We’ve Been Expecting You: Opening the Door to Inclusivity in James Bond
By Kim SherwoodApril 18, 2023
There by the lift, on that last day, Bond asked Moneypenny if she thought he had a cold heart.
“No,” she said. “That’s the problem.”
Before she could add another word, M had called James back, and she never told him what she meant. That his heart, or his sentiment, or whatever you wanted to call it—the wounds that never healed, the emptiness—that this broken heart of his would get him killed unless he gripped tight to that list of people he cared about. Because Moneypenny knew, and perhaps only she knew it, that James Bond, CMG, conqueror of SMERSH and defender of the realm, was running out of reasons to live.
And she very much wanted him to come home.
But she never got the chance to tell him any of that.
The door opened.
Moneypenny stood up, ludicrous hope at her throat.
004 said, “You expecting somebody else?”
This is how I introduce Joseph Dryden, 004, one of the new agents in Double or Nothing, the first in my series expanding the world of James Bond. The reader, just like Moneypenny, is expecting someone else—Bond himself. But Bond is missing, possibly captured, or even killed, and a new ensemble cast of Double O agents are searching for him.
I’ve been a fan of James Bond since I was transfixed as a child by the spectacle and style of 007 on screen. I started reading Ian Fleming when I was around twelve, and I fell in love with his visual language and the richness of Bond’s character. My entire life, I’ve said to anyone who would listen: my dream is to write James Bond. I feel incredibly lucky that my dream has come true. But to write this next step in Bond’s story, I had to make him disappear.
When the Fleming family asked me to expand the world of Bond by developing fresh Double O heroes to stand alongside 007, I faced a challenge: how to ask readers to care about new characters with an icon dominating the spotlight? The answer was to work the challenge into the story itself: move Bond into the shadows and give the spotlight to new characters. But who are these new characters?
I began my research with a look at the MI6 website. It’s immediately clear that MI6 are seeking diverse agents who can operate across the world. If every agent looks like James Bond, there’s a real limit to undercover missions they can take on. More significantly, intelligence agencies made up of people from the same background are prey to groupthink and perspective blindness—blind to what they are blind to—and, in recent years, security agencies have acted to create inclusive workforces as a strategic asset.
That’s reality. On a story level, if every agent is like Bond, they’ll only be diluted copies who constrain the hero archetype to straight white men. This was an opportunity to create a diverse ensemble and to enable more readers to see themselves reflected in these heroes.
You may read this and think a Bond novel shouldn’t be political or that entertainment is just that—entertainment. I disagree. As George Orwell argued, “no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.” I might add that it’s usually an attitude held by those who don’t want the status quo to change. Stories are powerful. They not only reflect society, they shape it.
Take the representation of Muslim characters in the action genre. In recent decades, films and TV shows have typically equated terrorism with jihadism, and have largely not featured Muslim heroes, only villains. Outside of the action genre, mainstream media has portrayed very few Muslim characters. Studies have shown a direct correlation between exposure to negative media portrayals of Muslims and people’s willingness to support policies that hurt Muslims. On the other hand, positive, rounded portrayals, or even better direct communication, have been shown to have the opposite effect.
It’s striking that actor Riz Ahmed mentioned James Bond when addressing the House of Commons concerning diversity in media, arguing that lack of representation left Muslims vulnerable to extremist propaganda: “In the mind of the Isis recruit, he’s a version of James Bond, right? Everyone thinks they’re the good guy. Have you seen some of the Isis propaganda videos? They’re cut like action movies. Where’s the counter-narrative? Where are we telling these kids that they can be heroes in our stories?”
I wanted to create nuanced characters where we might typically see only injurious stereotypes, or nothing at all: characters that reflect the reality of contemporary espionage and contemporary society. Just as Ian Fleming was a product of his time, I am a product of mine. As the Jewish child of a single-mother low-income household, and pupil of a diverse London state school, I had life experiences that opened my mind up to many cultures. While I am aware of the limitations and pitfalls of writing from perspectives outside of my lived experience, I feel the other option of reproducing the status quo is not an option at all, politically or creatively.
I know this comes with risks—the risk of appropriating the experiences of others; the risk of alienating some elements of the fan base; the risk of attacks online. I’m also aware that I occupy a position of privilege as a white writer, and that the risk of abuse I face is far smaller than that of a creator of colour. And my attempt to write inclusive Double O stories will only succeed if each character is a complex individual, well-written and well-considered as protagonists should be.
I believe that diverse representation is a vital evolution of the genre we enjoy. 004’s introduction in Double or Nothing encapsulates my ambition. It also pays homage to two important moments for me growing up. First, when Pierce Brosnan addresses the camera in the GoldenEye teaser with the question: ‘You were expecting someone else?’ Second, a ground-breaking and inspiring moment in Angel, the spinoff from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, when the camera panned up over a long-black-coat-clad hero to introduce not David Boreanaz but J. August Richards’ Gunn, one of my favourite characters, who asks both the menacing vampires and the audience: “You’re expecting somebody else?” In a genre that typically presented white heroes, here was a Black actor who would become a series regular.
