And you thought the Ghostbusters backlash was bad.
Let’s be honest here: some movie franchises are just more fun to watch unfold backstage. Take the James Bond films. I’m probably the last male thirty-something film critic that should be writing about the rumors that Daniel Craig is – somewhat less than shockingly – stepping down from the role. My favorite Bond actor? Timothy Dalton. My favorite Bond theme? “A View to a Kill.” The closest I’ve ever come to having a personal connection to the Bond franchise is reading Phil Nobile’s essay on how the character served as a common thread between he and his father. For my money, Phil’s article is more valuable than all the Roger Moore movies put together.
But James Bond casting rumors? That’s drama I can get behind. Bond has never been a character taken lightly, not by the people who bring him to life onscreen nor by the fans at home who wait for his next adventure. When Sean Connery first left the character behind after 1967’s You Only Live Twice, producer Albert Broccoli’s comments read like those of a jilted lover. “Sean wore a sweater and jeans when he first came to us,” Broccoli told the Associated Press in 1967. “We made him into a snappy dresser and an international star. But if he wants to stop playing Bond, that’s his affair.” Perhaps owing to the fact that Bond actors have traditionally shot to stardom on the strength of the films, Bond is viewed by his caretakers as a tremendous gift for those lucky enough to be cast. For actors it’s a different story.
We’ve all known for years that Daniel Craig was tired of playing James Bond; when his fatigue at the prospect of more movies leaked into Spectre press junkets, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the actor would turn down an extension of his current contract. And that has led to an interesting grace period – call it a Christmas truce on the Western front – where Bond fans have been able to make suggestions for the next Bond movie without anyone getting their feelings hurt. Actor Idris Elba was the most popular choice until the consensus became that he was too old for the role; now Tom Hiddleston has been elevated to the Bond heir apparent. In the abstract, it’s all fun and games, a chance for fans to harmlessly fill the time between Bond movies with the cinematic equivalent of rosterbation. Once someone is cast in the role, though, the mood shifts and we get down to months of hot takes and heated speculation.
In some ways, this is nothing new. The certainty of Bond sequels predates even the modern Hollywood blockbuster. “We haven’t decided if there will be another James Bond picture,” producer Michael Wilson told the Chicago Tribune after the release of A View To A Kill. “We have no title, no script, no writer or director. In other words, absolutely nothing has been resolved, and we’re not sure when or if it will be.” For most movie franchises, this degree of uncertainty regarding an undeveloped project would make for an uncertain future, but a Bond movie is more than just another franchise film. In the same article warning fans of a possible end to James Bond – the headline itself announces the possible death of the beloved character at the hands of his makers – the author cannot help but share rumors that Albert Broccoli and his team were trying to line up Pierce Brosnan as Moore’s replacement. “I am told (youth) is what he is interested in for his next James Bond,” the author notes, suggesting that the franchise is quite far from winding down.
And while Bond casting rumors may now be more than a half-century old, we’ve never seen a James Bond movie be recast in the modern era of the internet. If you thought that the conversations regarding Star Wars or Ghostbusters were unnecessarily toxic, think about the types of discussions we’ll be having when a replacement for Craig is found. How would audiences respond to a black or Asian James Bond? Last October, in a piece appropriately titled “A Brief, Depressing History of the Quest for a Black James Bond”, GQ writer Ashley Fetters spoke to media historians of the long-standing link between the Bond franchise and black actors. “This particular actor who is black should play James Bond is something of a familiar phenomenon,” Fetters wrote. “(An) actor who is black should play James Bond, not so much.” Fetters also links the skin color of Bond to his cultural heritage; as an imperialistic power, many of Bond’s adventures pit him against non-white villains, playing out a “kiss kiss bang bang” version of England’s history as a colonial superpower.
And what about a female James Bond? It’s tempting to write about how far we’ve come since the beginning of the franchise, but recent events suggest that this might be a bridge too far for a considerable number of movie fans. In a 1994 telephone poll conducted by Entertainment Weekly, three-fourths of the people interviewed agreed that actor Pierce Brosnan would be the best choice for the character. It was the other recommendations, however, that led to this unfortunate write-up in the Las Vegas Review – Journal: “The other votes were divided among Mel Gibson, Liam Neeson, Hugh Grant, Ralph Fiennes, Gabriel Byrne and, from a few people who didn’t understand the question, Emma Thompson.” The thought of a female James Bond was so far-fetched that it wasn’t even addressed as humor or contrarianism in the article; for someone to suggest Emma Thompson – who, come to think of it, would have made a wonderful James Bond – was simple ignorance. The only rational explanation is that they misunderstood their options.
If the rumors are indeed true – if Daniel Craig is ready to say goodbye to the character – then we are about to unleash the most combative round of casting rumors onto an unsuspecting public that Film Twitter has ever seen. And while I may remain ambivalent towards the Bond franchise as a whole – barring some miracle scenario in which Eva Green is brought back to play the lead, of course – I must admit that I’m already amped for the level of discourse this is going to bring to the table. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that the next round of James Bond rumors will be a big moment in how we discuss race and gender in Hollywood franchises. Big moments mean passionate arguments, and passionate arguments mean great writing. Let’s get this backstage drama started.
Related Topics: Hollywood, James Bond