Progress still needed for Bond franchise

As the central character of a movie franchise that has been around for 53 years, it’s only natural that James Bond’s persona and appearance have evolved along with society.

There’s a debate floating around the Internet that addresses whether actor Idris Elba (The Wire, Luther) should be the next 007 after Daniel Craig. In the modern era, there shouldn’t even be mild speculation about whether a black actor such as Elba should be able to play James Bond.

Certainly we are ready for this racial change from the misogynistic and mercilessly violent character who originally appeared in Ian Fleming’s novels. Even after taking into account the social norms of the time that the original books were set in and Fleming’s commentary on society, Bond isn’t exactly a progressive character. Even so, this chain-smoking, martini swilling and womanizing symbol of hyper-masculinity is a key figure in pop culture. His iconic persona has been radically changing in recent years however, which leads us to some unexpected developments.

When Craig originally took the role for Casino Royale audiences were surprised to see a vulnerable side to Bond. Skyfall pushed that even further and we actually saw a Bond who had to deal with mortality and the moral implications of his job.

When Skyfall was released, the public was outraged at the treatment of Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe). Even though the sex scene was omitted this time around, Marlohe still had very little to do — both as an actress and as a character with any autonomy — other than look seductive, for which the movie received its share of backlash. The modern audiences won’t stand for the kind of blatant misogyny that filled the older films. Anybody who remembers the scandal that arose when Halle Berry was cast in Die Another Day will recognize that this is a positive step forward.

Of course we still have the matter of race. Should Bond ever be portrayed by an actor who isn’t white? Surely Fleming never intended for this to happen, but the films have more than slightly strayed from his original concept of the Bond character. The movies are its own entity at this point, especially considering that Skyfall more than just hinted at the possibility that James Bond might be an actual person himself rather than just a code name.

We could certainly see many different possibilities for Bond in upcoming years. After all, the Bond series is ultimately a very pornographic form of entertainment. Although the clothes (mostly) stay on, Bond’s facade is shed and we are invited to step into his persona for two hours of fantasy fulfillment where we are heroic, invincible and desirable. This is and always has been the theme of the Bond franchise.

Masculine, powerful, you name it — whatever Bond is, that’s who his viewers can become by watching his films. It is the ultimate form of escapism, but it leads nowhere.

Recall Pierce Brosnan’s Bond who could operate in god-mode, blowing away countless enemies without ever facing any real danger himself. We never see the blood — only the fun. This changed a lot with Craig’s Bond and perhaps we aren’t quite as willing to step into his skin anymore. This time we watched and commented on the moral deterioration of a man forced into a persona beyond his control, which is a huge testament to how much the Bond identity has evolved over time.

So if we can make that change from invincible Bond to socially-conscious and damaged Bond, can’t we make the change to a Bond from a different race?


by Samuel Rafuse via The Sheaf:



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