‘Why wasn’t The Hunger Games cast as I imagined in my racist reading?!’ is the inflammatory headline from Bim Adewunmi in today’s The Guardian. It is a pretty inflammatory article too and I have mixed feelings about the content. I feel that some of this criticism is fair but some is unfair and the writer is guilty of hypocrisy and perhaps some degree of hypersensitivity.
For example, I never understood the ‘outrage’ of a black Robert Neville in I Am Legend. Superbly played by Will Smith, the colour of his skin was irrelevant. When we look at the book, again the colour of Neville’s skin is irrelevant. I feel that in cases where colour or nationality is irrelevant we should let it slide. Those who said that the book version of Neville wasn’t black and he should have been white on the grounds of purity of the text were silent about moving the location from LA in the 1950s to NYC in the modern day.
On the issue of Heimdall I have mixed feelings. Idris Elba’s ability to play a Norse deity is not in question, nor is that of the black actress who plays Guinevere in the new Merlin. I wonder if the author of the article above would be accepting of a white actor playing the African Spider deity Anansi? This isn’t about race for me, it is about authenticity and the criticisms about accepting a magic hammer as plausible but a black Norse god is not is really missing – or perhaps avoiding – the point. People did believe in these myths and there were no black people in Scandinavia 1000-2000 years ago. Though England in the middle ages probably had some black population, it is unlikely that any of them could have risen to become a princess. Authenticity.
Despite the (unsubstantiated) claims, I can’t recall any furore over the concept of a black James Bond. Over the years serious suggestions of Colin Salmon, Paterson Joseph and Chiwetel Ejiofor have been bandied about. Amusingly, the rumour that Colin Salmon was being offered the role was started by Colin Salmon himself on an internet messageboard. Sadly, I think Salmon and Joseph will be too old for the role by the time Daniel Craig decides to give up the role (Salmon is 50 and Joseph is 48 this year) Ejiofor is only 35 and may still yet get the part; I think he will be a good choice. Personally, I would have liked to see Eamonn Walker play Bond but he too is now too old. The point is that the colour of Bond’s skin is irrelevant: it is a code name and a persona and this has been acknowledged in several films.
The only issue of a black Bond was when it was suggested that Cuba Gooding Jr should have been cast in the role. Of course it doesn’t need to be explained that the complaints about him is because he is American. For the record, I have no problem with Americans but in an iconic British role I want to see a Brit play the part. There were complaints in the USA when Anthony Hopkins was chosen to play Richard Nixon. For the same reason, I understand these complaints.
Nor do I remember any complaints at Freema Agyeman’s casting as the Timelord’s assistant (were there any?). My only complaint looking back is nothing to do with her colour, nor with her as a person or an actress (I think she’s absolutely beautiful, adorable to a fault and a very good actress) but to do with how much RTD wasted her character and made her a near-forgettable companion. A shame because in Law and Order: UK she is very good.
The racist tweets are certainly unforgiveable and these idiots deserve to be ridiculed and criticised, but let’s not point the finger of racism where none truly exists.