by Gearóid Ó Loingsigh
The latest James Bond film has come out. It is apparently to be Daniel Craig’s last incarnation as the Spy Who Loved Me, or raped me as some have pointed out. There has been much discussion about how woke the new James Bond is and how woke the new James Bond should be, once Craig is replaced. The discussion raises some important issues about representations of masculinity and femininity in cinema, but does not deal with them and misses the entire problem with its proposal for a new woke Bond, showing the ultimately reactionary nature of wokeness. Is there a progressive James Bond we can all feel good about? Is there a progressive Superman or Spiderman? Is the only problem with Bond and Bond like characters some form of what is termed toxic masculinity? Is there a tender loving way to engineer a coup and be in touch with your “feminine side”?
The director of the new instalment of the franchise (yes, it is a franchise, it always has more pecuniary airs and graces than artistic ones), Cary Fukunaga has stated that Bond is basically a rapist. He mentions a number of scenes in which Seán Connery forces himself upon women. Writing in the English newspaper The Independent, Katie Edwards explains
That in his comments, Fukunaga appeared to refer to a notorious scene in 1965’s Thunderball when Sean Connery’s Bond rapes Patricia Fearing, a nurse at the health clinic Shrublands. As with so many of the women characters in Bond films – forever infantilised as Bond Girls – Fearing’s name is a double-entendre. Unlike Pussy Galore, Holly Goodhead, Plenty O’Toole, Octopussy, Honey Ryder, or Mary Goodnight, Patricia Fearing’s name may not induce a schoolboy snigger of sexual innuendo but it does, however, refer to the sexual violence experienced by the character. The character’s name and the soundtrack that accompanies the scene, not only makes light of the rape but also frames it as seduction.(1)
Another scene referred to is Bond forcing himself on Pussy Galore, played by Honor Blackman, in a haybarn. The scene was apparently in keeping with Ian Fleming’s novel and Fleming himself had some very clear and reactionary ideas about what was happening.
In a 1959 letter concerning the novel from which the film was adapted, Ian Fleming explains that this “laying on of hands” from “the right man” was all which was required to “cure” the lesbian character of “her psycho-pathological malady”.(2)
For once the novel and the film are equally reactionary. Edwards finishes off her article by pointing out what she thinks is obvious and to some degree acceptable perhaps and it is that “The character is a mirror that reflects back our cultural mores – even when that includes sexual violence against woman as entertainment with a jaunty quip and a devilish smirk.”(3)
Though, is that true? Just whose cultural mores did Bond reflect back? It is almost certain that he reflected a large swathe of the cultural mores of many sections of society and probably still does. But the 1960s was a time of huge upheaval, war in Vietnam, civil rights struggles, national liberation struggles around the world, and women’s struggles. Bond did not reflect any of that and the decision not to do so, was of course Fleming’s in his original works and the directors and scriptwriters who went on to adapt or develop new material. It is not good enough to say that the trivialisation of rape in Bond films reflected how it was seen and dealt with and still is in society. Though cancelling such films or other artistic endeavours through the prism of current society is a dangerous slippery slope and a reactionary airbrushing of the past.
There were many directors over the years that did not produce Bond like films and even though Bond may have become less of a rapist as the years went by, he was and still is a thoroughly misogynistic character. Women were by and large written out of major roles, other than when the key role was that of a subservient person and female directors in Hollywood were not that common. Back then Hollywood did not really engage with such issues, it tends to make films about women, blacks, gays and other minorities when it is safe to do so. Selma was released in 2014, almost 50 years after the events it portrays, Seán Penn’s Milk came out in 2008, 30 years after the murder of the gay rights activist Harvey Milk. So, to say Bond reflects the cultural mores of the period, is not incorrect but ignores that this was the decision taken by the directors and producers. It was not inevitable. Now the Wokerati feel they are on the cusp or another change in Bond to reflect more recent cultural mores.
Bond is to be woke apparently, whatever that is understood as being in Hollywood. Some have even talked about a gay Bond, a female Bond. This shows the vacuousness of the Wokerati. To them a gay Bond would be progressive. But there is nothing progressive about it. The CIA has already adopted the language of the woke and has various promotional videos to that effect.(4) Murder Incorporated can be woke too. There is no progressive way of killing your way across the globe. The James Bond character invariably takes on mastermind criminals, foreign agents and even popped up in Afghanistan to support the Mujahadeen in The Living Daylights. In this film the Mujahadeen are not only the good guys, and it was 1987, when it was clear to everyone what they were like, but they were also the ones intent on stopping the evil Soviets from flooding the West with opium. A complete travesty of history and support for a gang of crooks that make Bond’s own brand of misogyny look positively endearing. This is not the only twisting of truth on the drugs trade. Will Smith in Bad Boys II hooked up with Miami based Cubans to fight the drugs trade, and the major supplier of heroin in the region, one Fidel Castro. At that point I switched off the film, too many stretches, Miami Cubans against drugs and Castro supplying heroin, not even cocaine. But back to Bond and Afghanistan.
Drug production in Afghanistan is not new and opium in particular has various medical uses in the region. However, Afghanistan did become the major opium producer in the world, displacing US allies such as Burma and Thailand two of the major countries of the Golden Triangle. At the time Bond was busy in his propaganda for the future Taliban leaders, Afghanistan was not the major producer it now is. In 1986, it produced just 350 tonnes on 29,000 hectares of land. In 1990, the year after the Soviet withdrawal it had risen to 2,335 tonnes on 53,759 hectares of land. By 1999, when Bond’s mates had been running the country for three years it had risen to 4,565 tonnes on 90,583 hectares.(5) By 2020, under the US watch, their former allies and CIA operatives, along with the government in Kabul were producing an estimated 6,300 tonnes on a whopping 224,000 hectares of land.(6) Jamie boy was busy killing the wrong people, it would seem, and making the character gay, or a woman will not change that Bond is a murderer for the Empire. Imperialism with preferred pronouns is still murder, though the Wokerati like to think not. But then, they were all gung-ho about Hillary Clinton getting the job of bombing Afghan weddings and claiming it would be progressive.
A progressive take on Bond would be for some gay, black, Afghani youth etc. to place a lump of hot lead behind his ear and be done with him. Progressive cinema does not mean squeezing a square peg into a round hole, it requires another type of cinema altogether.
This discussion has also arisen in relation to the portrayal of blacks and other racial or national minorities in cinema. There is no doubt that even today, characters are reframed in order to make the role convincingly playable by a white actor, though in the past they would just ignore the incongruencies of a white actor playing an Asian monk in Kung Fu. That this shouldn’t happen is not one bit controversial. Some have called for Hollywood to write more roles for black and Asian actors, in itself not a controversial idea and one which should be welcomed. However, the Wokerati are unable to think outside of the box on this issue.
In 2021, the black director Shaka King released Judas and the Black Messiah about the assassination of the Black Panther revolutionary Fred Hampton who was murdered by the FBI. Despite being a successful director, it was not easy for him to find funding for it. The hero was a real-life working class black youth who fought against some of those the Wokerati now idealise. Likewise Boots Riley released Sorry to Bother You, a critique of capitalism. These are not the films they mean. What they mean is a black version of white reactionaries. Inclusivity only goes so far. Spike Lee managed to make a film about Malcolm X that never mentions the word socialism and then went on to make Da 5 Bloods, about a group of black former US soldiers going back to Vietnam. It is a black version of “We invaded, raped, murdered and pillaged our way across your country and this was traumatic for us, not so much for you, and now it makes us cry”. Replete with negative views of the Vietnamese and some racial insults. This is the type of film the Wokerati love.
A number of years ago, a row broke out, mainly amongst racists and right wing commentors in the media about a black Santa. It was claimed that Santa, a bit like Jesus, was obviously white. Now Santa, is actually based on a real person (sorry adults). Saint Nicholas was a real person, a bishop in what is modern day Turkey and if there is one thing we can be sure about, it is that he wasn’t white. Santa Claus, who is based on Nicholas is a Germanic and Nordic tradition. Our image of him, however, is basically to do with Coca Cola and a Swedish employee who would design an advertisement for the company in 1931.
While Coca-Cola has had a subtle, pervasive influence on our culture, it has directly shaped the way we think of Santa. Prior to the Sundblom illustrations, the Christmas saint had been variously illustrated wearing blue, yellow, green, or red. In European art, he was usually tall and gaunt, whereas Clement Moore had depicted him as an elf in “A Visit from St Nicholas.” After the soft drink ads, Santa would forever more be a huge, fat, relentlessly happy man with broad belt and black hip boots—and he would wear Coca-Cola red.(7)
So, if Europeans can whiten a Turkish bishop and Coca Cola can make him fatter, have a beard and put their colours on him, there can be no problem in making this mythical being black. However, this issue, much to the annoyance of the US rights, spilt over into the world of cinema and the representation of superheroes, where changes can also be made with entirely fictional and malleable characters. Santa is such a pervasive cultural icon and economic magnet, there is no way around him at present, so you have to claim him and mould him in your own vision as Coca Cola quite clearly did. There is no mass alternative to him in the USA, at least, though some other cultures in Europe continue to have slightly different takes to the Coca Cola ideal and the Kings Day celebrating the Three Wise Men continues to compete with Christmas in some parts, though is clearly on the way out. Not so the case with these other mythical beings: superheroes. Superman and Batman are just as pervasive but altogether easily avoidable. And like the woke debates around Bond, there are those who would like to see a black Superman or Batman. The world of superheroes and Marvel and DC comics and films is remarkably white in terms of the positive roles and even the more consequential villains. The only major black hero was Luke Cage, a Marvel Comic person invented at the height of Blaxploitation films in the 1970s. He eventually got an outing in the TV series Jessica Jones before getting two seasons of his own show on Netflix. Non-white superheroes are in short supply. So, the possibility of making a black Superman or Batman has been raised.
