The 24th Bond film, Spectre, rolls out across the globe this week. Besides the usual Bondian elements we all love talking about - the girls, the supervillains, the martinis - one thing that seems to be on everybody's lips lately is whether or not Idris Elba will replace Daniel Craig... and whether or not a future incarnation of Bond should be black at all.
In 1972, Roger Moore stepped into the shoes of the world's most famous secret agent for the first time. The film was Live and Let Die, the first in the franchise to give major roles to black characters, depicting the drug trade in Harlem, New Orleans and the Caribbean. Bond had never looked so diverse.
Live and Let Die might sound like a win for racial visibility, but this fascinating interview Yaphet Kotto (who played the film's main villain, Dr. Kananga) gave to Big Issue magazine in April puts a surprising new spin on the issue of whether or not Bond himself should ever be played by a black actor.
Is it true you were not allowed to do press for Live and Let Die or attend the premiere?
They were afraid the public would react negatively to a black villain so they didn’t play my character up. That hurt me a lot, man. I went through a lot of goddamn emotional hell because they were afraid people would be angry that a black guy was not being Sidney Poitier. I was the opposite of everything he created.
Reading this, it's hard not feel for Kotto. The idea that they could banish the blackness from Live and Let Die, a film set almost entirely in black communities, is both hilarious and really quite awful.
Kotto goes on to explain why he doesn't believe 007 should be black in future.
In Live and Let Die, you were the first main Bond villain who was black – so far the only one. What’s your take?
James Bond cannot be black. Political correctness be damned, we have to stay with what is literally correct. He was established by Ian Fleming as a white character, played by white actors. Play 003 or 006 but you cannot be 007 ... If I say I want to play JFK I should be laughed out the room. Why should James Bond be black? It’s silly ... Black men should stop trying to play white heroes.
Although his experiences of decades spent working in Hollywood have shaped his thoughts on the subject, it's kind of hard to see where Kotto is coming from when you consider that Bond has been blonde and brown haired, English and Scottish, brutally masculine and suavely sophisticated. With every new Bond actor comes a new interpretation of the character and his physicality.
You can read the full interview right here.
Fans of Skyfall or Spectre will know that Naomie Harris, the English actor of Jamaican and Trinidadian descent, plays the role of M's secretary Miss Moneypenny, a character which goes back as far as Bond himself and has traditionally been played by white actresses. If one historically white character can be reimagined, is the colour of Bond's skin really such a big deal?
Idris Elba, the British actor most often touted as Daniel Craig's replacement, humorously sidestepped the "Black Bond" issue on Twitter...
...which makes him even more of a legend in my eyes, and subtly demonstrates that he's got the dry sense of humour every Bond needs.
I have huge respect for Yaphet Kotto, not just because Dr. Kananga was a classic Bond villain, but because he paved the way for black actors to make in-roads in Hollywood. But in the past four decades, there hasn't been another black Bond villain, and the idea of a black Bond is still disappointingly controversial.
Whether it's Idris Elba or somebody else, the world is ready for a black James Bond - and the truth is, we have been for years.