Scrooge of Color – 23 of 40 – book research

The articles below highlight Naomie Harris, the first black actress to portray the James Bond character Moneypenny. It was striking to recall this as another case of “black replacing white,” especially since the dynamic of the moment was not racial–it was pure surprise that this person was that character, not because of her color but because of her prowess. It is in keeping with the updating of prominent characters such as Alfred Pennyworth (nice surname parallel there) to be much more active and dynamic in the past. I bolded a phrase below that is another subtle tie to topic at hand: “The reveal wasn’t until much later in the film, by which time I’d kind of got under people’s skin and they’d accepted that character.” What a lovely example of what would be ideal: Meet a person and get to know that person before categorizing them. Don’t pre-judge.

The final article concerns Harris first leading role, in the film “Black and Blue,” in which race does matter. In fact, her character is racially profiled by police, even though she is an officer herself. So those two films capture the nature of colorblind versus color-conscious casting.


The public did not object to the new Miss Moneypenny being black because they were not told until the film was already out, the actress Naomie Harris has suggested.

Harris, the first black actress to play the James Bond character, said she had been “very lucky” her casting had been kept under wraps until Skyfall was in cinemas.

“I think I was very lucky that it was never revealed I was Moneypenny until the movie was already out,” she told Town & Country magazine. “People didn’t have a chance to say, ‘Oh no, we don’t want a black Moneypenny,’ because they didn’t know she was coming.
Harris is also the first non-white Moneypenny (she’s the sixth total since the character was introduced in1962’s Dr. No). The diversification of the character, however, was predicated more on the actress than any predominant cultural shift. Director Sam Mendes cast Harris in Skyfall after seeing her in Danny Boyle’s London theater production of Frankenstein. “I have no idea what he saw in me, and I’ve never asked him,” the actress admits. “But I do know that he called Danny Boyle and asked him what I was like to work with.” Furthermore, Harris was never preoccupied with making history: “I never thought about it like that,” she says. “I just thought about there being pressure for what people’s expectations about what Moneypenny is like, who should play her, what kind characteristics she should have. The great thing about the way I was introduced in Skyfall is that you didn’t know. The reveal wasn’t until much later in the film, by which time I’d kind of got under people’s skin and they’d accepted that character.”

Powerful women is what Harris is all also about. In 2012, she rewrote film history by becoming the first black Miss Moneypenny, the first to get a first name – Eve – and the first to get out of her office and become a MI6 field agent.

“That’s incredibly important to me. As I grew up with really strong women, my mum raised me on her own. I was part of a community of very strong women. And I felt growing up there was this disparity between what I was living as my reality and what I saw on screen. And, so from the start of my career, it was incredibly important to me that I played strong, powerful women or empowering women. And that I offered a role model to other girls growing up,” insisted Harris, whose parents separated before she was born.


The new movie “Black And Blue” is an action thriller about a woman who tries to straddle a divide between two groups of people – African Americans and the police who are supposed to be protecting them. The New Orleans police officer who tries to bridge these worlds is Alicia West, played by the actress Naomie Harris.


NAOMIE HARRIS: (As Alicia West) Huh?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Up against the wall.

HARRIS: (As Alicia West) What’s the problem?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Up against the wall.

HARRIS: (As Alicia West) Hey, take it easy, all right?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Against the wall.


In the movie’s opening scene, she’s going for a run. She’s wearing a hoodie. Cops stop her for questioning, and it turns rough. While they’re searching her, they find her police badge.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Sorry about that. We’re looking for someone that matches your description. You know how it is.

HARRIS: (As Alicia West) Yeah, I know how it is.

CORNISH: This is a very American story. And the actress who carries the film is British. Our co-host Ari Shapiro spoke with her about how she relates to the themes of police violence and mistrust.

HARRIS: I mean, I’m – I was definitely very aware that it is a uniquely American story. And so, you know, I had deep dive and do all of my research and so on so that I honored that experience and could play it as authentically as I possibly could.

But sadly, you know, the American experience is not exclusive to America. We have the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.K. And we have a breakdown of relations between the police and the black community within the U.K., as well, and many unexplained deaths of black people – perfectly healthy black men in particular – that have been arrested and then ended up dead in police custody and all the issues that you have in America. I think they’re much more extreme here, but we have them in the U.K., as well, for sure.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Yeah. What kind of research did you do?

HARRIS: I was incredibly lucky because Tyrese, who obviously, you know, co-stars in the movie, is from South Central LA. And he was like, the experience that Alicia had growing up and the kind of community she came from is exactly the community that I came from. And so I’m going to help you, and I’m going to be there for you and explain any sort of cultural differences that you don’t get.

SHAPIRO: Can you remember something specific that your co-star Tyrese Gibson told you about his experience growing up as a black man in LA that was very helpful to you in understanding your character in this movie?

HARRIS: I mean, one of the moments that really stuck out in my mind was when he calls the police for help in the movie.


TYRESE GIBSON: (As Milo ‘Mouse’ Jackson) I called y’all.

HARRIS: And they come, and they actually kind of handcuff him…


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Back up.

GIBSON: (As Milo ‘Mouse’ Jackson) What?

HARRIS: …And harass him.


