Decolonizing James Bond

Still from No Time to Die.

It felt wonderful to go to the movies for the first time in almost two years of Covid-induced lockdown. All masked up, finding seats without any other folks near us, popcorn and soda and peanut M’n’Ms in hand, felt just so exciting, especially to see the last Bond flick with Daniel Craig in the role of 007. My husband and I like many others have both enjoyed the dark seriousness he brought to the role since his debut in the role over a decade and a half ago, a different performance of masculinity than previous incarnations, shedding the characteristic sexism of the Uber British spy without sacrificing the sexiness of the man with the golden gun.

The cheeky insouciance was still there, but with Casino Royale that set the tone for the Craig era, it became clear such an attitude was a mask that hid a real man, not a caricature of one; a man who could and did, fall in love deeply and truly, was betrayed, and so developed the steely edges of the Bond mystique as a shield for  his very human vulnerabilities. A far cry indeed from the suave sexism perfected by the original Bond as played by Sean Connery, a role and image tweaked here and there with more or fewer of the nods and winks signaling the machismo that defined the Bond essence, but which  remained essentially intact over the almost half century of Bond mania before the baton was passed to Craig.

But with the advent of this latest chapter in Bond history in 2006, the films began to reflect the changing zeitgeist of the 21st century, with Dame Judi Dench as head of MI6, a sexy black woman in the role of Money Penny who was no longer cast as a long-suffering secretary pining for her “James”— and in this final episode of the saga- we get yet another clear indication how far the world has changed by seeing Bond replaced by a 007 who is a sharp and sexy Black woman and M, though once again a man (played by Ralph Fiennes in the last few films)- is tired, old and as Bond quips, has become symbolically “smaller.”

And though the title promises otherwise- lulling audiences into the belief that Bond will endure forever— it lies. He may not have the time to die because he is indeed, as usual, busy saving the world from the bad guys—having been forced to come out of a retirement he’d entered on the heels of yet another heartbreaking betrayal. But alas for him-the world has moved on. Despite learning that the woman he thought had betrayed him had not in fact, done so, and that in fact he is father to her daughter, there is no redemptive happy family ending for our man Bond. Despite-possibly because-his beautifully sculpted white male hetero body refuses to stop playing the saviour role—he must be stopped by the very missiles that symbolize the powerful nations his missions have defended over our lifetimes.

While my generation might mourn the passing of the era of Bond because of a misplaced nostalgia for the way we were, surely, I now find myself thinking: its a good thing that the anachronism of Bond should give way to something new, and in sync with where the world (as I hope in my optimistic moments)—is headed toward. Yes, of course my child self is sad to acknowledge that my mom and dads era of giggling romance, inseparable From Russia With Love, is definitively over.

My own nostalgia for Bond films is a longing for my parents, for a world that was never mine, nor theirs, really. It was a colonial fantasy, and it’s high time Commander Bond  released us from it. So we should be grateful that he dies, very much on time. Here’s to a post-Bond world, then, in which not just Bond, but his CIA compadre also finds that it’s the right time to die— giving the world hope for a future inhabited by fewer and fewer soldiers and spies of dying Empires.

Fawzia Afzal-Khan is University Distinguished Scholar at Montclair State University in NJ. Her latest book is Siren Song:Understanding Pakistan Though it’s Women Singers. She can be reached at: