As a 1979 film once famously suggested, in space – even Moonraker‘s glorious 1979 space universe – no-one can hear you scream. Unfortunately, in cyber-space everyone can hear you scream. And the reactions and fevered panic online recently regarding the click-baited suggestion that British actress Lashana Lynch would be taking the role of 007 in No Time to Die has seen far too many fans reaching for their ‘it’s PC gone mad!’ scream buttons. And worse than that – we have seen and read rather putrid forms of sorority house racism, sexism and creative naivety. Attacking actors on Twitter and petitioning on Facebook is not how art or cinema works. Sorry.
There is more or less no such thing as ‘political correctness’. It is a form of fictional gaslighting – one no different to the likes of the Daily Mail telling us to hate the EU twenty years ago because they want to straighten our bananas and ban Christmas. Like Bond himself, they are folk myths. This bullet catcher always believes that ‘political correctness’ is just a line where decency ends and bigotry begins. When some people screech about not being able to see knockers, boobs and the man on the street using ‘freedom of speech’ (the new t-shirt slogan for those that rarely have any speech that should be granted freedom), they blame ‘PC’ for going ‘mad’. That ain’t ‘PC gone mad’. That is realising we have moved on as a society, that it is actually almost 2020 and that – yes – it is ever-archaic to judge and frame a person by their chest, legs, ‘limp-wrists’, skin colour and 1973 factory-floor rhetoric. In defence, this writer gets the panic. I understand the fear. The world has moved on at speed in the last decade or so. Gay marriage, more diverse political leaders, the globalisation and mobilization of social media and a real spotlight on workplace sexism and abuse has left some and their world orders in the dust. If your civilian life and relationship rights have never been questioned or threatened you will only ever see those that have to wave a flag and hashtag to uphold and defend theirs. Equality and diversity has never meant others get less. It is just panicking rhetoric that thinks that. Panicking rhetoric that then gets a social media wind under its wings and the next thing you know an American President is addressing the world like Telly Savalas in OHMSS. But without the charm and dignity.
Am I defending a film series that has had many sexist criticisms laid at its feet for nearly seven decades? Yes. Am I aware of the flesh and fantasy of Bond over the decades? Yes. But, there is a difference between sexist and sexy. And whilst no-one expects to see Daniel Craig’s Bond slapping the bikini bottoms of a voluptuous leading lady in 2020, can we also remember that the Bond series has always put female characters centre-stage as top agents, business minds, high-end assassins, fierce lesbian KGB icons, pilots, smugglers, triple operatives, wealthy heiresses, MI6 figureheads, leaders of authority, calculating wives, Prime Ministers and loyal mothers. Those women have had the measure of James Bond 007 since 1962. This is not a new thing gift-wrapped in striped ‘PC’ paper for a forthcoming Bond film.
‘But of course, I forgot your ego, Mr. Bond, James Bond – the one where he has to make love to a woman, and she starts to hear heavenly choirs singing. She repents, and turns to the side of right and virtue… but not this one.’
Fiona Volpe / Thunderball / 1965
Some forget that Bond himself is never unattractive either – that there are not just straight white men in the audience of a Bond film. There was a reason Connery had his top off throughout much of 1962’s Dr. No. – the same reason that Daniel Craig emerged from the surf looking like his abs workout meant he ate the last five Bonds before him.
Some critics have recently tried to defend the fantasy of Bond against rumours actress Lashana Lynch might be playing a leading Double-O agent in No Time to Die. But that fantasy is not just for straight men. If you don’t think Connery and his hirsute Edinburgh rack or Craig’s and his era-wise un-hirsute rack was also on show for the girls [and gays] in the audiences, then you might want to double check the reaction Albert R. Broccoli’s very influential wife Dana had on the series from the moment she clocked an actor called Sean Connery at his most handsome peak. The flashes of homophobia and transphobia bizarrely feeding into this recent fan-demnation of rumoured decisions made for a Bond film no-one has seen yet is also ever curious. Someone doesn’t like an emerging British talent being cast in a Bond film so we’ll bracket our annoyance of that with attacking trans people? The very DNA of Bond onscreen has also been crafted and nurtured by LGBT artists. Ian Fleming himself was surrounded by queers when creating the novels. His best pal was neighbour Noel Coward – one of the most famous homosexualists of the 20th century. The very male-skewed, panther like poise and visual beats of the Sixties Bond films were often the result of a more than one gay man’s creative choices. Cinema isn’t getting more diverse to spite people. It is getting more diverse because its creators and audiences always have been. Other phrases that have been naively bandied about include “snowflake millennials” and that 007 now has some “liberal agenda“. If you are a Bond fan and think the franchise shouldn’t have a liberal agenda, then maybe James Bond movies or indeed all movies are maybe not for you. Besides, one of the agreed definitions of a “millennial” is someone born circa 1977. The series which is allegedly ‘pandering to millennials’ technically has one itself – The Spy Who Loved Me – as one its most famous poster boys.
