I’m not going to call myself a James Bond expert or anything so very trite, but I did spend most of last year (and a huge chunk of this year) both having intense opinions on the James Bond film franchise to anyone that would listen and writing an in-depth article series for The Mary Sue about the movies. It’s pretty fair to say that I get the film franchise better than the average non-Bond blogger.
That’s why I’m pretty uninterested in the idea of casting yet another vaguely attractive white guy in the role.
All of the names I see film sites and Bond fans toss around belong to white guys (and Idris Elba, the only actor of color anyone seems to know on a good day) and it’s ridiculous.
We’ve had decades of a white James Bond who isn’t even that good at subterfuge (or his job, let’s be very real here) and it’s high time that we move forward when it comes to diversifying the series.
Casting Dame Judi Dench as M alongside the Brosnan/Craig films was a good start. Casting Naomie Harris as Moneypenny – and therefore racebending the character – was another great step in the right direction.
However, the Bond franchise has apparently hit a wall post-Skyfall.
By now, if you’re a Bond fan, you’ve probably seen Spectre. If so, you also (probably) didn’t think that it was that good.
I’ve seen the film three times and it has yet to get any better. Not just the clumsy plot or terrible main villain, but with regard to how very white Bond’s world and life are. In all of Spectre, characters of color really don’t have a voice. Moneypenny isn’t a consistent figure in the film and spends a sadly large amount of time freaking out in fear when she just straight up vanishes from the narrative. The only other recurring character of color is Dave Bautista’s Mr. Hinx who says exactly one word before he’s presumably dragged to his death.
All other characters of color shown in Spectre (in Mexico, in London, in Morroco) are silent background figures and/or cannon fodder.
I’m really sick of that sort of thing.
There are several reasons why I want an actor of color to be cast as Bond.
First – Tom Hiddleston, Tom Hardy, Taron Edgerton and all of the other white guys with names starting with the letter T who are being suggested for the role are absolutely decent actors. They’re also the safest of the safe choices that you could make for this casting.
Choosing a white male actor to play the part of a character that has been white for decades (but that doesn’t need to be white or a dude) is such a safe choice that you might as well go on and wrap the dude up in bubble wrap.
We’re already constantly flirting with the idea that Bond is both a codename to go alongside the 007 designation and one Bond’s birth name. So why not shake things up by casting an actor of color in the role? There are British people who aren’t white and/or male and who look fantastic in a suit.
Second – The Bond franchise (book and film) is directly linked towards British (or even just Western) imperialism and all that entails. It needs to be subverted in order to become relevant.
During my Year of the Spy, I lost track of how many Bond films had some thread or subplot that involved Bond going somewhere that was previously colonized by the British and sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong. Much of his missions, whether assigned by his organization or part of his many vendettas, involve him destroying places that have a major population of people of color.
He’s blown through Mexico, Jamaica, several different parts of China in at least two movies, Turkey, and Hong Kong.
That’s not even half of the locations that Bond has been to and probably blown up parts of, just the locations I remembered offhand before getting weary of remembering how much violence Bond commits in places populated by people of color (or even the violence that he commits towards people of color in these places).
Third – There is absolutely nothing about Bond as a character or in the franchise that requires his whiteness or his maleness.
When you say that Bond “has” to be white or that he “has” to be a man, you’re (consciously or subconsciously) pushing actors and actresses of color out of the running for the role.
A lot of people also bring up how much Bond’s creator would hate the idea of a Bond that wasn’t a white guy in order to shut down points like mine. And they’re right on one aspect: Ian Fleming wouldn’t have wanted Bond to be a person of color or a woman but well –
Fleming was more than a little bit racist and misogynistic (which is not him being a product of his time).
And he’s been dead since the sixties.
I daresay that his opinion on the future of the Bond film franchise and any diversity that it’s imbued with decades after his death isn’t something that anyone should keep in mind.
Now, I’m absolutely not saying that making Bond a character of color will fix all of the issues with the franchise.
It won’t fix the misogyny inherent in the continuing treatment of Bond girls and the women in the franchise that are positioned as “unfit” women via tropes and typecasting.
It won’t fix the franchises’ legacy as one that is explicitly built up on white men feeling bad when women are killed while women and characters of color die in droves as a result of his actions. It won’t fix the franchise’s position as modern day imperialistic propaganda (in the same vein as how Captain America is held up).
It won’t even fix the fact that many Bond movies are just straight up not well written.
However, making Bond a character of color by casting an actor of color like Nigerian-British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, my Misfits husband Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, or (despite his distinct lack of Britishness) Indian-American actor Sendhil Ramamurthy would go a long way to helping.
It would provide an avenue for filmmakers to look at Bond with more nuance than “vaguely attractive, hypermasculine white guy punches his way through the plot” (because let’s be very real here, Bond as a character lacks so much nuance that it’s ridiculous). It would provide a greater potential for diverse audiences to see more characters that look like them onscreen.
I know that the recent round of Bond films have positioned Daniel Craig as the “one true Bond” and his origin therefore is the origin story now, but that can change. There’s nothing saying that we can’t get an origin for a Bond of color, where a young and/or unknown actor of color (i.e., one with Nigerian or Pakistani heritage) is being brought up to fill the gap caused when the current 007 decides to retire with his lady love.
There’s nothing saying that this character (trained by Harris’ Moneypenny and watched over by the new Q) couldn’t be used as a jumping in point to make the Bond franchise more accessible to a wider audience. There’s nothing saying that even doing a Bond film where the character trains the next generation of his designation (and that newbie happens to be a character of color) couldn’t be possible.
Either way, it’s better than rehashing the same like ten base plots for James Bond films with different races for the main silent henchman of color and incomprehensible romance sublots (seriously Spectre, what was up with that messy romance??).
Bond doesn’t need to be white. He also doesn’t need to be next to middle age or male either. Anyone whose argument against racebending the next incarnation of the character is that Bond has to be a white man in order to be taken seriously as an effective spy clearly has no understanding of two things:
- How freaking terrible Bond is at being an effective agent of espionage. Everyone knows who Bond is. That’s been a major point of multiple Bond films because Bond announces his presence wherever he goes and also has no interest in subtlety.
- How white men tend to overlook anyone that isn’t like them unless they have no choice but to see them as a threat. Do you know how often people of color – especially women of color – are passed over for basically everything because they’re not even pinging some white guy’s radar?
Any person of color could regale you with stories of how people’s gazes skip right over them because they’re not white. Imagine how easy that would make attempts at espionage!
Instead of championing the same four white guys for Bond now that Daniel Craig has finally told the franchise to fuck off and keep their money, how about switching things up?
Instead of (fan)casting your way to Tom Hiddleston or Tom Hardy as 007, why not make him the silently menacing henchman to a main villainess of color that isn’t framed as a femme fatale? Why not have Moneypenny take over the 007 designation as she trains a young character of color to pick up the position?
Look, it’s easy to say that “this is what Fleming would’ve wanted” or “you can just give characters of color their own franchises” in order to shut down demands for diversity.
I get the desire to push away from critical readings of your favorite pieces of media but even if you personally don’t care about someone else getting or seeing diversity in the media they consume, that need is still there.
In the grand scheme of things, James Bond isn’t that important. Yeah, it’s a long running franchise full of British iconography that has inspired several other franchises as well as having a hand shaping aspects of British culture–
But the world doesn’t belong to white Brits.
Let’s stop pretending that James Bond does.