The James Bond franchise is among the longest and most consistently released in film. So far, the franchise has released 24 “official” films (26 if you count Never Say Never, and 1967’s Casino Royale as official Bond films) over a span of 6 decades. All of these films centered around the same character, James Bond. Because the franchise has been around so long, it has been necessary to recast the main character 6 times. The current iteration of Bond is portrayed by Daniel Craig, who will star in one more Bond film (due out in 2019) before hanging up his tux.
When Daniel Craig was selected to portray James Bond for 2006’s Casino Royale, it came as a bit of a shock. Craig was different than the men who had portrayed the pop culture figure before him. He was blond, blunt, and gritty. However, Craig was still a white man, just like all of his predecessors. With current trends in filmmaking the way they are, audiences are curious to see if the Bond producers will decide to change things up by making a casting that will be even further apart from what they have done previously. Head producer Barbara Broccoli has said that anything is possible, and potential Bond-replacement Idris Elba has said that he believes audiences are ready for a more diverse Bond, including the option of a female.
Years ago this may have been an absurd suggestion, but as Elba says, audiences just may be willing to give it a chance. Let’s look at the arguments for and against to see if that really is the case.
The Bond Franchise has a History of Gender Equality Violations
It’s no secret. The Bond franchise has a long history of blatant sexism. The main character is a pompous womanizer. The primary women characters are heralded for their sex appeal more so than anything else they might contribute to their films. Some of their names are derived from sexual innuendos, many of their roles are designed simply to explain the plot through stupid questions, and they frequently find themselves in danger and are needing to be rescued by our hero. Probably worst of all is the fact that the franchise has made many attempts to make its women more equal compared to Bond yet still falling into the same pitfalls; not only failing to solve the problem, but essentially admitting the mistakes that have been made as well.
These observations are among the biggest reason that there has been some conversation about the possibility of changing Bond’s gender for the next version of the franchise. For too long, James Bond has gotten away with being terrible towards women, and perhaps the only way to fix it is to flip the table – nothing else has really worked so far. Nothing has been able to convince us that women are meant to be something more than a sex object. They tried giving Bond serious relationships, but she either dies or betrays him (or both). They tried making villains female, but Bond ends up sleeping with them anyway. Same for teaming him up with a female spy of equal skill – somehow she always makes a mistake and needs to be rescued. If all of this effort has been made to change Bond’s gender environment, where is the progress?
The Franchise Needs to Adapt to the Times
Despite attempts at change as noted above but no progress, Bond has not exactly evolved very much over its 56 year tenure. The formula is basically the same, and that includes its depiction of women. Today, we’d like to think that the issue of gender equality in film has changed for the better, and as such audiences are demanding more. Especially recently, with pressure from the #MeToo movement and the general trend for more diversity in big budget films, some people may argue that Bond needs to review its approach for the next go-round. In addition to the possibility of Bond being portrayed by an actor of color, some people argue that there also has to be consideration for Bond to be a woman instead.
For certain people, having a woman take the torch for the next iteration of the franchise could go along way to making up for the franchise’s missteps in the past. Also, as more and more female action heroes helming their own big-budget films, the Bond franchise may seem somewhat old fashioned in its approach if no change is made. There is no other easy way to better establish a sense of gender equality than with a woman as the main character. Adding a strong female counterpart would still make a male Bond the focus wherein she would remain inferior. Facing Bond off against a worthy female adversary would continue to emphasize the Hollywood action movie-emboldened concept of men being the stronger sex and establishing moral justice. The most effective way to finally transport Bond into to the 21st century is to change his gender.
The Franchise Needs a New Direction
Others have argued that since the Bond franchise hasn’t really changed very much since 1962, perhaps one way to instill change is with a female lead. Bond has gone through several soft reboots, seen the release of an unofficial film, and in the latest installment we’ve seen a familiar foe realized anew. In essence, Bond has been running in circles and even bringing in new filmmakers, writers, and producers doesn’t seem to have really changed the approach too much over the years. With such a storied franchise, it seems that there is always going to be pressure to maintain a link to the past. Maybe that commitment to the franchises’ history is what is holding it back. Perhaps it is time to go all in and embrace change in order to take the franchise in a direction it couldn’t go before.
