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No time to Change: Women in James Bond

The James Bond franchise is blessed with a rare quality: unrelenting popularity. Since its inception in 1962 with Dr. No starring Sean Connery, the movies have seen back-to-back box office hits, with little alteration from each movie to the next. 2021’s No Time to Die shocked movie-goers with an unpredictable ending, but what is most shocking is the lack of progress made in 60 years regarding the presentation of women. 

Almost as notorious as James Bond himself is the traditional ‘Bond Girl’ – the disappointingly backward recurrence of a woman reduced to sexual objectification. The sole purpose of early Bond Girls was to be subject to the male gaze, to show that James Bond was not only a master of action, but of seduction. 

The Bond movies have attempted to make strides in their inclusivity. The films starring Daniel Craig have featured a female 007, a female M, and Bond Girls with more agency. Unfortunately, these additions seem like acts of superficial tokenism. The female 007 (played by Lashana Lynch) relinquished her number to Bond and Judi Dench’s M was ultimately killed and replaced by Ralph Fiennes. 

Even still, the Bond Girls (most recently Lea Seydoux and Ana de Armas) have been portrayed with little evolvement, still echoing the likes of Goldfinger’s ‘Pussy Galore’ and You Only Live Twice’s ‘Kissy Suzuki’. Their purpose is still as a glamorous counterpart to Bond – always dressed to kill, but never licensed to kill. 

The movies’ advertising techniques are particularly revealing. De Armas was featured heavily on promotional material, oozing glamour, but featured in the film for only one sequence. 

Can we imagine feminist progression in the Bond franchise? Similar action movies such as Jason Bourne have had phenomenal success with impressive female characters who contribute to the plot. TV series Doctor Who has taken great feminist strides in elevating women from simply companions who make the Doctor look good – we now have Jodie Whittaker as the first female Doctor. Could the Bond franchise be moving in the same direction? It certainly has some catching up to do. 

While it is natural to applaud the endurance of the franchise, it is easy to adopt a pessimistic view that the appeal of the movies lies in the recurrent themes. Watching a Bond movie feels like sitting in a time capsule rather than a cinema. Perhaps some viewers enjoy the escapism to a ‘simpler’ time – when women’s subordination to men was a given. 

The departure of Daniel Craig leaves room for a fresh new take. Hopefully the next instalments will bring some real progress and bring the 60-year-old franchise into the 21st century. 

Image Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer & Eon Productions via Wikimedia Commons