Over the weekend the internet went a little crazy with some news that Lashana Lynch would be playing 007. Of course, the trolls got up in arms without reading the entire story, which basically states that after James Bond retires Lynch’s character takes over the 007 handle. The story makes it pretty clear she’ll be a twist in the opening of the film. Of course, the articles are playing on the eternal debate of whether James Bond could ever be portrayed by a person of color or a woman. However, this casting really had nothing to do with that debate as she’s basically playing the agent sent to bring Bond back into the fold.
The real issue comes with the way the source and articles writing about Bond are talking about this “breakthrough” like Bond hasn’t evolved since Sean Connery slapped a blond in a bikini on her ass and said, “Dink, say goodbye to Felix. Man talk.” That’s just simply not true. The Bond movies had diversified, updated, and changed long before this film and the #MeToo movement. One quote in particular from the Daily Mail’s source easily displays this contradiction between public opinion and actuality when it comes to women in Bond. While Bond could never be considered a champion of feminism the films have routinely played with Bond’s uncanny ability to seduce women and generated strong female characters that are easily his equal. That quote is:
“Bond, of course, is sexually attracted to the new female 007 and tries his usual seduction tricks, but is baffled when they don’t work on a brilliant, young black woman who basically rolls her eyes at him and has no interest in jumping into his bed. Well, certainly not at the beginning.”
Whomever gave this quote clearly hasn’t watched much of Daniel Craig’s Bond films. His tenure opened with Casino Royale in which Bond’s charm is routinely rebuffed by Vesper Lynd and her ability to call him on his crap in clever and stinging dialog. This was followed by Quantum of Solace in which he neither flirts with or beds the leading lady, who shows no romantic interest him. We then get Skyfall, which delivers our most traditional Bond girl, who is promptly murdered for her inability to not resist Bond’s charms. Finally, Spectre landed with Lea Seydoux rolling her eyes at Bond so hard that he fell in love with her and quit womanizing all together. The point being that Craig’s time as Bond has been marked with women who don’t see Bond as charming or interesting… at first.
It hasn’t, however, been just Craig’s tenure. We’ll mostly skip over most of Brosnan, who did suffer from a slew of women who simply fell for his charms or were equally as seductive (Halle Berry and Michelle Yeoh) as Bond, but it is worth mention Dame Judy Dench’s casting as M and her brutal take down of the character in GoldenEye as a moment of self-awareness seemingly being ignored by most in the current discussion. Dalton’s female co-stars were equally forgettable, though part of that can be attributed to the series re-focus on Bond as a hardened spy, not a lady’s man. That brings us to the most glaring oversight of this quote: the fact that a brilliant, beautiful, strong, young, black woman has already tangled with Bond, literally rolling her eyes at him and besting him on multiple occasion.
Grace Jones, who ironically was going to appear in Bond 25, is fierce as fuck in A View to a Kill. In Roger Moore’s final outing she plays May Day, a possibly super human bad ass who is the lover and body guard of Christopher Walken’s Max Zorin. Taking over the role of the villain’s henchman, a part usually played by outsized men, she is both cunning, threatening, and uses Bond’s sexuality against him. She is openly sexual, hints at being bi-sexual, and over powers almost every man in the film. Her role as Zorin’s girlfriend isn’t one of misogyny, but mutual respect, as the two physically spar with each other and May Day wins. When she encounters Bond she is both uncaring and aloof until sexual conquest is needed for Zorin’s evil plans to move forward, at which point she instigates the contact, not Bond. Jones even featured prominently on the marketing.
This is all in 1985 with an aging Roger Moore and a screenplay that, honestly, doesn’t have that much going for it outside of its brilliant villain casting. Now, there are definitely issues to be had with aspects of May Day’s portrayal that in 1985 wouldn’t have seemed like problems. She’s often treated more as a spectacle in the film and the directors don’t seem to know how to handle her androgynous character. Even with its faults, Grace Jones’ striking turn as May Day shouldn’t be forgotten in the celebration of a black, female spy showing up in Bond 25. The tone and discussion around this news makes it seem like nothing has changed with Bond for 50 years, when, in fact, the reason the Bond franchise has survived so long is that it constantly changes, and that has meant a spate of strong, female leads who sometimes roll their eyes at Bond (the majority of who, it should be noted, are white).
This isn’t to say that this casting is unimportant. The inequality in casting in Hollywood is a blight on the entire entertainment industry. Lynch’s casting as the next 007 in the film would not have occurred even as recently as ten years ago, and is a big, awesome deal. However, to treat it like it’s the Bond films finally coming out of the dark ages is disingenuous. The groundwork has been laid for decades now by the very film series that seems to be taking all the flack. Bond may treat women as dispensable, but the films have been doing the opposite for years. It’s as Bond 25 screenwriter Phoebe Waller-Bridge said when asked about Bond being out of date:
“There’s been a lot of talk about whether or not Bond is relevant now because of who he is and the way he treats women. ‘I think that’s b******s. I think he’s absolutely relevant now. [The franchise] has just got to grow. It has just got to evolve, and the important thing is that the film treats the women properly. He doesn’t have to. He needs to be true to his character.”