You’ve heard the news: British actor and Captain Marvel supporting player Lashana Lynch will be the next 007, marking the first time in the 57-year-old series’ history that a female or black actor will portray MI6’s top imperialist assassin. The news itself is something of a fake-out: James Bond, the man in the tux, will still be portrayed by Daniel Craig, with the plot forcing the superspy out of retirement to find that his old codename has been assigned to (gasp!) a woman.
You surely remember that I’ve questioned whether the series can reckon honestly with its regressive tendencies and find new relevance (more than once, even). Because I’ve clearly thought way too much about this, let’s run down every last morsel of information we’ve been given about this reveal and why it simultaneously excites and worries me.
According to the anonymous source cited in the Daily Mail’s article (that totally isn’t the troubled production leaking this on purpose to drum up any kind of good news), the first major caveat is that Lynch’s character is merely taking the 007 designation and not the character of James Bond, or however a writer might rename the British spy were he to be gender flipped. Bond, the man, will still be portrayed by Daniel Craig, who as of April became the actor who has held onto the role the longest of any of them (in years, if not in number of films: Roger Moore had a shorter tenure but made six films to Craig’s four-going-on-five).
The Mail’s leak goes on to say that Bond is retired in Jamaica when some incident pulls him out of retirement to find Lynch inhabiting the 007 role. Headlines are rushing to proclaim that Lynch will “replace” Craig as 007, but there is zero indication that this change is permanent. For all we know, Craig could begin the film washed up and done with MI6 and through his adventures alongside Lynch come to inhabit the role again (probably after she dies or just gracefully hands it back to him).
I really, really do not want this to be what happens, but can I be blamed if I don’t trust the Bond brand to actually commit to changes? We’ve seen this movie before, in one way: Skyfall began with Craig presumed dead and drinking his life away before deciding to return to finish the mission he’d failed. It was a movie that began with Moneypenny as a badass field agent and the inimitable Judi Dench as spymaster M, and it ended with Moneypenny riding a desk and Dench replaced with a white guy.
It’s a great statement to make, to put a black female actor as the successor to James Bond, but only if she’s actually going to be his successor. If she’s going to exist solely to support James’ redemption arc, then it doesn’t matter what number the Ministry calls her.
Related to this is whether Lynch is going to be a romantic conquest for Bond. The Mail’s source claims that Bond tries his usual seductive approach on the new 007, only to find that it does not work, “Well, certainly not at the beginning.”
So that seems to be a barely concealed confirmation that Bond and Lynch’s character are going to be a thing, right? Can that possibly be a good character turn? We might have a movie where this new 007 starts off a hard-assed killer for Her Majesty and ends as a sexual conquest for Bond, with bonus points for him just yanking the title back from her so we can return to a comfortable series status quo. Could that happen? Craig was contracted for two additional Bond films in 2017, but it’s unclear whether development hell has changed that obligation. People who were hopeful to see Idris Elba or really any non-white actor as 007 are probably not going to respond well to that turn of events, if that’s really the direction the film is going to take.
The last time we got an actor of African descent portraying a traditionally white character in the Bond franchise, there was little uproar beforehand, but that was partly by design: Naomie Harris, who portrayed a new Moneypenny in Skyfall said she was blessedly spared any racist uproar because her casting was kept under wraps until the film hit theaters. (I’m unaware of anybody giving Jeffrey Wright grief for picking up the role of Felix Leiter, but that may just be because the character isn’t as popular.)
We’re coming down off a news cycle where Scarlet Johansson got raked across the coals for asserting that she should be free to portray any character (be they animal, vegetable or mineral, apparently). She’s uniquely the wrong actor to be making that assertion considering her filmography, but this does bring up the question of why advocates for diversity in Hollywood seem so invested in seeing more characters recast as non-white. We’re stuck in an endless cycle of reboots and sequels of properties that all came out when casting was all but exclusively white. If original properties are only coming out every now and again, what choice do actors of color have but to go for roles that have been traditionally white?
I’m trying not to be cynical in light of this simultaneously worrying and exciting announcement. There really is a chance this will be a good approach to the series. Daniel Craig, who seems as if he’s never really liked any of this circus, insisted on bringing in Fleabag scribe Phoebe Waller-Bridge for major rewrites. Waller-Bridge has stated that she wants to be true to Bond’s worst tendencies while at the same time being respectful of the women in the movie, and if any writer could portray convincingly flesh-and-blood women with an inimitably British identity, it’s her. If the series really is setting itself up to pass the torch to a new 007 for a new era, these are the sorts of steps I would hope it would take.
And then there’s the fact that perhaps no other series in all of cinema is as steeped in performative tradition as the James Bond series.
It’s considered a knowing wink when it pays homage to a busty woman emerging from the ocean. The series has called back to this twice already, remember?
A lot of Bond fans are ready for a new take on 007, with a new character from a new point of view. I really hope this isn’t just a brief detour, and that we’re being set up for Lynch to lay permanent claim to 007.
Kenneth Lowe is a sexist misogynist dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War, etc. You can follow him on Twitter and read more at his blog.