Trigger Mortis: A Rational Look at the Anthony Horowitz Controversy

Anthony Horowitz’s recent interview in the Daily Mail has sparked a media firestorm for all the wrong reasons. Initially, Horowitz’s interview had been cited for his negative opinion of Skyfall and because he felt that Daniel Craig’s portrayal of Bond had become progressively “weak” after Casino Royale although he does note that Craig is a “terrific Bond.” Within the Bond fan community in various forums and social media pages; this is what had become a topic of debate until a more controversial quote began making headlines around the world. I started noticing various media outlets singling out a single line from the interview. When asked his opinion about Idris Elba potentially taking over the role as Bond, Horowitz replied, “Idris Elba is a terrific actor, but I can think of other black actors who would do it better.” He then suggested Adrian Lester as a black Brittish actor he’d prefer in the role of Bond rather than Elba. Okay, that statement alone wouldn’t be enough to ignite the kind of outrage that followed, but then the article quotes Horowitz as saying,

“For me, Idris Elba is a bit too rough to play the part. It’s not a colour issue. I think he is probably a bit too ‘street’ for Bond. Is it a question of being suave? Yeah.”

On Tuesday September 1st 2015, the internet simply blew up in a fury of self-righteous indignation mostly because the media outlets who ran their stories singled out that one quote from the interview implying that Horowitz had been against the casting of any black actor as Bond when in the very same interview he suggested Adrian Lester and clearly wasn’t against the idea of a black actor playing Bond at all. He just wasn’t keen on Elba being selected as a Bond actor. The problem arose because of his regrettable usage of the word “street” to describe Elba. Idris Elba is a respected, talented, and highly lauded actor who many feel exudes all the essential qualities we look for in a Bond actor. To describe Elba as ‘street’ was rather uninspired and inappropriate although I’m not sure that the term carries the same connotations in the UK as it does in the US. Here, calling someone who identifies as an ethnic minority “street” is the equivalent of calling them “ghetto,” “savage,” or “thug”, derogatory euphemisms that imply an insult using coded racial terminology. Often times, if someone wants to say something racist without actually saying something racist, they might use such codified terms to avoid being held responsible for holding racist views. It’s a kind of double talk that people engage in when espousing views that are clearly politically incorrect. Most people have that one family member (typically of an older generation) that might get away with talking this way because no one pays him any mind and we may not want to engage in a battle of words that will result in ruining a family dinner.

Anytime a public figure uses such terminology, the media will often pick up on it resulting in the embarrassment of said public figure and most of the times deservedly so. As citizens of a democracy we desire and strive to live in a society free of bigotry of any kind. In this case, however, I don’t believe the outrage at Anthony Horowitz was warranted. In the apology that Horowitz tweeted, he clarified that he was thinking of Elba’s “gritty portrayal of DCI John Luther.” I believe this to be a case of Horowitz choosing the wrong word to describe Elba not because he was using codified racist terminology, but because he genuinely felt that Elba had characteristics aside from race that he didn’t necessarily associate with Bond. If you read the interview, the topic of Elba playing Bond wasn’t the focus of the article. The main point of the article was for Horowitz to talk about his experience writing the new Bond continuation novel, Trigger Mortis. The question about Elba was somewhat inconsequential, but Horowitz offered his honest opinion, which essentially didn’t preclude the possibility of a black Bond actor. Horowitz’s response comes across as off the cuff and flippant because he probably wasn’t expecting to have to give a thoughtful considerate answer to that particular question concerning the prospect of Elba playing Bond.

I think many can relate to the experience of being put on the spot about an opinion. You may have an opinion about something, but without taking the proper amount of time to consider how to vocalize that opinion, what might come out on the spot may not be as thoughtful or considerate had you thought about the verbalization of that opinion especially when it comes to its word choice. I believe that this is what most likely what happened in the Horowitz interview. Horowitz clearly held the opinion that he wasn’t keen on the prospect of Elba as Bond, but when pressed to vocalize the reasons why he made the unfortunate choice of using the word “street” to describe Elba. The word choice was clearly wrong and inappropriate regarding Elba but it doesn’t appear to come from a place of bigotry, racism, or hatred.

