By Pablo Castillo Lacalle
“Daniel Craig says James Bond should not be played by a woman” yells a headline from the Independent, and though the article itself soon goes on to clarify the statement, the intention of the title to generate controversy is clear. From the wording, it seems to suggest that Craig is pushing a misogynistic agenda, that the character of Bond should be closed off to female interpretation. Take the time to read the actor’s words, and in fact it is the opposite: the issue is not that the British super-sleuth should be barred from being portrayed as a woman, but that women need new, authentic characters that represent them.
And he’s right. The trend of taking a decades-old cinematic icon and suddenly deciding to recast them by changing their gender has gained quite a lot of traction in recent years-odd, considering the backlash it tends to generate. Infamous examples come to mind, such as Paul Feig’s viciously maligned 2016 take on Ghostbusters, or the fury unleashed by rumours that archaeologist extraordinaire Indiana Jones could soon become (as the possibility was scathingly nicknamed) Indiana Jane. And whilst it is certainly true that a considerable chunk of said backlash is often spurned by toxicity and hate, there’s no avoiding the uncomfortable truth that, vocal minorities of trolls on the internet aside, these decisions are markedly unpopular. Not only unpopular, but ineffective and forgettable, failing to usher in the desired new age of icons.
The reason behind this is deceptively simple. Icons don’t surge out of re-contextualisation, and when studios attempt to reshape cultural landmarks with decades of support and relevance behind them, they are inevitably setting themselves up for failure. Classic characters are classics because they inhabit an indelible space in our cultural memory. They have specific associations to them that most of the time present more problems than the process is worth. Take the idea of a female James Bond for example: how truly progressive or ground-breaking would it be, if it is inevitably linked to the pre-established aura every moviegoer has with Bond as the ultra-masculine fantasy of the violent, womanising playboy? Surely would it not make more sense to start from the ground up, and provide a female spy on the silver screen free from years of tropes that audiences have come to expect (and demand) who is allowed to exist with her own, concrete and distinct identity rather being shoved into an archetypal mould that rides on the coattails of male predecessors?
At best these re-castings are mediocre, at worst, schlocky and tone deaf. Because for all Hollywood’s pseudo-feminist posturing, their obsession with simply tacking on a gender- swap onto the back of a billion-dollar franchise is indicative of a fundamental lack of faith in female-led movies. It is a cynical decision motivated by hackneyed pandering made by corporate stooges trying to have their cake and eat it too, compensating for their laziness and lack of originality with the cheap nostalgia and brand-loyalty brought on by franchise association. In a similar vein to how Star War's female protagonist Rey was unable to forge her own identity without the “Skywalker” surname being gifted to her, modern Hollywood seems to be terminally afraid of letting female characters fly on the wings of their own merit. Even box- office smashes like Marvel’s Black Widow and Captain Marvel come across as half-measures, leaning heavily on the crutch of their cinematic universe to fill seats rather than putting in the required effort.
Women deserve better representation in movies, rather than sloppy rebranding. And it’s not as if a precedent doesn’t exist for well-received and popular female-led cinema and franchises: the Alien movies, Kill Bill, the majority of Hayao Miyazaki’s work, the Hunger Games, Atomic Blonde, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon etc...the list is far more extensive than many would think. Because at the end of the day, moviegoing audiences can very easily sniff out what is disingenuous and what is earnest, and if even the studio itself doesn’t have the confidence of a new take on the character succeeding without the Bond name attached, why should we? The concept of the ‘super-spy’ is not unique to Bond, and it certainly isn’t copyrighted either. Daniel Craig’s comments aren’t the product of stuffy, patriarchal whinging, but rather an earnest call to action for the movie industry to put renewed vigour and effort into coming up with fresh creations that can be tailor-made to accurately represent the desires of its target demographics. And it’s not like that can’t be done either (just look at what The Equalizer did for African American action heroes, or Jordan Peele’s catalogue for the horror genre).
If Hollywood continues to doggedly play it safe, the inevitable result will be more disinterest and even greater hostility. The fact of the matter is, people like what is familiar, and don’t want to see their childhood heroes deconstructed. And rather than try to swim against the current and force, poorly written reimaginings then place all the blame on ‘entitled fans’ instead of their own incompetence. Studios need to start either doing something actually interesting with these new castings (that isn’t just ‘the same thing from before except this time they look different’) or start coming up with alternatives. What we need is new heroes, not old ones with a quick painting over.