Skepta: I’m Bored of the Black James Bond Narrative

Rapper Skepta has announced his plans to create a film centered around a black undercover secret service agent.

According to Skepta, he was inspired to pursue this project after growing tired of discussions surrounding the casting of a black James Bond.

In an interview with the BBC, Skepta discusses his debut film, Tribal Mark, and expresses his determination to create an anti-hero character specifically for black actors.

Famed for his contributions to British grime music, this marks the debut of the 41-year-old artist, whose real name is Joseph Olaitan Adenuga Jr, in the realms of film directing, producing, and acting.

His latest short film explores the story of Mark, a Nigerian immigrant who relocates to London at a young age and embraces a whole new culture and lifestyle. As a teenager, he faces challenges trying to find his place and ultimately finds himself incarcerated for possessing a firearm.

Fast forward to the present day, and Mark, portrayed by Skepta, is enjoying a meal of Nigerian pounded yam and Egusi soup while looking sharp in his suit.

He greets the camera with his name: “I’m Mark. “Tribal Mark,” echoing the iconic phrase: “The name is Bond. James Bond.”

Skepta makes his big screen debut as the black secret service assassin Tribal Mark

Skepta reveals that the “dissociation of an immigrant living in the UK”—a theme to which he could personally relate—was the driving force for the film’s creation.

The musician, who was born in Tottenham, north London, to Nigerian parents, has been eager to clarify that the film is in no way autobiographical.

“I am not a hitman like Mark is,” he jokes, adding.

“More complicated” James Bond

According to the grime musician, Tribal Mark serves as a prelude to a larger film world in which Black male protagonists play starring roles.

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A “hitman who works for the black secret service”—”an anti-hero character similar to James Bond – but more complex”—will be at the show’s focal point.

He said his short “shows us how and why Mark becomes Tribal Mark” and compared it to the 2019 Oscar-winning picture The Joker, which explores the backstory of Batman’s enemy.

Filmmakers aimed to “encourage cultural understanding and inspire resilience in youth” with their production

Skepta claims he became “bored of the narrative” around the possibility of a person of colour playing James Bond and decided to create a “character for black actors”.

“It wouldn’t make sense if loads of white actors kept asking to play Black Panther, because he is black,” he stated.

Ian Fleming, the novelist, developed the 007 agent, who has been portrayed by white actors since the character’s debut on screen, was most recently portrayed by Daniel Craig.

Ever since Craig announced his exit from the character in April 2020, there has been much conjecture about the next actor to portray Bond, with the possibility of a black actor playing the role frequently brought up.

Among the names mentioned was Idris Elba, who recently said on the SmartLess podcast that the racist criticism he received “made the whole thing disgusting and off-putting”.

Hits from Skepta include Waze, Greaze Mode, What Do You Mean, and Shut Down

Produced by Skepta’s own production company 1PLUS1, this is not the rapper’s first display of his DIY ethos.

His 2016 album Konnichiwa, which garnered critical acclaim and included popular tracks like That’s Not Me, Shutdown, and Man, was created in the comfort of his own bedroom and independently promoted to his dedicated fanbase through online platforms, bypassing the traditional music industry machinery.

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The musician has also released another album in 2019, Ignorance is Bliss, and made a notable appearance on ASAP Rocky’s Praise the Lord single, which achieved success on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

In a previous interview with the BBC, he expressed his belief that the internet has provided numerous opportunities for individuals who may not fit into the corporate world. He also emphasised the importance of do-it-yourself (DIY) as the way forward.

Tribal Mark showcases a production team and cast that is predominantly made up of individuals from minority ethnic backgrounds, aiming to uncover fresh talent in the industry.

Following the Black Lives Matter movement, major studios have pledged to reassess their diversity practices. However, a recent report from USC’s Annenberg reveals a continued lack of diversity in the films being produced.

Jude Carmichael, who portrays a young Mark in the film, expressed his desire for young black audiences to see characters that reflect their own experiences. He believes that authenticity comes from having people who share their background involved in the creation process.

Skepta explains that his choice to venture into film-making was straightforward.

“I’ve been focusing on creating short snippets of songs and videos for a while now, but I had a thought: ‘Why not expand on that?'” he shared with the BBC.

“I want to convey a story filled with genuine emotion.”

He mentioned that although his music videos have a fantastical element, his film is relatable to everyone.

According to Adam Strawford, the co-producer of the film, it will resonate with individuals who have had to adjust to life in the UK, particularly those who were not born here.

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The movie chronicles the travels of a Nigerian immigrant who settles in London

Emphasising his dedication to music above all else, it’s no wonder that his film features a fresh track, Diligent, from his highly anticipated album, Knife and Fork.

The song, formerly known as Gas Me Up, sparked a lot of debate due to accusations that the artwork alluded to the Holocaust. The artwork depicted a group of men with shaved heads, and one of them had the phrase “Gas Me Up” tattooed on his head.

Skepta has issued an apology and recognised the possibility of causing offence, but refrained from elaborating on the subject.

He mentioned that one of the primary influences for his latest album was food.

According to Skepta, food plays a significant role in both his culture and the new short film

Skepta expressed that his latest album revolves around the enduring values passed down through generations in his culture. He shared a personal anecdote about his grandad advising his mum to strive for success and embrace proper dining etiquette.

I’ve grown tired of the conventional way of eating, thanks to my parents’ influence. Now, all I crave is the simple pleasure of eating with my hands.

The film also places a strong emphasis on food, highlighting how Mark uses it as a means to maintain his cultural ties.

With his sights set on Hollywood, Skepta is eager for his upcoming movie franchise to match the success of his music career. The first full-length film about Tribal Mark is already in the works, signalling exciting plans ahead.

“We are already considering the car he drives, the restaurants he frequents, his linguistic abilities, and his choice of attire.” We are becoming quite engrossed in it.

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