Unfortunately once something is in print, it’s impossible to live down or disassociate from such a poor word choice after it has offended and caused as much outrage as has been the case here. I don’t know Anthony Horowitz personally, but I believe when he says in his apology that he was “mortified” by the offense his comments caused. What doesn’t help is that the media outlets picking up the story often run with the “street” quote as the headline and even if one were to read these click bait articles, they spin the comments in such a way as to inescapably arrive at the conclusion that Horowitz is racist. The media has a long history of taking comments out of context and putting whatever the most salacious spin on it possible to bait readers. It’s unfortunate such incidents like this occur not because it underlines much of the racial tension that still exists in our society despite decades of progress but because there are real incidents of racism that happen every day that don’t get picked by the mainstream media and don’t end up trending on twitter. By making Anthony Horowitz the latest lightning rod because of frivolous comments that were made off the cuff, the media is actually diverting attention away from real instances of racism and discrimination. This actually ends up trivializing many of the actual struggles that real people must go through when they encounter racism in their lives whether it’s been propagated openly, covertly, or institutionally.

I believe that diversity is a good thing. As a Bond fan I believe that one day we will see a black actor take over the role whether it’s Idris Elba or not. For now, I’m happy with Daniel Craig’s portrayal because I believe he personifies many of the characteristics that Fleming imbued in the Bond character. He’s the first Bond actor to truly tap into Bond’s emotional life, which Fleming had done in the books. I disagree with Horowitz about his assertion that Bond shouldn’t have doubts or be a deep feeling person because in the books Fleming clearly makes him a flawed man who is also prone to melancholy especially after having his heart broken. Casino Royale may end with Bond saying “The bitch is dead” in regards to Vesper but does he actually feel that way or is it that he convinces himself to feel that way? In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, we see Bond deal with the death of Tracy:

“’It’s all right.’ He said in a clear voice as if explaining something to a child. ‘It’s quite all right. She’s having a rest. We’ll be going on soon. There’s no hurry. You see’ – Bond’s head sank down against hers and he whispered into her hair – ‘you see, we’ve got all the time in the world.’”

Fleming was clearly not above demonstrating just how much Bond actually felt emotionally in his inner life. He doesn’t spoon feed this aspect of the character to the reader, but there’s plenty to read into this if you deconstruct the character. I think Daniel Craig is the first Bond actor to truly tap into the emotion of the character.

If Daniel Craig were to retire after SPECTRE, I should hope that the next Bond actor be capable of tapping into every facet I enjoy about the character. I don’t believe that race should be a factor at all because the Bond cinematic franchise is always about placing the character in the current day and in the present moment. As I’ve written before, unless the intent is to move towards literal adaptations of the Fleming source material, there is no reason why skin color should matter at all when selecting the next Bond actor. What matters is that he be attractive, agile, and charming while exuding an air of sophistication and refinement. Unlike Horowitz, I believe that Idris Elba has all the essential qualities I’m looking for in a James Bond actor. I just think it’s important that everyone realize that just because you may disagree with someone doesn’t mean that they are a racist. I wish people were more careful about throwing that term around.

2. Fleming, Ian On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Jonathan Cape, 1963

By Jack Lugo



15 Responses

  1. I thought the controversy over Horowitz calling Elba too street was silly. It couldn’t have been more clear that he meant nothing racist. Why anyone would take it that way mystifies me; I think maybe some people are just determined to be offended.

    Thing is, Horowitz is also dead wrong. (And don’t even get me started on his assessment of “Skyfall.) Elba is NOT too street; he’d be fantastic. I object to the idea of him playing Bond if the series isn’t rebooted again. I mean, a character can’t simply change races in the middle of a story, unless it’s some sort of sci-fi or fantasy story. But if the series were rebooted again? Sure!

