Does Diversifying James Bond Serve the Franchise?
The release of No Time to Die is due soon (despite the various delays) and what with this being Daniel Craig’s last outing there has been much speculation on the next James Bond to fill Craig’s tuxedo.
While rumors of a female or black Bond had surfaced all the way back to Brosnan’s era, it is worth asking if this change is in line with the characterization of Bond or simply pandering to society?
Ian Fleming created the character of Bond in 1952 as a means of coping with his first marriage and an impending midlife crisis. Fleming himself was born to an aristocratic family in 1908 and created Bond in reaction to the disintegration of the Colonial British Empire and a thirst for adventure. Bond is meant to be a stuffy white shirt facing a changing world.
Be warned that if you haven’t read Fleming’s novels and wish to explore them, while the prose and plot are fantastic, you should know that you are not reading progressive, open-minded literature. You are reading the meanderings of a bigoted aristocrat speaking through his creation. The first James Bond novel is very much a product of its time with hideous quotes like the one below:
Fleming is excessive in his use of slurs towards ethnic minorities and women and while there is no defense for this kind of thinking, it serves the purpose of both the character and the world in which he inhabits. Ian Fleming himself was a man of exquisite tastes and refined characteristics (a boorish snob as described by Sean Connery). But that is the point of Bond’s character.
The movie franchise has done well to keep Bond up to date with the changing times and this is one of the reasons why they still enjoy such a tremendous and unprecedented success. When the Cold War ended — so did many of the common Bond tropes, they have reimagined and revitalized a character deemed a ‘dinosaur’ and moribund on many occasions.
The films embraced the sexual revolution in the 60s, the Blaxploitation era in the 70s and the high-tech of the 80s and 90s. However, what the films have still managed to do during this time is keep Bond stoic, pragmatic and at times, self-admittedly, backwards thinking. Bond’s bigotry is not there to show the opinions and feelings of the filmmakers, it is there to show a crumbling empire struggling to adapt to a changing world and to add depth to the character.
Therefore, it would not serve the purposes of the franchise to pander to excessively liberal sensibilities and diversify the character — Bond is not a character that needs diversifying.
Bond needs to keep his historical genesis and remain grounded within the essence of the post-Empire world in which he was created — and while some of the thoughts and feelings of his creator are unacceptable — the irony of the fish out of water world which Bond finds himself is just great plotting and adds depth to his persona. Bond is a man that struggles to embrace change in a world changing around him. James Bond is so much more than a man with a gun that kills foreign enemies, he is a three dimensional person with many quirks and personal taste that go far beyond a shaken Martini.
Idris Elba was linked to the role numerous times over the years and Idris Elba is a fantastic actor and charming character that would bring much vigor to the role.
However, the Bond described in Fleming’s novels was a character of blue-grey eyes and being born of old English money and Idris does not fit the part. That being said, Idris Elba is a remarkable actor and his performance in The Wire is one of the greatest in television history. Hence why he is more than deserving of his own franchise.
The most effective way for the film industry to diversify and represent differing demographics is to create new and exciting characters.
The idea of a female “Jane Bond” is cringe-induced, and simply piggy-backing calls for liberalization, whereas an entirely new character which may represent the unpresented in high octane action movies is both exciting, liberating and challenging. Those demographics that may feel unrepresented in the action genre need to branch off and create fresh characters with fresh ideas.
In the same way that you wouldn’t cast a white Shaft or a white Black Panther or in the same way that you wouldn’t case a female Harry Potter (named Henrietta Potter) — Bond is what he is and there should be no need to diversify the character unnecessarily, the real art will come from creating new characters to represent an unrepresented demographic (and there are many in films).
Why not have a female villain as a mainstay? A black villain? Why change the main character when you can tinker with the world around them?
The best thing that the franchise is doing now is giving Bond kick-ass partners with many diverse backgrounds — if we could spin those characters off, it would be fantastic.
Although — he does wears that tux so well, perhaps I’m wrong?