Dr. Kananga/Mr. Big
Dr. Kananga, also known as Mr. Big, is a fascinating and complex character in the James Bond universe. As the main villain in both Ian Fleming’s novel and the film adaptation of Live and Let Die, Dr. Kananga/Mr. Big holds a significant place in the Bond lore.
Dr. Kananga, a Caribbean dictator, rules the island of San Monique with an iron fist. Under his alter ego, Mr. Big, he operates a vast criminal empire based in the United States. Mr. Big’s criminal network is involved in various illegal activities, including drug trafficking, smuggling, and organized crime.
Played by Yaphet Kotto, Dr. Kananga/Mr. Big is one of the few adversaries in the series to have a dual identity, which adds a layer of complexity and intrigue to his character.
Literary and Film Version
In Ian Fleming’s novel Live and Let Die, Dr. Kananga/Mr. Big is introduced as a criminal mastermind with a deep understanding of the occult, using his knowledge to maintain control over the island of San Monique and its population.
The film adaptation, released in 1973 and the first Roger Moore Bond movie, retains the core essence of the character while making some subtle changes. The film’s version incorporates elements of blaxploitation cinema, which was popular at the time.
The character’s connection to the occult is also toned down in the film, focusing more on his criminal empire and plans to destabilize the global economy by flooding the market with free heroin.
Dr. Kananga/Mr. Big
Dr. Kananga cultivates enormous amounts of opium in San Monique’s hidden poppy fields, which are safeguarded by extensive camouflage nets and the enigmatic Baron Samedi. He intends to flood the U.S. market with two tons of heroin, distributed freely via his legitimate restaurant businesses, and eliminate competition from other drug dealers.
Kananga catches the eye of the Secret Intelligence Service when three of their agents are killed within a single day while scrutinizing his operations. Bond is sent to New York to investigate, and Kananga’s psychic medium, Solitaire, alerts him of Bond’s intentions.
Kananga sends his henchman, Whisper, to kill Bond, but he fails and kills Bond’s driver instead. Bond discovers the ownership of the car is registered to the O. Cult Voodoo Shop. Bond then then heads to the Fillet of Soul restaurant in Harlem to talk with Kananga.
Inside the restaurant, Bond is transported into a hidden chamber, where three armed henchmen confront him, stating that Mr. Big will “deal with” him shortly. Bond has a brief conversation with Solitaire before Tee Hee enters, inquiring if Bond is armed.
Solitaire consults her cards, confirming Bond’s armed status, and Tee Hee uses his metallic prosthetic claw to disarm Bond and crush the barrel of his gun. Mr. Big then comes through and dismisses Bond, before ordering his men to escort him outside and kill him.
The action then heads to San Monique, and Solitaire tells Kananga of Bond’s arrival on the island. and tries to set him up with double agent Rosie Carver. The following day, Kananga asks Solitaire to look into Bond’s future through the cards.
She pulls “The Lover” just as Bond had when they were in the Harlem office, but she doesn’t tell Kananga. He demands to know and asks if she drew “Death” card, and she lies to him saying it was the “Death” card.
When Bond is getting close to Kananga’s lair he confronts Rosie Carver by gunpoint, but she sees a voodoo totem and runs away terrified. As she’s running she’s fatally shot by a concealed weapon in one of the totems that Kananga has planted across the island.
Bond breaks into Kananga’s lair and seduces Solitaire. She then believes her psychic powers have gone and her fate is set, so she now intends to help Bond. Kananga orders his men to kill Bond, but he gets away.
In New Orleans, Bond and Solitaire are abducted by their taxi driver, who also drove the taxi in New York. They’re taken to an airfield, where they’re told that Mr. Big wants to see Bond. Bond overpowers Kananga’s henchmen and reunites with Felix Leiter, but Solitaire is captured by Kananga.
Leiter and Bond visit the New Orlean’s Fillet of Soul. The restaurant’s maître d’ lures Felix away under false pretence, while Bond’s table is lowered into the ground, once again falling prey to one of Kananga’s concealed trap doors.
