Are character roles interchangeable or even genderless, how much of a character can we change before they stop being that character?

Lashana Lynch pic-Radio Times

As the 007 franchise announces that the new James Bond Movie will include a woman in the 00 role, we ask…is 00 just a number?

IS IT SIMPLY AS EASY AS SWAPPING GENDERS AND CHARACTER TRAITS IN OUR FAVOURITE CHARACTERS TO MAKE THEM MORE PC. OR DOES OUR DESIRE TO BE MODERN RISK DAMAGING SOME ROLES FOREVER? DO WE AS AN AUDIENCE HAVE A RIGHT TO HAVE OUR SAY ON CHARACTER CHANGES AT ALL?

In a recent interview, Lashana Lynch confirmed her role as the new 007 in “No Time to Die”. The actress shared with Harpar’s Bazaar how she overcame the huge backlash to her securing the role. “For a week, she deleted her social-media apps, meditated, and saw no one but family while comforting herself with the knowledge that the aggressive comments were ultimately not personal.”

But do fans ever have a right to decide what direction characters should head in? after all without fans buying and watching movies, they wouldn’t exist, so should they have a say in whether they think a character needs updating/ the gender changing or any other major alteration?.

30 years ago, if you had told someone on the street that 007 would be a woman someday they would have laughed, perhaps said something like “that would never work, how could a woman ever play that role?” but today we have heard exactly that prospect, and we are left wondering are they right? will the new female addition will be a catastrophic oversight or in fact add a breath of fresh air to a stuffy character who is fast becoming out of date in this ever-changing world?.

Undeniably when Flemming wrote the character of James Bond in his novels back in 1952 it was a very different social landscape to what we have 70 years down the line. Only around 40% of women were working back then, so the notion of a woman in such a high-risk employment role would have seemed alien to the likes of Flemming and his peers, even though there were many brave women spies during the wars doing exactly that. But setting that aside, are there parts of Bond’s character that make him who he is? without which he isn’t Bond, and rather 007 is mutated into something new and ceases to be? Is his gender one of those? Is gender ever one of those in a character? Are Bond’s seemingly pseudo-misogynistic traits, his drinking, fast car driving, love of expensive suits, womanising and inherently chauvinistic male attitude to the world not necessary? Is that portrayal ok when they are explaining that character and should you ever update a role to move with the times or is the ‘that’s the way they were written argument’ always valid? Where do you draw the line at scene-setting within a character and how much can you change from the original before they cease to be them? Could you write about a pirate who doesn’t steal anything… a car thief who doesn’t drive? A serial killer who apologises to his victims? How far will we go to please all members of our audience, and will studios draw a line and decide that some things don’t need fixing? Decide that you cannot please everyone all of the time?

We as viewers have our own minds, we like anti-heroes and heroines, we like villains, and we definitely like characters that we know are wrong, inappropriate, have a bad attitude about things, or in extremes are violent and non socially acceptable. If we didn’t, then the likes of Deadpool wouldn’t be such enormous titans at the box office. We are not saying that we as an audience agree with the values of those characters, rather that we accept that is what makes them who they are in the role. It adds depth and a diverse human feel. They might break the law, break the rules, act in an inappropriate manner, and we like them all the more for it because it makes them interesting characters.

We as an audience get the feeling that as the years tick by, our viewing will become more and more vanilla as studios get ever frightened of upsetting various groups in our now cosmopolitan society.

Will we see characters who don’t swear, who drive within the speed limits, who never say anything offensive, who never do drugs or use alcohol, are vegan, who don’t have inappropriate sexual relationships, how boring! Yawn! Some things should be changed, some things should not and cannot, and studios and casting directors perpetually struggle with the right balance of offence and propriety for our modern snowflake society. I for one could not bear the prospect of watching a Rocky movie where he doesn’t fight anyone or a Godzilla film where the monster sits down quietly to talk through his deeper feelings and discuss his sublimated rage against the people of Tokyo.

We go to the movies to be offended, to be frightened, to see dramatic characters with polarised views from our own and to watch as the bad guys get arrested, get away with it or die trying.

Some say that the more politically correct we make our viewing, the more we risk making boring viewing without conflict violence or intrigue, society is really not as PC as the media leads us to believe. So I ask you, where is that line for you? Would you be happy to make interesting characters that might offend, or prefer ultra polite, PC. bland clones to please all sectors of society… but when is too much too much? And if a franchise such as Bond has endured in popularity all this time, surely the audience like that format and readily accept the personality and flaws of that character… does an audience ever have a right to give their input on changes?

The flip side of this is that a lot of people also want to see movies that reflect the ever-changing world that we live in, so therein lies the difficulty for writers and directors, striking the right line, a line that is both PC enough to flow with the modern equilibrium, whilst creating and maintaining existing characters that are interesting and emotive. That is a really hard job, and I for one would not want the mission of making those decisions, it’s really tough to strike the right balance.

We eagerly await the release of the next Bond instalment “No Time to Die” to see what direction Lashana Lynch takes us in, and we hope that her input brings new dimensions to a 00 role without compromising the fundamentals that makes 007 the character we have grown to love.

 

 

Article: Emma Murfin for Movie-Reliquary