[It’s been another year, that’s for sure. So for my annual Year in Review series, I wanted to highlight a handful of things that have made me happy this year—and, yes, to complicate and analyze them, because I yam what I yam. I’d love to hear your year highlights and takeaways as well!]
[NOTE: SPOILERS for No Time To Die in this post.]
On a subtle but striking moment in the latest James Bond film.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given that it’s a profoundly British film series that only occasionally intersects with American settings or issues, I’ve only written about James Bond at length once in this space: this decade-old post on the most American, and one of the most problematic (even though I love a lot about it), of the films, Live and Let Die (1973). (I did include another and less problematic favorite Bond film, The Living Daylights, in this post on Afghanistan, which is the one aspect of that film which doesn’t hold up well.) Live and Let Die is no more about race in America than Moonraker was about space exploration during the Cold War or The World is Not Enough was about the need to divest from fossil fuels; Bond isn’t Bourne, nor do us fans expect it to be. But Live and Let Die does utilize racial images and stereotypes quite a bit, in unnecessary and deeply frustrating ways.
The Daniel Craig era as James Bond, which began with 2005’s Casino Royale and came to a close with this year’s No Time to Die, purposefully sought to modernize the films in a variety of ways, with racial representations among them. For that latter issue the Craig films did so most overtly through the casting choices for two of the series’ original and most longstanding characters, MI6 secretary Moneypenny and CIA agent Felix Leiter, with British actress Naomie Harris and American actor Jeffrey Wright playing the two across the Craig films. When Wright’s Leiter first introduces himself to Craig’s Bond in Casino Royale, he even turns this identity question into a clever joke: “I should have introduced myself, seeing as we’re related. Felix Leiter, a brother from Langley.” And in an important scene in the next film, Quantum of Solace (the only other Craig film in which the character appeared until No Time to Die), Wright’s Leiter once again calls Bond “brother.”
No Time to Die returns to and concludes a number of threads from throughout the Craig films, with Leiter’s character and arc among them: he recruits Bond into the film’s originating mission and subsequently is murdered by Logan Ash (Billy Magnussen), a U.S. State Department employee secretly in league with the film’s villain. Later in the film, Bond has the chance to exact revenge by killing Ash; when Ash pleads for his life and calls Bond “brother,” Bond replies (before killing Ash), “I had a brother. His name was Felix.” Bond has always been known for his badass one-liners before and after kills, and this could be seen as simply the latest in that long series (and not the best example in No Time to Die, which comes late in the film and I won’t spoil here). But as I remember it at least, this is the first time that Bond has reciprocated Leiter’s term and called the agent his brother, and he does so here even more clearly than in those other, more jokey and casual uses. The moment isn’t about race at all—which at the same time, like the casting of Wright in this pivotal role, makes it a small but important step in racial representation in the Bond films.
Last review post tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? 2021 stories you’d highlight?