“Political correctness be damned… [Bond] cannot be black,” he told Big Issue magazine. “James Bond was established by Ian Fleming as a white character, played by white actors. Play 003 or 006 but you cannot be 007,” he added.
Kotto, 75, also the first black actor to play a James Bond villain, said that he finds it “ridiculous” when people say all roles should be open to black actors: “If I say I want to play JFK, I should be laughed out of the room,” he said. “Black men should stop trying to play roles created by whites. These roles are not written for black men. We have to pen roles that no one else has established.”
While I would certainly agree with him on that last point (essentially, creating our own original characters), I would push back against his first argument, by adding that, I hope he’s just as virulent in his opposition of white actors playing characters that aren’t written as white, or that are based on real-life characters that aren’t white. Film history is littered with lots of examples of white actors playing characters that aren’t originally white; and I’m not just referring to ancient film history (the early half of last century, when white actors played every race and ethnicity); this is something that’s still very much going on, from films like “The Last Airbender,” to, most recently, Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” and more…
The interviewer didn’t press Kotto for his thoughts on any of that, so I can only hope that he’s just as opposed to white actors playing characters that aren’t written as white people, or that are based on real-life characters that aren’t white. He also needs to be able to differentiate between a fictional character and one that actually existed. James Bond is not JFK. Throughout film history, filmmakers have taken creative liberties with original stories and the characters that populate them. So a James Bond that’s not “English, English” (read: white) to borrow from Roger Moore, isn’t so ridiculous, as Kotto puts it, to be completely “unrealistic.”
Kotto’s comments come after my post on Idris Elba addressing the Bond rumors, and Roger Moore’s previous statement about the character being “English, English” (read that post here).
Kotto, also shared something I wasn’t aware of regarding his involvement in “Live and Let Die,” saying, “They didn’t play my character up… That hurt me a lot, man,” and that he was banned from promoting the film when it was released because the film’s distributor was wary of negative public reception to a black Bond villain at the time: “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.”
Interesting… “negative reception” from who, I wonder? The film was released in 1973, post-Civil Rights, and right in the thick of Blaxploitation movie fever. Was it white audiences they were worried about, or black audiences, given the spirit of the times? The transition from the innocuity of Poitier’s characters, to those played by black actors like Jim Brown and Melvin Van Peebles (especially in “Sweet Sweetback”), was one that black America was hungry for at the time, so I’m not sure blacks would’ve necessarily opposed Kotto as a bad guy, other than maybe because he was a bad guy, as opposed to playing the hero, in James Bond; But I guess Kotto wouldn’t have wanted that either, since he’s so opposed to black actors playing characters that are originally written as white.
So maybe the fear of a negative reaction was more from mainstream white audiences used to Poitier, than blacks, at the time.
In closing, Kotto said: “… People who project racial issues into movies have no business in our business.” It goes both ways brother… it goes both ways… Besides, “we” are not the ones with the power, right?
But, again, ultimately, I do agree that there is a wealth of black literary characters just begging to be explored on film, and, quite frankly, I’d much rather see an original creation, or one that’s based on a character written by a black author (and there are SOOOOOO many of them), than a black version of [insert name of white character here]. For example, while he’s no James Bond (they’re just two different kinds of worlds altogether), Easy Rawlins from the Walter Mosley series of novels could certainly have a movie franchise of his own. That’s just one out of a gazillion. But until there’s enough interest, which will drive financial backing of an idea like that, it’ll never happen. There’s enough money and power amongst all the wealthy blacks in the entertainment business overall, to collectively produce many movie franchises based on black characters, but the will just apparently isn’t there. So we instead wait for a white-controlled studio machine to make black versions of their own original ideas.
So it goes…
I actually don’t really care whether Idris Elba plays James Bond; if it happens, great; if not, as they say, “oh well…”
The next James Bond film, “Spectre,” is due in cinemas this fall.