    Horowitz’s comments were not very dissimilar from Ian Fleming’s assertion that Sean Connery was “too rough” to play Bond, by the way. I wonder if the whole world got butthurt over THAT…

    1. I completely disagree with your view that the series ‘needs’ to be rebooted if there is going to be a black Bond, if what you mean by ‘reboot’ is another origin story (because technically every new actor is a reboot of the series surely?).. I don’t want to misinterpret what you said, but why would you need a ‘reboot’? Because you’d have to explain how a black person is working for MI6? I literally don’t get you. It shouldn’t be a colour issue at all, and it’s not like there’s going to be a ‘direct sequel’. That’s only started to happened with Craig with QoS.

      1. I don’t think a “reboot” would be required either. They can just introduce the new Bond actor (whoever that maybe and whenever that happens) just as they have every other new Bond actor. Each actor has the role tailored to them especially in that 1st screenplay for their debut. I’m very sure whoever they choose (whether it’s Elba or anyone else) will be made to seem as if they’ve always been Bond just like they did with Brosnan and Dalton beforehand. They won’t have to go through any great pains to explain that this is the same person as Craig’s Bond character because there won’t be a need for that kind of continuity. It’ll just be a re-introduction to the character we all know but with a new face.

        1. I’m assuming that they will carry over some elements into the next Bond actor’s movies; for example, Ralph Fiennes as M or Ben Whishaw as Q or Naomie Harris as Moneypenny. If so, wouldn’t it be kind of weird for Bond to literally be a different color all of a sudden? (The counter-argument to that is “Why is it any weirder than when Sean Connery was suddenly George Lazenby?”)

          If they hire all new actors for all the roles, though, no problem. That’s what I mean by reboot.

          “Because you’d have to explain how a black person is working for MI6?” — What?!? I don’t know how you would even begin to get that from what I said.

          1. I don’t think Bryant meant anything wrong by his comments regarding the need for a reboot. This is a very sensitive topic and it’s very easy for things to get out of hand if you disagree with someone, which is kind of the point of my article. I think however EON decides to introduce the next Bond actor (whoever it is) that they will handle it in a way that makes the transition seem seemless.

          2. Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell, Bernard Lee, David Hedison, Judi Dench… There’s probably more…

          3. I guess I’d answer that by saying that whereas Lazenby looks (and, to a much lesser extent, sounds) enough like Connery for me to let my eyes go cross and still be able to pretend they are playing the same character, I would not be able to do the same with an actor of another race. Again, this is only for continuity purposes — and by the same standard, my feeling is that until the series is rebooted again, Moneypenny should always be played by a black actress.

            There’s no value judgment in this, although some people seem determined to put one there.

            One of my favorite current actors is Peter Dinklage. He’d make a great James Bond. Probably never gonna happen.

            The Elba thing really MIGHT happen, though. It seems to be a very popular notion. If it does, I’ll grumble about continuity a bit and then proceed as I proceed with any new Bond movie: with great excitement.

  2. Great article, Jack. I too feel that people are overusing the word “racist”, which leads to degrading its strong and important meaning. Situations like this aren’t about racial issues – they’re about whether someone prefers EoN to stick with the literary template of Bond or modify it in some aspects.

    Whatever people may think about Elba as Bond, he’s 43 now and will be too old for the role. Some may counter this with Roger’s age when he did Live and Let Die (he was 45), but times have changed since then. 007 needs to be physically strong, stuntmen in regular fist fights should be used as a last resort (if they should be used at all). Anyhow, Elba’s age closes the argument for now.

  3. That interview bothered me from the moment I read it, days before the Elba controversy blew up online. Horowitz’s tone throughout it felt overly cocky and weirdly cavalier. If the point of it was to make me like him, it failed.

    From his criticism of the recent Craig films, to his offhand complaint about the pacing of Ian Fleming’s classic novels, it seemed to me that Horowitz was purposefully trying to stir the pot a bit too much. And as we’ve all seen, acting like a firebrand who doesn’t pull any punches can apparently blow up in your face if you’re not careful.