Bond is greeted by Tee Hee, Mr. Big, and Solitaire, and is restrained in a chair by Tee Hee. Mr. Big informs Bond that by abducting Solitaire, he stole something invaluable from his “good friend” Dr. Kananga.
Mr Big says he has plans for Bond, but first, he must answer a question for Dr. Kananga. Bond tells him he won’t answer to underlings, and to get his answer, Mr Big would have to send him back to San Monique. Angered, Mr. Big asks if Bond touched Solitaire, but Bond refuses, saying he’ll only answer to Dr. Kananga.
To Bond’s surprise, Mr. Big peels off his face, revealing a latex mask, and exposes himself as Dr. Kananga. Bond begins to understand Kananga’s scheme: he grows heroin in San Monique and, as Mr. Big, sells it for maximum profit.
Kananga laughs and tells him he has no intention of selling it, and instead will give away two tons of free heroin, intending to bankrupt major drug dealers in the United States, and dramatically increase the number of addicts. Once he secures a monopoly, he plans to raise the price of heroin and make a fortune.
Kananga then instructs Tee Hee and Whisper to take Bond to “the farm”. After they’ve gone, Kananga asks Solitaire why she betrayed him, and she tells him because the cards predicted it. Kananga slaps her to the ground, stating that he would have given her love in due time and that she was aware of it.
He tells her there’s only one wya to deal with her, prompting Samedi to draw the tarot card “Death.” Kananga later plans for Solitaire to be executed in a voodoo ritual on San Monique. However, Bond had gone to San Monique and rescues Solitaire, and they destroy Kananga’s poppy fields.
Using a hidden elevator built into one of the graves in the church cemetery, Bond and Solitaire get into Dr Kananga’s underground base, but they’re quickly captured and brought before Kananga.
He then takes Bond’s gun, expressing his fascination with it. Bond explains that it’s a shark gun that fires compressed gas pellets. Amused, Kananga aims the gun at the sofa Whisper is sitting on, causing the upholstery to inflate and eventually burst.
Kananga finds the weapon ingenious, and then picks up one of the gas pellets, but Bond warns him not to tamper with it. Bond and Solitaire are tied up and attached to a winch. Expecting to be lowered into the water below, Bond says there must be a more efficient method of drowning someone.
Kananga says they will hardly have the chance to drown, and cuts Bond’s arm, just enough to draw blood. Whisper starts lowering the winch into the water and opens an underwater gate to let sharks enter.
Bond uses the electromagnetic field in his watch to retrieve the gas pellet Kananga previously toyed with and frees himself from the ropes, and then rushes toward Kananga. Whisper attempts to warn his boss, but his faint voice goes unheard.
Bond drops Whisper into an airtight metal capsule, locks him inside, and confronts Kananga. During their struggle, they both fall into the water. Underwater, Bond forces Kananga to swallow the gas pellet after pulling the pin, causing Kananga to inflate like a gigantic balloon and quickly flies up and explodes into pieces.
Born on November 15, 1939, Yaphet Kotto was a renowned American actor, known for his numerous film roles and his standout performance as Lieutenant Al Giardello in the NBC television series Homicide: Life on the Street from 1993 to 1999.
Raised in New York City, Kotto began his acting journey at 16, studying at the Actors Mobile Theater Studio before making his professional debut in a production of Othello. He later honed his skills at the prestigious Actors Studio and on Broadway.
Kotto’s film career took off in 1963, and some of his most notable films include Nothing but a Man (1964), The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), and the first season of the hit TV show Hawaii Five-O in 1969. As well as starring as Bond villain Dr. Kananga in Live and Let Die (1973), he also starred in Parker in Alien (1979), and Midnight Run (1988).
Beyond acting, Kotto pursued his passions for music and writing, releasing a single in 1967 and authoring the book Royalty and scripts for Homicide. In 2014, he reprised his role as Parker in the video game Alien: Isolation.