October 8, 2015

BERKOWITZ | Regarding 007 and Race

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The dry vodka Martini, shaken not stirred, the Aston Martin, the womanizing, the suave secret agent who saves the day — these are the things that make Bond, Bond. What about being white, is that part of the 007 persona? Well sure, every actor that has played Bond has been white, but is being white integral to being Bond? Depends on who you ask.

There are traditionalists who say Bond is white, end of discussion. To those of you reading who fit that description, then nothing in the proceeding text will sway your opinion. Likewise, to those who are already on board with the idea that a non-white Bond can exist, keep reading at your leisure. However for those of you who are on the fence, as I admit I was, consider this:

Many of the aforementioned elements that make Bond, Bond, have changed before. For example, while we automatically associate Bond with Aston Martins, it is not the only car we see him driving in the books and films. At one time or another, throughout the past 23 Bonds, we have also seen 007 behind the wheel of brands such as BMW, Toyota, Lotus and Chevrolet. In fact, in Ian Fleming’s first 007 book, Casino Royale, Bond’s car of choice was a Bentley.

Another example is Bond’s signature drink. In Fleming’s first novel, Bond drinks the Vesper: Gordon’s (gin) with vodka and Kina Lillet. In Skyfall, Bond trades in the hard liquor altogether in favor of Heineken, While to be fair, Heineken paid for this right, as it so happens, this has been a common trend throughout the series. Smirnoff paid producers back in 1962 to promote their vodka, which is how we got the dry vodka Martini in the first place.

Even the womanizing has changed. Believe it or not, James Bond was married, in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). Granted, (spoiler alert), his wife was killed within hours. However, yet again, here we see James Bond as a living character with evolving tastes.

Yes, it’s reasonable to suggest that merely changing Bond’s preferences, whether they be cars, drinks or relationships, is not the same as changing physical characteristics of Bond himself. However, this scenario has already played out as well ironically with the current 007. After Die Another Day (2002), Daniel Craig was cast to replace Pierce Brosnan. With their choice, producers ditched tall and dark haired for short and light haired. What happened? four movies later and counting, Craig has been universally praised for his grittier portrayal of 007, and two of his three movies have over 92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Adjusted for inflation, Skyfall is the highest grossing Bond film in 50 years, since Sean Connery’s portrayal in Thunderball (1965).

Yes, changing hair color and height is not the same as changing skin color, but so what? Many of the characters around Bond have gone through changes as well. The supporting cast in the films aren’t always true to the original descriptions — they have changed skin color, gender, and even overall persona. Take Skyfall for instance, the most recent Bond film. Moneypenny, previously played by Samantha Bond, a white actress, is currently being played by Naomi Harris, a black actress. M, currently being played by a male, Ralph Fiennes, had most recently been played by a female, Judi Dench. Even Q, who historically has been played by an older actor, has been replaced by Ben Whishaw, who was 31 at the time of Skyfall’s release.

If you’ve picked up on the fact that many of the aforementioned character evolutions have come about with the more recent Bonds (within the past 20 years), you are correct. Let us not forget that James Bond has been around for over 60 years: These changes keep Bond culturally relevant.

And it’s not unprecedented for the Bond movies to adjust to changing times. When Sean Connery departed from the role, there was a question of who could possibly fill his shoes. Five Bonds later, clearly the feat has not proven impossible (Six Bonds total, not including David Niven’s spoof role). After the Soviet Union dissolved, there was a question of whether or not James Bond would still be relevant. Yet James Bond came back to the big screen in a post-Cold War mentality with a renewed sense of purpose.  After Austin Powers, there was a question of whether or not James Bond could still be taken seriously. Yet James Bond came back rebooted: darker, grittier, more grounded in reality.

All of this brings us back to the core question: Does the skin color of someone negate their ability to play James Bond? It’s an awfully narrow-minded precedent if it does.

For what it’s worth, it appears Spectre won’t be Daniel Craig’s last Bond film as many have come to believe — it’s believed that he’s signed on to do one more. But when his time comes to sign off, and the inevitable debate over who should replace him ensues, perhaps we can evaluate candidates for the next 007 simply based on his merits as a smooth and suave secret agent. You know, the traits that make Bond, Bond.

Ethan Berkowitz is a senior in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations. Views From the 14853 appears alternate Fridays this semester.