The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
I would like to start this argument with one simple truth: I love James Bond films. The glamour, the convoluted or not so convoluted in some cases (looking at you Goldeneye, not even Famke Janssen can save that film), and most importantly the over-the-top-extravagant titular songs. Last year’s flatmates can attest to the ungodly amount of time I spent listening to them (no correlation to why we no longer live together). However, the films are ‘of their time’ – laced with casual racism, sexism and tropes that make them tired, especially to an audience brought up on films where the female and non-white cast actually have value to the plot (imagine!). The Daniel Craig reboots have attempted to remove the franchise from the stigma attached to its predecessors but Bond can never divorce itself completely from the Bond-package-deal. That’s a fate sealed many years ago which casting a woman can’t and won’t change.
Whilst there’s no denying a female Bond could be successful in her own right, to make Bond a woman, particularly the amazing Lashana Lynch, would imply that she has had the exact same experiences and affordances as a white man. Bond is a privileged, private school educated, white-European man, he was written that way and has been acted that way for decades. His entire characterisation comes from this identity and whilst it can withstand subtle nuanced changes: Scottish, English, brown eyes, blue eyes, younger, older, younger again, it still paints a homogenous image. To alter even Bond’s privilege or class – never mind his race, gender or sexuality – would feel absurd. Imagine a cockney Bond… you can’t can you? And if you can you shouldn’t.
Women have wonderfully taken the mantle of traditionally male-gendered work, take the success of Jodie Whittaker’s 13th Doctor for instance. Doctor Who and Bond have adapted similarly through the ages and both saw the role being passed along to other actors of similar appearance and calibre, until Whittaker. However, the overriding difference with the Doctor is that they’re not coded in the same way as Bond; they could be anyone. The Doctor is an alien, fluid and non-conforming and we’re encouraged into this belief with the expected regenerations and change of actor every few seasons, whereas the Bond films work pretty much in isolation of each other. Each new Bond builds his own separate canon and history behind the character. With this lack of continuity, you’d think it would make it easier to change his appearance alongside other aspects, but Bond’s been through more iterations than martinis and still remains a white, heterosexual Englishman. That’s not a big pool of actors unless they’re casting purely from the first hour of War Horse. It is because the role is so intrinsically connected to these established characteristics (privilege, masculinity, education, heck, even whiteness) that to remove even one of them would alter his identity entirely. It would become a pantomime of the original and ridiculous to the audience.
But why should we keep rehashing the classic but ultimately flawed Bond anyway?
As Craig astutely put it in a recent interview with the Radio Times: “there should simply be better parts for women and actors of colour.” This Hollywood motif of picking up perfectly fine, classic films and repackaging them with new ‘woke’ themes or casts is just as disrespectful to actors as it is to audiences. There are so many amazing scriptwriters and works waiting to be filled with actors perfect for these roles, so why must we keep recycling Bond, Bourne, Hunt and their compatriots?
Moreover, there is unquestionably an audience for female-lead espionage, seen with small screen and Hollywood successes. Killing Eve, Atomic Blonde, Anna and Red Sparrow have all explored espionage in different periods and with different goals through female-driven narratives and don’t sacrifice the style or action of male-lead films. Even within these modern pieces, the ‘spies’ are mostly white, Eurocentric women – Killing Eve’s talented and award-winning lead Sandra Oh being the obvious exception (though Oh’s character in the novel was originally perceived to be white, huzzah for casting choices!). This just exposes another gap in the market to be capitalised on – and what more do Hollywood executives pray for?
In short, I hope Lashana Lynch’s 007 is a badass but she’s not Bond and she doesn’t need to be.