all. Then again, it may just be a grain of sand in the oyster. Chiwetel Ejiofor, then.
I hope I have expressed what I feel clearly enough. I am about to change direction, and it is, again, in to contentious territory: I need to explain what I actually mean, rather than charging in to a set of ill-thought words like a bull in a china shop. I love sci-fi to an almost unhealthy extent. What do I think of the Doctor being a woman, I am asked by my imaginary interviewer. Well, there’s a thing.
I think it’s high bloody time the last of the Time Lords was no longer a white man; I tweeted so in the run up to the announcement of 13. There has never been any logical reason for either the gender or the skin colour of the string of Doctors we have had thus far. Therefore, I welcome Jodie Whittaker with whatever the less / non-creepy version of open arms turns out to be. She’s not the woman I’d have chosen, but I would’ve chosen a woman. Tilda Swinton Ideally. Phoebe Waller-Bridge too. Then again, the day after the announcement, there was nobody else I could see in the role but Jodie.
These roles have a logical consistency in the world in which they are set; that is my chief concern. A society which subjugates non-white non-men was never going to produce a black, female Bond. We should have done, but we didn’t, and now social mobility is looking like even more of a fairy tale.
Never let it be said that I oppose an increase in the number of women on our screens; especially women destroying the Bechdel Test. Never let it be said that I oppose an increase in the number of characters from black and ethnic minority backgrounds; especially in lead roles. I support, but rarely get to see, this happening on our screens. For one thing, I am bored with seeing the same faces in every film and TV programme I choose to watch; we have so much choice now, there’s room for all.
De-whitewashing roles is not the answer. We need a new generation of characters which are open to all-comers. If that means writing raceless, ageless, or genderless characters, so be it: let casting sessions choose the age, the skin colour and the gender of a character. Let the best combination of actors do the thing. At least then we’d be guaranteed something interesting to watch, which is too often far from the case with TV schedules and cinema releases today. More freedom, please.
And that is where the interview ended. Because it was in my head, everyone smiled and agreed with me. I was never shouted down, never called out for my hypocrisy or my outmoded views. In real life, I would have had to face more scrutiny, have made a much stronger case, but this wasn’t real life.