Last week, No Time To Die, or Bond 25, was being shot in Matera in southern Italy, renowned for its cave dwellings, where some people live in the same houses that their ancestors inhabited 10,000 years ago. Is there some sort of cheap metaphor here for James Bond, long accused of having the gender attitudes of a caveman? This is Daniel Craig’s last outing as Bond, so speculation is rife: Who’s going to order the next vodka martini? But, with fourth-wave feminism gathering force, and “woke" voices capturing cultural space disproportionate to their numbers and support base, this time around, a question getting a lot of media play is: Why can’t the new Bond be a woman?

The idea gained steam on the back of ever-increasing criticism of Bond’s compulsive promiscuity (58 women in 24 films) and objectification of women. So Phoebe Waller-Bridge, writer of the brilliant BBC series Fleabag, was brought in to give the new film a less “blokey" feel. And she sprang a big surprise: In Bond 25, 007 would be a woman of colour. Social media went crazy in response. It took some time for sense to dawn that this was just a gimmick—007 and Bond were separate entities in the film. The franchise’s last film, Spectre, had ended with the heavy hint that Bond was quitting MI6. So, the 007 number had been assigned to someone else. Bond was clearly being forced out of retirement in the film.

Finally, Waller-Bridge herself rubbished the idea of a female Bond, saying: “The important thing is that the film treats the women properly. Bond doesn’t have to. He needs to be true to his character."

But fuel was added to the dying fire by two Bonds last fortnight. Former Bond Pierce Brosnan told an interviewer: “I think we’ve watched the guys do it for the last 40 years. Get out of the way, guys, and put a woman up there. I think it would be exhilarating." Then Craig himself told a magazine that the spy could “of course" be played by a woman. Interestingly enough, Craig’s wife, actor Rachel Weisz, believes a woman Bond is a bad idea.

Dominic West, who was considered for the role the last time, when Craig got it, went a step further in an interview. “Maybe a transgender Bond would be cool," he said. “That’s a great idea! A transgender Bond." Thankfully, no one seems to have taken him seriously.

But why does the Jane Bond question arise at all? What exactly will be achieved for women’s causes by replacing this alpha male with a lethal female promiscuous alcoholic with a gambling problem? Indeed, the best arguments against a female Bond have come from “Bond girls".

Halle Berry (Die Another Day) has said: “That series is steeped in history… I don’t think you can change Bond to a woman." Eva Green (Casino Royale) feels: “Women can play different types of characters, be in action movies and be superheroes, but James Bond should always be a man. There is history with the character that should continue." And Weisz hit the nail on the head: “Why not create your own story rather than jumping onto the shoulders and being compared to all those male predecessors?"

In Wonder Woman (2017), which earned $822 million at the box office, the superheroine certainly did not follow any male comic-book hero template. She is a mighty warrior, but also has a tender and vulnerable side. She was not competing with any superhero on his terms at all. And men and women across the world loved that.

In fact, a 2018 study (bit.ly/2LlSX1N) of top-grossing US films between 2014 and 2017 is revelatory. Out of 350 box office hits, those featuring a female lead outperformed those starring men.

The message seems pretty clear. There is a huge appetite for women-led films, and women certainly do not need to copy any male formula—least of all Bond’s. Anyway, ever since GoldenEye (1995), when a woman, M, called a new Bond (Brosnan) “a sexist, misogynistic dinosaur" and “a relic of the Cold War", 007’s female-objectification quotient has been dropping (he fell deeply in love in Casino Royale and possibly in Spectre), and the female characters have been getting stronger.

Women should tell their own stories. Jane Bond is a regressive idea, and its “woke" revenge motive hides an absence of imagination.

Anyway, Bond fans don’t want a sex change. In a poll of more than 2,000 people from around the world conducted by RadioTimes.com last week, 77% said no. Bond is the most successful cinema franchise ever—its 24 official films have earned an inflation-adjusted $22.42 billion at the box office alone, revenues like TV and music rights, merchandising, etc., being extra. The last two films alone have grossed more than $2 billion, with profits of nearly $1.6 billion. Who in their right minds will fiddle with such a winner?

Barbara Broccoli, producer and custodian of the franchise, is clear about it. “Bond is male," she has said. “And that’s fine. We don’t have to turn male characters into women. Let’s just create more female characters and make the story fit those female characters." Exactly. Especially since women are doing better at the box office than men. Leave that beloved relic alone. Find your own stuff to shake, stir, whatever.

Sandipan Deb is a former editor of ‘Financial Express’, and founder-editor of Open and Swarajya magazines

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