License to Diversify

Written by Steph Wu

Let’s start off by stating the facts clearly. The casting of Lashana Lynch in the next Bond film is not to play James Bond. Rather, Lynch is Mi6 agent Nomi, whose “Double-O” status happens to be 007. Most of the plot details are still under wraps, but Bond 25 reportedly starts with James Bond (Daniel Craig) in retirement, hence there being an opening. But where does this leave the new 007 when the old 007 is back? After all, this is still a Bond film, and equally important to note that it could possibly be Craig’s last outing, who I believe has batted a very respectable .500 in the role.

The James Bond franchise has long been a staple of cinema since the debut of Dr. No in 1962. There will have been 25 films released over a period of nearly 60 years when this next one opens in April 2020. Many others have tried to imitate the success, such as the ever-rebooting Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan or Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne, but none have even come remotely close. Despite the world changing, not much about James Bond, structurally and character wise, has. To a viewer, this can be comforting because change is difficult, but in the ever evolving conversation around pop culture, this can be and is problematic.

Ian Fleming created James Bond from his experience as a naval intelligence officer. In the novels, Bond is described having black hair, blue-grey eyes, and a slim build. He’s never explicitly identified as white, but it can be assumed that he is. Consequently, the six actors who have since played the part are indeed white men. Additionally, any other “Dobule-O” agents we have encountered at this point on screen are also white.

Diversity in casting is a constant conversation point in pop culture today. Just days before this news broke, Disney announced Grown-ish star Halle Bailey would play Ariel in a live action The Little Mermaid remake. Many immediately flocked to the Internet with “#NotMyAriel” because Bailey, who is African American, does not match the description of the, mind you, previously animated fictional mermaid. But to each his or her own on how one chooses to waste time.

When I read the Bond headline, I was undoubtedly excited, but also immediately cautious. What does it mean to have a POC 007? What purpose does she serve in the narrative? Where can we realistically set our expectations for this character? Is this a way to ease fans into accepting a POC James Bond, maybe not immediately after Craig but soon after? Is there a possibility that James Bond is an alias that operates like an assumed identity, thus really opening up future casting possibilities? My hope is that Lynch’s character won’t be used for a cheap death, but rather as a foil that will shape the future of the beloved character we have come to know by seeing a different kind of 007 in action. Come on, she’s got a license to kill, give the audience what we paid for!

This is all speculation for now, but as a long time Bond fan, I see this as a perfect opportunity to modernize a formula and character to be upstanding in today’s society. We always make the excuse, “it was of that time,” when relating to dated art. But is that not the beauty of something like the Bond franchise where it has the power to change its own ongoing discourse? It’s started already on the creative team by tapping True Detective’s Cary Fukunaga to direct, the first Asian American to do so, and adding Killing Eve and Fleabag writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who is only the second woman ever to receive Bond writing credits. The character Q often quips to Bond, “Oh grow up, 007.” So maybe now, more than over, the time has come.

A big shoutout and thank you to Grace Ching for discussing with me and helping refine the piece. Please leave thoughts and comments or email me, I’d love to hear from you!