Seemingly out of nowhere, a British oddsmaker announced this week that another smoldering white British guy, Damian Lewis, is in the running to be the next James Bond:
It may well be a shameless attempt to generate column inches, but one U.K. bookmaker has, out of the blue, slashed its odds of Homeland star Damian Lewis being named the next James Bond. William Hill revealed on Monday that it had dramatically dropped Lewis’ price from an outsider 25/1 to near-favorite 3/1, just short of hot tip Idris Elba, currently 5/2, and putting the actor firmly in contention ahead of Tom Hardy (4/1), Henry Cavill (5/1) and Michael Fassbender (7/1).
I approve of Lewis, and his credentials from Homeland and as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall are solid — but I hope he doesn’t end up overtaking Elba (who we must acknowledge has said that being “the black James Bond” is not a prospect that particularly appeals to him, but come on). It’s time to move past the straight white male paradigm and think of James Bond as a woman, a person of color, an LGBT person, or some combination of the above.
We’ve loved a lot of past James Bonds, who already reflect a fairly wide range of actorly types. Sean Connery and Roger Moore were iconic. I even enjoy Pierce Brosnan’s campy and ridiculous ’90s-era Bond, as well as Daniel Craig’s ultra-dour, post-millennial version of 007. But let’s be honest: You can only switch exotic locales and blow up bigger things so many times before you want something new. That’s why the possibility of a Bond who breaks the white male mold has become so tantalizing, and why so many were excited when Idris Elba’s name was floated, as were those of Denzel Washington and Chiwetel Ejiofor — and as, indeed, was Gone Girl star Rosamund Pike, by none other than Ed Miliband (British politicians are weird). Quite frankly, I think all of these actors have the Bond “It Factor.” Sexy, debonair, with enough mystique to step into the suit and pick up the weapons. (Other gender-flipped nominations from the Flavorwire staff include Lena Headey, Dame Helen Mirren, Mel B, Tilda Swinton, Elizabeth Hurley, etc.).
We know from franchises like The Hunger Games and the increasingly diverse superhero world that ass-kicking isn’t the sole preserve of white dudes. What would make a new Bond paradigm so amazing, beyond what those other films have done, isn’t just that Bond kicks ass, but that this hero is so incredibly cavalier in doing it. It’s a brand of heroism that comes from power — the power to charm and persuade and occasionally blow things up with the knowledge that you’re not going to get in too much trouble — and traditionally that kind of insouciant power has been envisioned as belonging to an exclusively white male realm. Imagine the effect an utterly suave, seductive, cheeky, and rule-breaking woman or person of color as 007 would have in terms of shifting cultural perceptions.
Besides, as one writer noted, Bond has always been a barometer of his times:
There’s no discernable reason a black actor shouldn’t play 007, largely because James Bond is bigger than James Bond. Throughout his years in the movies, Bond has become representative of the shifting politics of the times. Certain things change with each new actor, and of course the politics that Bond is representing change too. But the franchise’s ability to capture the zeitgeist has been present since the beginning.
Of course naysayers and purists (and their king, Rush Limbaugh) would complain vociferously, but the audiences would still show up. A new Bond archetype would leave the franchise shaken, not stirred — and very much the same in terms of essential ingredients.