By now, rumors about who will play the next James Bond are pretty much routine—a staple feature of our news diet, as regular as misogynistic comments from Donald Trump or new assaults on women's reproductive rights. After current Bond Daniel Craig reportedly turned down a $100 million dollar package to reprise the role, the international media has endlessly picked over the favourites to replace him. Certain names recur: Tom Hiddleston, Aidan Turner, Idris Elba (who'd be the first black Bond—the subject of endless, tedious debate).
In recent days, the press has found a new angle to reinvigorate endless who-will-replace-Bond speculation. After Gillian Anderson was asked during a routine Tumblr Q&A what the best rumor she'd heard about herself was (answer: "that I might be the next Bond"), a fan responded by sending Anderson an image showing her mocked-up as 007. Anderson retweeted it: a media storm around whether the next Bond could be a woman ensued. In the June issue of Complex, Indian actress Priyanka Chopra threw her hat in the ring, telling the magazine how exasperatingly often she's told she'd be a great Bond Girl, before adding, "Fuck that—I wanna be Bond."
Many would say that we're in a golden age for female-led Hollywood franchises. The Hunger Games behemoth has raked in over $2.9 billion at the box office, making Jennifer Lawrence one of Hollywood's most bankable stars. JJ Abrams cast unknown British actress Daisy Ridley as the lead in the new Star Wars film to critical and commercial success. But despite the positive reviews, Rey was left out of the (enormously profitable) Star Wars memorabilia for fear of poor sales—something Abrams himself described as "preposterous and wrong."
Franchises are multi-billion dollar operations, thought out by the money men and suits who calibrate exactly what audiences will pay for—and then deliver a product suited to that market. Given all this, is it really likely that producing duo Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson would risk the success of the Bond franchise on a female lead? To find out more, Broadly spoke to Angus Finney of the University of Exeter and the London Film School.
"From a creative, intellectual property point of view, it would be difficult to have a female Bond at this time," he says. In Finney's view, the producers have done such a good job establishing Bond's back story in the recent films that a gender-switch could be catastrophic. "The mythology of Bond—Eton, the parents who abandoned him, everything we saw in Skyfall—is well-established in the audience's mind. And the scripts and the acting is so much better now. That makes it less flexible to switch things into a different gender."
He explains that audiences are "gender-fixated" when it comes to Bond. "I think male audiences would be intrigued to see a female Bond, but there's a question of whether that interest would be sustained past the curiosity factor of the first film." And it's not just male audiences who'd be the problem. "If you were to reinvent Bond as a woman, essentially what you'd be doing is creating a new Bond for a new, younger generation. If you do that, you're going to have to let go of your ageing, older audience. From the point of view of the box office and DVD sales, are you just cutting off your nose to spite your face?"
Despite this, Finney doesn't think a female Bond would necessarily tank the franchise. "Many of the things which make the Bond franchise commercially profitable, like product placement, could just as easily be tied to a female Bond. Women drive sports cars, fast. Women wear expensive watches. Women look fantastic in suits." Meanwhile, women dominate when it comes to box office decision making.
In Finney's view, a more realistic alternative to a female Bond would be to have the franchise helmed by a female director. "When you're thinking about the sexual politics of a franchise, it's about more than just the commercial viability of having a female lead. Given how important female audiences are, a female storyteller—someone like Kathryn Bigelow—could be a great choice to run with the franchise for three or four films."
Meanwhile, Anderson's agent doesn't need to be waiting for a phone call from Barbara Broccoli anytime soon. Although Anderson is American-British, Finney doesn't feel she has the "Englishness" needed for the part. "You don't need someone with huge box office status. Bond is the star, and all you need for the franchise to be a success is a well-written script that's brilliantly produced, acted, and directed." His tip for a female Bond? "Rebecca Hall. She's the right age and her back story would fit."
Finney does think it's possible we'll see a female Bond one day. "I think if the franchise was really cleverly reinvented, it would survive. But you'd need to have the perfect storm of the director, screenplay, and the choice of actress. There are so many wraparounds that go into blockbuster filmmaking with that level of history." In his view, audiences aren't ready for a female Bond yet.
"My sense with the money is that if they leapt now, there'd be a problem. But if they gradually worked towards a credible storyline, that could be interesting. Imagine if Bond had a sister, who wasn't known about. Imagine if they wrote her in gradually, over three films. You could see how she'd suddenly turn up in a way that was clever and creatively plausible. And audiences would go, 'Ah, I actually buy that.'"