Despite tabloid panics based on scooping up inane gossip on social media threads becoming sources for other tabloid panics also scooping up inane gossip on social media threads, the playwright Phoebe-Waller Bridge is NOT a ‘feminist’ writer. She is just a writer (and actor) and a damn brilliant one at that. If folk think Fleabag, Crashing, Killing Eve, Solo – A Star Wars Story or Run have ‘feminist’ agendas, they are somewhat missing the point and creative thrust of all those works (or, as is always the case, the moaners haven’t actually seen the work). Strong women and decent female writing is not the same as ‘feminist’ – and certainly not in the way some adopt that term rather naively. The character of Fleabag has more internal regrets, one-night-stained bedsheets, hangovers and life-mess to clear up than our man James. Killing Eve got mums and nans watching violent assassin-led telly in their droves. And they love it. There is an economy and sense of punch to Waller-Bridge’s writing. That is exactly what penmanship should be feeding into a new Bond film. Waller-Bridge’s Broadway stage version of Fleabag has been co-produced by Barbara Broccoli and Annapurna – two key names behind No Time to Die. Those creative alliances were forged a long time ago. Waller-Bridge was involved in Bond’s twenty-fifth mission way before the panicking headlines got hold of the wrong end of the wrong stick. Headlines are not the same as timelines. And not every women’s involvement in cinema – and even Bond – is some #MeToo reaction. Nor was it when Joanna Harwood co-wrote the first two Bond films, Dr. No and From Russia with Love. Or when Barbara Broccoli took on the producing baton with brother Michael G. Wilson.
“Look, we’re having a conversation about Phoebe’s gender here, which is f****** ridiculous. She’s a great writer. Why shouldn’t we get Phoebe onto Bond?”
Daniel Craig, Sunday Times, November 2019
There is nothing that new about Lashana Lynch possibly playing a Double-O agent or even a story-specific 007 herself. It might upset those whose minds, toxic viewpoints and phobias are still in 1965. Which is ironic as it was 1965 when the Bond films first referenced a female Double-O agent in Thunderball. Remaking the same mid-Sixties Bond film over and over with the same gender and representation politics is not really what the cinematic beast that is James Bond 007 is about. If Lynch is playing a version of 007, it is because the twenty-fifth film in a long-running series has chosen that story path. And it is its path to choose. After nearly sixty years and twenty-four films, I think the House of Bond sort of know what they are doing. Lashana Lynch [possibly] playing a high ranking Double-O agent will not ruin Bond anymore than James getting wed in 1969 ruined Bond. It will not ruin Bond anymore than casting Judi Dench as M in GoldenEye ruined Bond. It will not ruin Bond anymore than a change of actor in 1969 ruined Bond.
Women have been a VITAL part of the Bond film series since day one. Talk to any of the former and current staff manning the desks and decisions at Bond HQ. They might not always get referenced on the posters in some angry fan’s Bond basements, but the production history of 007 onscreen has always also been about women too. They have never been produced in a male vacuum. Judi Dench was cast as ‘M’ in 1995’s GoldenEye because – as is the norm – Barbara Broccoli and the EON casting minds realised it was the perfect time to introduce a new cracking British actor into the mix. They were not making some feminist statement. They were just casting the best person for the role and reflecting that the real developments at Mi6 had already evolved. Twenty-five years later and with a nod to Dench’s M in No Time to Die, the 007 films are still celebrating that decision. There is no social justice warrior agenda at Bond HQ. Or Star Wars HQ. Or Marvel HQ. Do you know what – these big franchises have bigger concerns when launching multi-million pound movie circuses. They don’t have the luxury of foresight to shake everything up for the sake of a fantasy political agenda out to get dubious nationalists, men’s club sexism and current Presidents. They’re trying to cast, cater, edit, book, transport, build, write, film, promote, steer and budget a whole franchise circus. The least supposed fans could do is to support that and not panic because another red top tabloid has regurgitated a fictional tweet claiming 007 is to become a black British woman as – yep – ‘it’s PC gone mad!’.
“It doesn’t dishearten me. It makes me feel quite sad for some people because their opinions, they’re not even from a mean place — they’re actually from a sad place. It’s not about me. People are reacting to an idea, which has nothing to do with my life.”
Lashana Lynch, The Hollywood Reporter, November 2019
Not one film needs a racist, bigoted and sexist dollar in its box-office. If there are some claiming to not see the film then fine, don’t see it. Yet, the double sadness of those folk is that they will always see the film. It is part of their ongoing campaign of ‘being right’ with their misguided hatred. But, nothing is threatening James Bond 007 or Daniel Craig in No Time to Die. Those bemoaning and lambasting the sanctity of the hero are missing the wider pictures of studio politics (and new studio politics). The studios want Daniel Craig as Bond. EON Productions want Daniel Craig as Bond. The audiences want Daniel Craig as Bond. It makes zero sense that the business we call show would want to alter that for some ‘liberal agenda’ plucked from the clouds of tabloid fantasy. That’s not how art and cinema work. The great Bond fan and movie mind Mark Gatiss has elsewhere rightly suggested when it comes to the state of Britain today that “we have weaponised nostalgia”. Let’s not do the same with film fandom. No one wants to be the kid blamed for why we don’t have nice things anymore.
No Time to Die will be released across the world from April 2020.