Can the James Bond Franchise Work with a Female 007?
The notion of a woman taking up the 007 mantle has been shut down by fans time and again. There are some who are adamant that being a British white man is central to James Bond's character. After all, that's how Ian Fleming originally wrote him in the books. However, the films have often taken liberties from Fleming's work, sometimes even improving on the source material.
Technically speaking, there has been a female 007 already. No Time to Die (2021) introduced Nomi, played by Lashana Lynch, who took over the code number 007 after James Bond retired from active service. This plot point caused a ton of controversy before the film came out, even though the character of James Bond remained intact. As one could imagine, this backlash would pale in comparison to the backlash from gender-swapping Bond himself. In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, producer Barbara Broccoli asserted that James Bond should always be a British male. Previous Bond actors land on opposite sides of this issue; Daniel Craig agrees with Broccoli's sentiment, while Pierce Brosnan is in favor of a female Bond. But could the franchise realistically work with a gender-swapped James Bond?
James Bond Can Embrace The Codename Theory For A Female 007
One way the franchise could introduce a female 007 is by embracing the infamous codename theory. The codename theory suggests that the name "James Bond" is an alias that is passed on from agent to agent, meaning that every actor's portrayal of James Bond are different characters entirely. Evidence to support this theory goes as far back as On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) when George Lazenby's Bond said, "This never happened to the other fellow." To date, it's the only time Bond broke the fourth wall and directly referenced the change in actors. However, the evidence against this theory is too overwhelming to ignore. The most prominent example is that Bond's wife from OHMSS has been acknowledged by Roger Moore's Bond and Timothy Dalton's Bond, confirming that they are indeed the same character.
Still, a female incarnation of 007 could exploit this theory. Similar to how Daniel Craig's Bond earned his 00 status at the start of Casino Royale (2006), a female MI6 agent could be promoted to the 00 section and be assigned the designation 007, codename James Bond. At which point, M (Bond's boss) would suggest a more appropriate first name, and the film would continue with the new Bond receiving her first mission. Craig's James Bond's tenure was already a reboot of the franchise in an isolated timeline. They could just as easily have another standalone timeline with a female lead.
Another approach would be to separate the name James Bond from the number 007, which was already explored in No Time to Die. The film could function as a typical Bondian spy thriller with a female 007 and make no reference to the name James Bond at all. Alternatively, they could mention that James Bond was the previous 007, but he's either in retirement or was killed in action. Taken one step further, James Bond could be the one to mentor the new 007 himself, allowing the character to participate in the film in a supporting role.
Would Having A Female James Bond Benefit The Franchise?
The reality is, all of these approaches would be far more appropriate as spinoffs and not as part of the official James Bond canon. Not only would it alienate diehard fans of the series, but even female James Bond fans may view the change as pandering. Studios have attempted gender-swapping popular franchises before, such as Ghostbusters (2016) and Ocean's Eight(2018), but they never gained enough traction from their respective fanbases to spawn sequels. It's possible that sequels would've been made if the films had better scripts, but the decision to gender-swap the films in the first place was a commercial one, not an artistic one.
This is what the crux of the argument comes down to. If a screenwriter has a genuinely interesting idea to reinvent the James Bond character as a woman, that is worth exploring. But to change the character's gender purely to appeal to a different demographic would be a mistake, and the producers know this. The most common argument against a female James Bond, which producer Barbara Broccoli subscribes to, is that women should be given their own unique characters to play instead of co-opting popular male characters. Quite frankly, it's a valid argument. Although, it's always fun to speculate what the franchise would look like with a female 007 at the helm.