But why would you bother? Who could possibly think this is progressive? Superman represents the American Empire and that is quite clear. Batman is a right-wing thuggish billionaire who dispenses summary justice. He has nothing in common with young blacks and more in common with that other real life billionaire Donald Trump who took out paid ads calling for the execution of the Central Park Five.(8) Batman being that bit more athletic than Trump would have personally given these youths a most unmerciful beating, Spiderman would have given them a lesser beating and then tied them up for public scorn whilst they waited for the police to turn up. It is probably below Superman’s pay grade, so I am not sure what he would have done. There are no progressive politics to these superheroes and no changing of skin colour or sex will change that. But the Wokerati are clear, that is what they want. They could of course just invent new black superheroes, but what would their politics be like? Well pretty much the same as Superman or the X-Men who in one of their outings did their own take on the Cuban Missile Crisis.
In the pursuit of black superheroes, they came up with Black Panther, which despite its name should not be confused with the Black Panther Party, the good Chairman Mao was not to be seen anywhere in the mythical Wakanda, they had another Helmsman to call upon. It was an economic success and a cultural phenomenon with large crowds celebrating it and African culture, a not insignificant point. It also had an overwhelmingly black cast and crew and the black roles were the positive ones. However, Wakanda was modelled on the reactionary Kingdom of Lesotho. Even the US State department does not give the place a clean sheet. Its 2020 report states:
Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; harsh and life- threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious acts of official corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and trafficking in persons.(9)
It doesn’t sound much like a woke paradise, or maybe it does. Furthermore, in the film the CIA come out of it well, as does the whole concept of US interference in Africa. These are are hardly progressive ideas given the historic and current role of US imperialism in Africa.
In the make-believe world of the Wokerati, their causes are always progressive. For them, there is nothing wrong with class oppression, they frequently even deny it exists and the British and US Empire murdering those who stand in its way is just entertainment, something which it actually was for many colonialists when it came to beating Africans and Asians. So, what should be done? Well, for starts Jamie Boy should get killed off, pushed off a cliff, poisoned, even brutally raped and murdered. And all the superheroes should be made swallow whatever their version of Kryptonite is. Then the Wokerati could look around at the many film makers who actually do progressive films, have gay characters, have roles and scripts for non-white actors and take a look at our society and present and comment on it. They have always been there. Whilst Bond and Clarke Kent were busy reflecting the values of our societies, others were challenging it through their films without resorting to tokens or dressing imperialism up with preferred pronouns up as some sort of progressive alternative.
This type of cinema is rarely as commercial and at the end the day, the Wokerati are only interested in money. Bond belongs in the past, as does Superman. Inclusivity is a myth. If you include gay characters, black, Asian and Latino characters in any convincing way that deals with their lives, even in a very fictional and even sci-fi universe, you will inevitably exclude the Wokerati and their capitalist overlords, and that inclusion/exclusion is what cinema should be about.
(1) The Independent (27/09/2021) Why James Bond being called ‘basically a rapist’ is more important than you think https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/james-bond-no-time-to-die-cary-fukunaga-b1927221.html
(2) The Guardian (23/09/2021) James Bond was ‘basically’ a rapist in early films, say No Time To Die director https://www.theguardian.com/film/2021/sep/23/james-bond-no-time-to-die-cary-fukunaga-thunderball
(3) The Independent (27/09/2021) Op. Cit.
(5) UNODC and WB (2006) Afghanistan’s Drug Industry: Structure, Functioning, Dynamics and Implications for Counter-Narcotics Policy p.25 https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/F799CB6652D2328AC12572340051E14D-undc-afg-28nov.pdf
(6) UNODC & Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (2021) Afghanistan Opium Survey 2020: Cultivation and Production – Executive Summary p.5 https://www.unodc.org/documents/crop-monitoring/Afghanistan/20210503_Executive_summary_Opium_Survey_2020_SMALL.pdf
(7) Pendergrast, M. (2013) For God, Country and Coca Cola (3rd Revised Edition). New York. Basic Books Paragraph 26.30 (epub format)
(8) USA Today (19/06/2019) ‘They admitted their guilt’: 30 years of Trump’s comments about the Central Park Five https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2019/06/19/what-trump-has-said-central-park-five/1501321001/
(9) US Department of State (2021) Lesotho 2020 Human Rights Report p. 1 https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/LESOTHO-2020-HUMAN-RIGHTS-REPORT.pdf