After 57 years and 24 films, James Bond may have met his most deadly enemy yet: identity politics.
The latest news about the 25th installment in the franchise – as yet unnamed – is that 007 is no longer 007. Specifically, Lashana Lynch, a British actress of Jamaican descent, will be starring as an agent 007, supposedly while Daniel Craig’s James Bond is enjoying retirement.
In the Bond universe, a double-0 is an elite secret agent, and is a physically demanding role that, due to fundamental physiological differences, few women could realistically occupy. The departure from realism in this context might be regarded as an ‘immersion breaking’ moment.
But the suspension of reality is inevitably a part of enjoying a Bond film, and by itself, the casting choice could be ignored. However, this news has overshadowed more disturbing events occurring behind the scenes. In particular, it confirms the reports in April that feminist scriptwriter Phoebe Waller-Bridge, known for the female-centric British spy drama Killing Eve, had been requested to join production to give the upcoming Bond film a comprehensive makeover. A source at the time said “[Waller-Bridge’s] dialogue is sharp and brilliant. It’s young, it’s fun and it is all about female empowerment... This will be a very modern Bond for the MeToo era.”
What we are seeing is a cultural icon of the West being used as a playground for propagandists under the guise of representation. It is the culmination of a long-running campaign, primarily driven by social media activists and sympathetic media outlets, that the Bond films portray toxic masculinity, and that the character has been too white and too male for too long. Obviously, this sentiment is not driven by fans of the franchise.
To complain that a character that was created to be male and has been portrayed as such in every film since 1963 is indicative of a political agenda: to tear down a classic male power fantasy and a symbol of rugged individualism that is only possible in the West.
James Bond is the classic male power fantasy brought to life – which is not to say that it can only be enjoyed by men. The core appeal of James Bond to the average movie-goer is that men want to be him, and women want to be with him. We would all like to believe that in the face of danger we could react like James Bond, and for those that never test this idea, we are sold the lie of it for two hours. This is escapism.
Escapist entertainment is important because people occasionally need to escape the world they are stuck in. Whether from personal problems or broader, more abstract concerns, people need to be able to step away from difficult times. Indeed, James Bond is an escape from the neuroses of the #metoo era, where males are often pressured into abstaining from all public interactions with females.
But escapist entertainment only has value insofar as people are enjoying it. Consider the spectacular collapse of the brand of Star Wars since it was acquired by the Disney Corporation in 2012 to see how the adoption of marginal political priorities can diminish a cultural institution.
The James Bond character is only fictional, but it is a part of Western mythology. And as a modern heroic myth, the Bond stories serve to recontextualise the conflict between individuals – a fundamentally western idea – and megalomaniacs and repressive central planners. By recontextualising these conflicts, the virtues of liberty, loyalty, and selflessness shine through.
In this analysis, Bond is, despite his many vices, a vehicle for western virtue, as well as an important source of escapism. If the Bond 25 filmmakers forget this in order to prioritise identity politics, then it will be a 007 film in name only.
Morgan Begg is a research fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs