Spoiler Warning: This article contains spoilers for No Time to Die, the most recent James Bond film
There’s a quote attributed to Matt Damon that always comes to mind when I think of James Bond. It reads, “Bond is part of the system. He’s an imperialist and a misogynist, and he laughs at killing people, and he sits there slugging martinis.” That’s a harsh condemnation – and it aptly sums up many of the issues surrounding Bond as a figure. I’ve watched several James Bond films, mostly those starring Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig. Initially, I was too young to pick up on the Imperialism Damon’s (alleged) quote alludes to. It is however difficult not to note how a lot of Bond’s more recent villains have sported vaguely “foreign” sounding accents (regardless of their actual race) that seem to carry shades of Orientalism – Orientalism being the Western practice of exoticizing non-Western people, most often Asians. However, where the film franchise’s obvious Orientalism slipped my mind, its woeful depictions of cishet women did not.
As a young girl, I mostly thought of the franchise – and Bond himself – in the following terms: okay, so he always gets the girl, regardless of whose side she’s on, and the girl is always replaceable. Such a lovely way for a young mind to characterise women.
Look, James Bond’s notorious relationship with women needs no rehashing here (one of the so-called Bond girls is literally named Pussy Galore) – it’s self-evident and synonymous with the franchise.
However, I recently saw No Time to Die, the latest James Bond installment, and the franchise’s attempts to restore its fractured, sexist relationship with its female characters are evident throughout the film.
Enter Nomi. Framed as the next James Bond – or at least, the next 007, having inherited James’ title during his absence – Nomi is competent, whip-smart, confident, and a woman of colour. She also gets handed somewhat traditionally masculinist posturing, delivering short quips, and generally leaning towards stoicism above emotive delivery. Tellingly, she enters the film framed as a Bond girl with a come-hither smile, only to turn business-like once she gets Bond on his own.
Nomi is a fine protagonist – though she’s given no goals and arcs of her own in No Time to Die beyond fulfilling her role as a 007 agent – the film’s secondary female protagonist, Madelaine, undoes whatever strides Nomi’s character is meant to make a powerful woman of colour. Madelaine is Bond’s partner in No Time to Die and serves as an archetypal love interest that Bond at first scorns and then ends up having to rescue twice.
Madelaine’s more stereotypical role undermines the strides the Bond franchise is clearly trying to make.
So, James Bond in 2021? Not quite as feminist as it might have hoped to be.