GIBSON: (As Milo ‘Mouse’ Jackson) I’m the one who called y’all.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Police, if there’s anybody…

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Turn around, hands on the counter. Spread your legs. Spread your legs.

GIBSON: (As Milo ‘Mouse’ Jackson) I’m the one who called y’all, sir.

HARRIS: And he was saying that that is an experience that he’s seen happen many times before and how frustrating, belittling, anger-inducing that is as a black man who’s, you know, called for help and then actually ends up being treated as though they are the criminal.

SHAPIRO: These themes that we’re talking about seem like they could fit into a very dower and heavy movie. And this film is anything but (laughter). So…

HARRIS: Yes. Deon says that this movie is candy with medicine in it.

SHAPIRO: This is the director, Deon Taylor.

HARRIS: That’s right, yes.

SHAPIRO: It’s a big step for you because even though audiences have seen you over the years in “Moonlight” and the James Bond films where you play Moneypenny – I first noticed your performance in the zombie film “28 Days Later” back in 2002 – but this is the first time you’ve played a leading role.

HARRIS: That’s right, yeah.

SHAPIRO: What did it take to make that leap?

HARRIS: So I always said I didn’t want to play a lead because I always – I’ve always found it quite stressful.

SHAPIRO: So it was a choice?

HARRIS: Yeah. I always said, you know, I don’t want the weight of a whole movie because it’s kind of stressful enough coming in and doing your part. And I just enjoyed this kind of collaborative experience of being a part of this whole process. I didn’t want to, like, have the entire spotlight on me. I mean, it’s very typical of my kind of personality because I’m much more of an introvert than an extrovert, bizarrely enough, given…

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) You’re on screen seen by millions, yeah.

HARRIS: Yeah, exactly (laughter).

SHAPIRO: Except it’s funny. You say even without playing a lead, playing any role in a film is stressful. You chose to play a lead in a movie that is so stressful.

HARRIS: Oh, my gosh, it’s so stressful (laughter). And it was – it’s funny because, you know, you read the script, you think, oh, that’s great. Oh, my gosh, it’s so exciting. It’s brilliant. And then it’s not until you actually start filming it and you realize, what, I’ve got to be running every single day. I’ve got to be scared every single day. I’ve got to be jumping through windows – you know what I mean? It’s like…

SHAPIRO: And is that what filming is like? Like, every day, you’re running and jumping through windows?

HARRIS: Every day – running, jumping, terrified. I actually signed a contract which said that they weren’t even going to get me to run. So…

SHAPIRO: Really?

HARRIS: Yes. So I did no preparation – physical preparation – for the role because I was like, you know, someone else is going to be doing all the hard lifting for me. And I’m just going to act it. And then you get there. And you are confronted with the amazing Deon Taylor, our director, who just smiles at you and just says, hey, Naomie, would you mind just running from here to there? And then that’s what we’re asking. Would you mind? And you go, yeah, sure, Deon. And then the next day, it’s like, would you mind running from here to two miles down the road?

SHAPIRO: So you did no preparation and suddenly you’re sprinting on camera with blanks being fired at you?

HARRIS: No. Suddenly I’m, like, sprinting, jumping out windows, you know, jumping off things, being hit, thrown across the room in choke holds. I mean, it was – yeah, it was rough.

SHAPIRO: But it sounds like…

HARRIS: It was an intense experience.

SHAPIRO: …Maybe you proved to yourself that you can do something that was a little intimidating that you hadn’t done up until now.

HARRIS: I did. You know, that’s really interesting. Actually, that’s a really interesting point. And I really did because at the end of the movie, I was like, I love playing leads. I want to play leads all the time now (laughter).

SHAPIRO: So what did you have wrong about it? Like, what was your misconception?

HARRIS: My misconception was that it was actually more stressful playing a lead. But actually, it’s less stressful because you’re on all the time so you don’t have time to kind of wait around in your trailer getting nervous and worrying about like, you know, the scene and getting all head-up about it.

And also, because you are the lead, you get to set the rhythm for the whole piece and the tone and, you know, just the vibe on set. So it becomes like your family, your thing that you’ve created. And it just feels really special. And I’ve really just got over my nerves because usually before I’m acting, before any scene, I’m nervous, you know? But I wasn’t nervous during this because I was there every day. These were my friends.

SHAPIRO: You’re in the swimming pool.

HARRIS: You know, these were my family.

SHAPIRO: You’re used to the of on the water, yeah.


SHAPIRO: One of the themes of the movie is that while there are dirty, corrupt cops, there are also a lot of cops who just kind of go along with the corruption because…

HARRIS: I think that’s the majority, to be honest. I think the bad apples are very few and far between. I think most people are – engage in criminality by turning a blind eye because – and actually, I think that’s one of the strong themes of the movie, that actually by doing nothing, you do a hell of a lot because you’re not standing up against what is wrong.

SHAPIRO: So what does that say about the challenges to actually making change?

HARRIS: I think it says that the real challenge is getting over apathy. You know, there used to be a time when, you know, when the Black Lives Matter movement first started where people were out marching and, you know, outraged. And now I think people are just like, this is just the way it is. And so the aim of this film is also to reignite dialogue and get people outraged again and hopefully get them active.

SHAPIRO: Naomie Harris, thank you for talking with us about your new film “Black And Blue.”

HARRIS: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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