The biggest argument against a woman Bond has to do with honoring the tradition of the franchise. James Bond is based on a series of spy novels first written by Ian Fleming. From the beginning, Bond was shown to have sexist, racist, and homophobic tendencies. His treatment of women was never exactly chivalrous, and indeed Fleming intended for the book to appeal to men. When film versions were created, it only made sense, especially in the wild 60’s, to maintain the main character’s womanizing ways. After all, Bond is a trained killer. He has to take action, no matter what, to ensure the completion of his mission. National security and innocent lives are on the line. He lives a life of extremes, and so his behavior towards women is as much a function of his own sense of self-importance as it is the way he lives his life without regrets.
Likewise, one could argue that scantily clad women, sexual innuendos, and sexist dialogue are all parts of the cinematic embellishments given by the screenwriters to add entertainment value to the Bond films. Indeed, the success of the Bond films relies in its escapist narrative. Bond travels to exotic locations, uses fantastical technology to complete his missions, and lives a life of danger and excitement. Part of this excitement is how the films utilize women in order to appeal to men. Since the first Bond film was released in 1962, audiences have responded well to this approach. Bond was a hit, and as the sequels kept coming, so did competitors trying to utilize a similar formula. All these years later, not much has changed, and the last few Bond films have been among the biggest hits of the franchise. If the franchise has had so much success sticking to its roots, why should it change?
Until the Daniel Craig films, the Bond franchise didn’t have a lot of explicit continuity. While the first films were based on Ian Fleming’s novels and short stories, later versions latched on to popular trends in film, current events, and even technological advancements as sources for plot inspiration. In other words, the franchise has been all over the map in terms of storytelling. Only the latest films have shared one story arc where events in one film are even mentioned in another. Previous to Quantum of Solace, that never happened. One could argue that some of the films released as sequels are actually prequels, and there is no definitive answer on whether or not each version of James Bond that we’ve seen is meant to be the same person.
One might be inclined to think that the franchises’ scatterbrained storytelling would make it easy for a woman to fill in as James Bond. After all, we aren’t quite sure if the character named James Bond is meant to be the same person throughout the entire film catalog, or just a code name for the agent. However, I think the opposite argument is a strong one as well. Having a woman fill in Bond’s shoes could essentially nullify everything that has come before. IF we believe that James Bond is the same person in all of the films, he can’t suddenly become a woman. That would mean that everything that we’ve seen before now won’t matter in the new films, and the franchise would have to basically start anew. Otherwise, Bond as a woman would signify that the character is supposed to be a different person for each iteration, which will fundamentally change the way that many people view the character and the franchise. That’s a strong distinction to make, and either way it may not sit well with long-time fans.
Don’t Want to Lose Male Audience
There will be people (probably men primarily) who will not appreciate James Bond’s change to a woman. As a result of their disgust, people may refuse to show up to theaters to see the new film. I’ve already seen countless comments on news articles where people are saying that if Bond changes to a woman they would no longer support the franchise. Some people may see this change as an effort by the franchise to be “politically correct”, which is seen in some circles as a weakness. However, many people may see the bending a knee to current trends as unacceptable when it comes at the expense of the expectations of those who have supported the franchise long-term. Furthermore, we have to admit to ourselves the fact that for some people the way that the franchise has treated women up to this point was part of the reason they enjoyed the film. Changing the main character to a woman would essentially remove some of the attributes that had attracted them to the Bond films in the first place.
As a longtime fan of the Bond franchise myself, I don’t believe that changing the main character to a woman is a good idea. For me, it is mostly about tradition. Ian Fleming wrote the character in a certain way, and Bond has since become a cultural icon. All of the films are based around the concepts that Fleming originally developed, and having a woman as Bond is not consistent with the foundations upon which the series is based. I wouldn’t be opposed to a separate female-led spy franchise, or even a spinoff of the Bond films with a female lead character, but in my mind the Bond franchise has to stick with what made it famous in the first place. There can be change – it is necessary for a franchise that has been around as long as Bond has been to stay relevant – but that change can’t come at the expense of removing the franchises’ identifying factors. I wouldn’t say Bond’s gender is the heart of the franchise, but it is a necessary part of what it has become. In my mind I can’t see a way for Bond to become a woman while maintaining some of the series’ trademarks in a way that would not end up being seen as a parody.
What are your thoughts?