    Coupled with those glossy photos of the author posing like Bond and/or Fleming, the whole interview package seemed designed to turn Horowitz into a literary celeb, rather than a serious author whose book I’ve been waiting for since it was first announced. Personally, I much preferred William Boyd’s witty, intellectual press tour for SOLO. Boyd let his brilliant work speak for itself, rather than trying to turn himself into a star attraction.

    I honestly don’t have anything against Horowitz (I truly enjoyed Trigger Mortis), or authors seeking fame and fortune. More power to them, if they can pull it off successfully! But the cockiness of that Daily Mail interview left a bad taste in my mouth that had nothing to do with the wildly misunderstood Elba comments.

    Maybe I’m too old fashion, but I can’t help but feel like one has to earn the right to act like a trouble-making literary superstar, and I’m not sure that Horowitz is quite there yet. Maybe after a few more books.

    1. I haven’t read Trigger Mortis yet but, in fairness to Horowitz, he is a pretty well established writer already, maybe even a literary superstar (dare I say it?) 🙂 He’s written 2 ‘official’ Sherlock Holmes continuation novels and his Alex Rider series has apparently sold nearly 20 million copies..

      I do agree with your point generally but his stature in the literary community should be acknowledged. However, that doesn’t mean what he said is correct.

  4. There’s not going to be a reboot and the next Bond will not be Elba because he will be 46 + when he takes over. Yes I know Sir. Roger was 45 but in todays world he’s too old to begin starting a series that no longer takes 2 years between films but 3 to 4 years. Elba would be 49, older than Craig now on his second outing. Plus any late 40’s actor who does none of his own stunts [Connery/Sir. Roger etc.] can’t play Bond, todays movie going audiences demand realism. This is why Craig jumps from windows onto moving buses and a 53 year old Tom Cruise hangs from a flying plane! Elba will be too old, Fassbender pushing, Jack O’Connell too young, Damien Lewis too old, Worthington can’t act, Tom Hardy pushing, Richard Armitage too old, Jon Hamm too old and American etc.
    Actors like Henry Cavill & Daniel “Dan” Stevens will be the right age when the next Bond takes over.

  5. People are throwing the ‘Racist’ card around like a banker at a Baccarat table today and yet don’t know the meaning of the word. A Racist does not make a Fub remark during and interview or even like Hulk Hogan get upset over his Baby girls dating habits, a Racist goes out of their way to promote with Actions and words. A prime example is someone that makes countless speeches to the masses against a certain group of people then creating a mass extinction program involving ovens or trees and ropes. Someone who speaks out of turn to headline baiting journalist in the spur of the moment or is recorded in your house in the middle of a private family heated argument that occurred 3 years ago, this is not Racist. It may be many things but keeping company with the Real Racist Hitlers and K.K.K.ers of the world it is Not. Oh and remember, people who don’t like what others may say are often just witnessing ‘Freedom of Speech’, even though what their sensitive PC ears are wanting and pushing for is ‘Freedom From Speech.’
    Anyways, enough of this…Daniel Craig IS Ian Flemings James Bond and he is staring in ‘SPECTRE’ and then the following Bond 25…Whooo! Hooo!

  6. Oh yeah forgot, most excellent article Jack. Nice to see you’re raising the next Gen of Bond Fandom. Keep up the good work…and always ‘Keep up the British End Sir’, even if you’re not British.

  7. I Believe any actor of Colour can play a 00 agent. and i’am sure mi6 has black employee’s by now. as a person of Color and also a seasoned bond fan all my life. i always imagined myself dressed-up in a Tuxedo playing James Bond. which Back in the Day would be ridiculous. But as i grew older i new it would be possible for a Black actor to play a rogue 00 agent in a future bond film. a true leading bond villain today i still believe in the ultimate bond villain being black. but being bond himself is asking for to much.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More From JBR...

Follow JBR On Spotify

Subscribe On Apple Podcasts

Subscribe On Youtube

Like JBR On Facebook

Follow JBR On Twitter