The next James Bond movie, slated to come out in 2020, is expected to be Daniel Craig’s last as 007. That has anyone even vaguely interested in Bond speculating about who should replace him, and a number of people—including a Bond producer—have suggested the character should be played by an actor of color or a woman.
On Friday, the actor Ralph Fiennes, who plays M in the latest Bond films, waded into the discussion during an interview on the BBC show Newsnight, saying: “I’d like to see a great black actor inhabit a Bond-like persona, but necessarily have it be in the same franchise. I think we remake the idea of a Bond as a woman, or as an actor of any ethnicity in another vehicle.”
The comments drew an almost immediate reaction on Twitter, where the audience seemed split: some people applauded the statement, while others pointed out that, uh, Ralph, you took over the role of M from Dame Judi Dench—a woman—who was playing a role originally written for a man.
Fiennes wasn’t the first actor last week to comment on the topic. Eva Green, who played Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, was asked the same question during the premiere of Dumbo. “I’m for women, but I really think James Bond should remain a man. It doesn’t make sense for him to be a woman,” she said. “Women can play different types of characters, be in action movies and be superheroes, but James Bond should always be a man and not be Jane Bond. There is history with the character that should continue. He should be played by a man.”
No one outside Eon Productions, the company that makes Bond films, knows who will inhabit 007 after Craig. Oddsmakers in Great Britain have narrowed the field to six men, only one of whom, Idris Elba, is not white. Elba, who has signaled that he isn’t really interested in the role anyway, ignited this conversation when, in 2018, he posed this question during an interview with Variety: “Are we interested in having a Bond character other than being a male? It could be a woman—could be a black woman, could be a white woman. Do something different with it. Why not?”
Fiennes and Eva Green both make good points: People love to complain about the reboot culture in Hollywood, so why not build a new super-spy franchise around a woman or person of color? But this ignores (at least) three much larger points.
Hollywood is risk averse.
Hollywood studios love reboots and existing franchises because they’re bankable—the risk of investing hundreds of millions of dollars in Bond, or Star Wars, or Marvel anything is far less than pouring money into something entirely new. If you want to see a woman or a person of color lead a major franchise, the surest way is to give them something that already exists.
James Bond is a fictional character.
No one is suggesting the next World War II drama recasts Winston Churchill as a woman and FDR as a Hispanic man. But James Bond is not a real person. He jumped from Ian Fleming’s imagination onto the pages of a book, then onto the big screen. Yes, Fleming imagined him as a straight white man—real people Fleming knew did inspire Bond—but his books were written in the middle of the 20th century. Plus, the movies have evolved beyond the source material. And anyway, Shakespeare is constantly restaged with characters of different gender, race, and ethnicity—it has helped keep those plays vibrant.
Recasting Bond would be enormous for underrepresented people.
James Bond is clever, tough, intelligent, reckless, suave, stylish, and sexy. He’s a national hero, who saves the day every time. Now imagine what it would be like for a first-generation African immigrant in the U.K. to see himself in the form of 007. Imagine women watching helpless men abandon their allegiances to the forces of evil because they cannot resist a female Bond. Imagine how complicated the world would be for James Bond if he was a gay man but his job entailed sleeping with female foreign agents. Imagine if James Bond developed a chronic illness, nothing that would force him to quit his high-risk job but enough to make life more challenging. In fact, one of the men that oddsmakers like for the role, James Norton, has Type 1 diabetes. What if he brought that to the role? For the millions of children with Type 1 Diabetes, seeing Bond as a diabetic would give them a larger-than-life role model and eliminate any lingering stigma around the condition.
The most foundational part of James Bond—beyond the character’s immutable traits—is the fact that he’s British. And that means anyone who’s British should be able to play the role, whether it’s someone with royal blood or a second-generation citizen of the Crown. (In fact, two non-British men—George Lazenby, who’s Australian, and Pierce Brosnan, who’s Irish—have played the role.)
Introducing a new Bond who isn’t white, male, or straight would require some rethinking from the screenwriters. According to the books and movies, Bond was born in Scotland. He’s orphaned. His family has an estate. He becomes a Naval officer. This narrative could stay in tact, more or less, with some adjustments that could make the franchise more interesting.
Without changing the race and gender of Bond, the character has already evolved over the years. For instance, Bond was a chainsmoker in the ’50s and ’60s. Today Craig—who does enjoy a smoke here and there—seems more comfortable in the gym than the smoking section. Fleming’s Bond also served in World War II. Craig’s Bond is born in 1968, twenty-three years after the war ended.
All this is to say the Bond character is forever changing and, if it’s to continue for generations to come, must grow and adjust itself.
Ultimately, I’m not advocating for the Bond producers to absolutely hand over the role to someone other than a straight white man. I do think Elba saying, “Bond, James Bond,” in his raspy purr would melt audiences and open an exciting new chapter for 007. I also think Tom Hardy would bring a refreshingly gritty side to Bond (even grittier than Craig’s portrayal). Hell, I’m even confident Tom Hiddleston—who was great in The Night Manager and is currently the odds-on favorite for the role—would make a perfectly fine James Bond. But fans of the franchise must consider how truly profound it would be for underrepresented people to see themselves in one of the world’s most iconic characters.
He/she can still drink a vodka martini, shaken, not stirred.