I don’t want a Black Dr Who. Or a Black James Bond for that matter.
I am happy for those who do, but I tire when I hear those who are constantly pressing for either of those characters to be a fella who has a near enough skin tone to mine. I honestly don’t think it is a good idea.
As a member of the Diaspora in England, for 6% of the population, we are good at fighting our corner for representation. Brown skinned people have been fighting for ages not just for representation in the media, whether on stage, screen or TV, but also in other walks of life. Recognising that as members of “the commonwealth” we wanted to tell our stories, bring our talent to a wider platform and not just be sidelined.
Our history of representation has come a long way since the likes of Love Thy Neighbour, Rising Damp and other shows which showed a limited and myopic view of our various Caribbean and African cultures. Fortunately, we had the likes of Empire Road, The Fosters and No Problem to counter these stereotypes. Desmonds, The Crouches and of course Lenny Henry’s vehicles Lenny Henry Show, Chef and The Real McKoy also took representation further but it was all comedy. I watched in awe at the brilliance of Colin Salmon (Prime Suspect), David Oyewolo (Spooks) and Will Johnson (Waking The Dead) and of course who could ever forget the glee that Babyfather brought to the community, but it was with open arms that shows like Hustle and Luther, with their leading men roles by Adrian Lester and Idris Elba, that sparked for me at least, an appetite for more blacks in lead roles. More recently Undercover, which had Adrian Lester and Sophie Okonedo in leading roles, broke new ground again.
Even as I write this it is painfully clear that there have not been any significant female lead roles, which is why for me the emergence of Michaela Cole (Chewing Gum, Aliens) as both writer and lead in a British TV show, sparks a very interesting time to see where this goes for leading black ladies as well.
The reason I shared this background, and I am sure I missed some actors on this list, is because I have been party to many an online and offline discussion about why so many of our leading black actors chose to go to America to pursue significant lead roles in TV and film that they would not otherwise get here. I am for opportunities, rather than quotas, for prominent roles to be portrayed by a black actor of British descent but I am not all that keen on a push for black actors like Idris and the like to land roles as James Bond or Dr Who.
The reason for me is that I believe too often fans believe they can push the direction of a show and in many ways want to disrupt the creative process to accommodate their world view. As a recent convert to Game of Thrones, I like the narrative arc. Yes, those of darker hues tend not to be the ones in power but that’s the way the story is written. One the flip side it was interesting to see the backlash that The Hunger Games received when Rue, Thresh and Cinna were all represented by black actors. More recently the casting of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child, with Hermione Granger as a black woman and Rose her daughter as mixed race, has had fans of the Harry Potterworld spitting bricks. Add to this list Heimdall in Thor, Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four reboot and Nick Fury in the Marvel Universe, playing with the racial roles people have set in their mind about fan fiction can be a very tricky space to navigate.
This kind of backlash doesn’t mean it is a reason not to pursue a black Bond or Dr Who.
Indeed Stephen Moffat executive producer of Dr is on recording stating that he pushed for a black actor for the lead role of the Doctor, and his assistant. Many speculating that it was Chiwetel Ejiofor who turned the role down. Moffat stated
“Two non-white leads would be amazing. In fact, a lot of people would barely notice.”
“Sometimes the nature of a particular show – historical dramas, for instance – makes diversity more of a challenge, but Doctor Who has absolutely nowhere to hide on this,”
he said. “Young people watching have to know that they have a place in the future. That really matters. You have to care profoundly what children’s shows in particular say about where you’re going to be.”
Dr Who producers and writers have been quite forward thinking in that actors like Noel Clarke, Freema Ageyman and now Pear Mackie have played prominent roles in the time lord’s present and future. But for me pushing for a black doctor, instead of the pasty serving we are used to, in many ways highlights a dearth of being able to write good science fiction roles that a black lead could adopt. I would rather a push for greater writing of new characters than trying to tick some kind of diversity box.
Take Red Dwarf.
A legendary scifi show which boasted two men of colour in the four main roles. All were able to hold their own as funny and convincing characters. Of course, like Torchwood, such writing and characters may not have the magnititude of Dr Who but who’s to stop tapping into creating new characters in the same way they did for Idris Elba’s Luther?
Which brings me on to Bond. I see James Bond as a cocky middle class white dude. A reminder of what white privilege does bring you. The ability to go sauntering across the world, smooching women, crossing borders without a blink, taking out enemies with an amazing array of gadgets and weaponry and still making it back home for a martini. Whilst I love the introduction of Naomi Harris as MoneyPenny (swoon) to me it is way too much of a stretch to imagine Idris or any other alpha black male doing the same without changing a helluva lot. Assertiveness would become anger. Swagger would become arrogance, and whilst interracial porn may be the most searched for term (apparently) international audiences would be apoplectic about a black man traversing the world and seducing the natives in the manner Bond is known for. Chris Gayle is already causing us brown skinned men personal branding issues.
Regardless of how Denzel tried to convince us in the Equalizer that a black dude could rock up to a fortress in Moscow and take out a whole squad, for those black guys I know who have travelled to Russia, suspension of belief of such a thing would be very difficult indeed. Same goes for a black Jason Bourne to be honest.
This doesn’t mean that black actors shouldn’t go for such roles. Fiction is what it is, and it is at the behest of the writers and producers as to whether they think it can fly. My main concern is that fans pushing for fiction to be adapted to their way of seeing things doesn’t mean that’s the way forward. It’s more complex than that and if the fans take over the narrative what does that leave for the creative space of the writer? Scandal and House of Cards work well for what they are. The empathy shown to the guys from Breaking Bad is very different than that of The Wire. And that’s cool. ER and Grays Anatomy again serve different creative outlets. Fiction is just that, fiction. If you want to adapt it to your way of thinking go write your own thing.
Whilst I don’t think the Dr Who and Bond issues get the same crazy attention of the possibility of a gay Elsa (Frozen) or double agent Steve Rogers (Captain America), I wonder if it’s us fans getting carried away with the notion of a black anti-hero like Bond or Dr Who? And if so then we should be worried, as we all know it can get kinda scary if fan’s do take over.