How Do We Decide Who Gets to Play James Bond in This Day and Age?

Anyone could play James Bond. That’s as much a blessing as it is a curse.

Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall
Sony Pictures

As the search for the next James Bond heats up again in earnest, everyone seems to have their own ideas for a new 007 — be it long-time contenders like Idris Elba and Tom Hardy, or dark horses like Regé-Jean Page, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Henry Golding. Lately, more and more fans have been backing the latter. For a small-yet-vocal percentage of the fandom, it’s high time that the Bond franchise turn a page and tap an actor that reflects the times: namely an actor that’s not another white, British paragon of masculinity and imperialist ideals.

As a character, Bond has labored to keep up with (and even weigh in on) our waning disinterest in empires, governments, and global intervention. The films have become more self-aware as a result, shedding the layers of racism, sexism, and xenophobia that informed the original works of Ian Fleming. When Judi Dench’s M calls Bond “a sexist, misogynist dinosaur” in GoldenEye, she’s echoing what feminists have been saying for decades. Bond Girls eventually became Bond Women, and villains felt more like people and less like racial caricatures. Those efforts culminated in No Time to Die, when Lashana Lynch became the first Black actress to inherit the 007 mantle.

With the departure of Daniel Craig as Bond, all signs seemed to be pointing to a more diverse franchise moving forward. It’s made a lot of progress in the past 20 years, and it could make even more as the franchise resets itself. Longtime Bond producer Barbara Broccoli has spoken to a desire to reinvent the character for his upcoming incarnation. What does Bond look like in a world caught in harsh political divides where calls for representation have reached a fever pitch? (And a fevered backlash.) There’s little question now of whether Bond could be Black, Asian or Hispanic... but should a man of color take on the role?

The Bond franchise feels more inclusive than ever — but is this as far as it goes?

United Artists

Look: there’s no shortage of talented men of color who could take on James Bond. And said casting would go a long way in making the franchise that much more interesting. You can only ask “Do we really still need spies?” or “Is the government bad?” in so many iterations before things get stale. The introduction of a Brit like Page, Golding, Dev Patel, or even Daniel Kaluuya could give the Bond films the leverage to broach issues of identity and inclusion. Bond would likely feel more like a person than he has in years. That’s no shade to Craig, who portrayed the character like a walking wound for 15 years (to great effect), but too often does Bond feel like a symbol, a cypher, instead of a human with personal motivations.

Then again, that’s kind of the point of Bond as a character. He’s at once a relic of a bygone era and a reflection of “modern” masculinity. Straddling past and future can often keep him at arm’s length, but that’s also what makes him timeless. He’s a blank slate, a sounding board for whatever issue the films want to tackle. Unfortunately, that’s the very thing that makes him such a boring concept for our most interesting actors. Bond doesn’t actually get the chance to react to the world around him, except when it threatens to leave him behind. His adversaries, on the other hand, get plenty to play with. Their arcs are always personal (if a little too reliant on world domination) and the actors portraying them always seem to be having fun.

Perhaps that’s why Kaluuya, once a fan frontrunner to play 007, expressed more interest in playing opposite Bond. It’s not that it’s easier seeing him in a more antagonistic role (honestly, he doesn’t play a traditional leading man nearly as much as he should) but it’d certainly be more fun than seeing him as Bond. Ditto for many of the men of color that have been suggested for the Bond franchise.

In a world where literally anyone could be Bond, it’s time to think critically about the future of the franchise.

Sony Pictures

The idea of reclaiming a traditionally gatekept institution is certainly a tantalizing concept on paper, but it doesn’t always work beyond theory. Bond would likely change radically if he were played by anything other than a cis-gendered white guy. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily, but men of color also deserve to lead their own action franchise, one without 60-plus years of baggage or the threat of racist backlash. One needn’t look further than Dev Patel’s directorial debut, Monkey Man, to see the kind of material we should be asking for.

Any of those aforementioned Bond hopefuls have the capacity to be their own kind of action hero, and expecting them to fit into a franchise that was never conceived with them in mind, however iconic, is starting to feel more limiting than it is flattering.

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