In Double or Nothing, Bond is both absent and present, missing and seen through flashbacks and memories. And there are three new someone elses for you to meet. Joseph Dryden (004), Sid Bashir (009) and Johanna Harwood (003).
Dryden, Joseph Dryden, 004.
Conceived during World War Two and written as more countries gained independence from the British Empire, Bond is a character bound up with the history of conflict and colonialism. This underlined 004’s character, Joseph Dryden. Famously, Ian Fleming wrote Bond in the three months of the year he spent at Goldeneye, his villa in Jamaica—a country which would become independent the year Fleming typed the first sentence of Casino Royale. As Renee Robinson, the Film Commissioner of Jamaica, comments: “Jamaican culture is very important to James Bond. As we all know, Bond was conceived here by Ian Fleming, and the character and the country are deeply intertwined.” I wanted to honour this historic link, recognise Britain’s colonial history, and celebrate Britain’s diversity by creating an agent descended from the Windrush Generation, named after the 802 Caribbean citizens who emigrated to Britain on the ship Empire Windrush in 1948.
With Dryden’s family history in place, I developed his background. Once I learned that many former Special Forces soldiers become spies when injury keeps them from serving on the front line, Dryden’s backstory came into being. Dryden suffers traumatic brain injury in Afghanistan, the signature injury amongst Western troops in modern times, leaving him with auditory processing disorder and bringing him to the attention of Moneypenny, now chief of the Double O section. Speaking with military doctors gave me key insights into Dryden’s character as a veteran living with physical and mental scars, which informed how I depicted his relationship with his body. As a writer with a disability, I am keenly aware that disability has often been used in storytelling to separate heroes and villains and telegraph inner “disfigurement.” This was a way to reverse that stereotype.
While each Bond story usually introduces us to a new love interest, I’ve always thrilled at the moment in Tomorrow Never Dies when we meet an ex-lover of Bond’s for the first time. Teri Hatcher’s immortal line speaks volumes about their history: “Tell me, James. Do you still sleep with a gun under your pillow?” Dryden’s history as a soldier was a chance to bring in an ex-lover, in this case Luke Luck, Dryden’s second-in-command, now a mercenary for the villain. While there have been LGBTQ+ characters in Bond before, Dryden is the first gay Double O in the Bond canon, something I am very proud of.
Bashir, Sid Bashir. 009.
The name Bashir may be familiar if you’re a fan of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. One of my first exposures to Bond as a child was watching the episode ‘Our Man Bashir’, where Dr Julian Bashir (played by Alexander Siddig) is trapped in a holosuite programme in the role of a very Bond-like spy. I maintain that Siddig would have been a fantastic Bond, and this is my way of (sort of) making it happen. Sid Bashir is born in Bristol to Sudanese and Pakistani parents, and is mentored by Bond in his journey to become a Double O.
The character of Bashir was inspired, on a more sombre note, by the courage and commitment of the White Helmets in Syria, the search-and-rescue volunteers who risk their own lives to save other citizens from bombing. The White Helmets’ motto is taken from the Quran: “To save a life is to save all of humanity.” Not only is this the best of what people can be, it’s also the opposite of an idea we often see in action narratives: that to take one life, the life of a villain, will save all of humanity. Bashir’s character grew from exploring what a spy who had been raised to believe in this ethos might make of the existential demands of being a Double O.
Harwood, Johanna Harwood. 003.
Women have always played a significant role in Bond stories. Few thriller writers before Fleming placed such emphasis on female characters with detailed backgrounds and motivations, brought to life on screen in so many indelible performances. Women have also contributed significantly behind the camera of the films and to the continuation of the novels.
However, the character of “the Bond Girl” is inherently a secondary role, no matter how thrilling many of these figures have proven. As Umberto Eco identified, Fleming uses “archetypal elements” to structure stories that “build up a network of elementary associations to achieve something original and profound.” Psychoanalysts and literary theorists from Carl Jung to Vladimir Propp have devised systems for dividing characters into archetypes (such as the hero, the helper, and the villain) that don’t need to be gendered, but have been traditionally.
We can see this at work in myth critic Joseph Campbell’s model of the hero’s journey, which Bond undertakes as he accepts a mission from M, leaves London, survives the adventure and returns victorious. All of Campbell’s heroic models are male characters. The critic Maureen Murdock noticed this lack of women and wrote The Heroine’s Journey (1990) in response. When Murdock showed it to Campbell, he reportedly said: “Women don’t need to make the journey. . . she’s the place that people are trying to get to.” This idea of women as destination, as static prize at the end of the quest, can be seen in adventure stories going back to Greek myth, and underpinned the evolution of spy fiction. While Fleming invests his female characters with much more agency, the idea of “The Bond Girl” is informed by this legacy.
I’m not anybody’s prize. I’m not anybody’s destination. No woman is. Double or Nothing offered me the chance to create a female Double O who is just as capable and compelling as Bond himself. Johanna Harwood (003) begins life as a trauma surgeon before exchanging the Hippocratic oath for a licence to kill. Harwood is named after the first woman to write Bond, the co-screenwriter of Dr. No and From Russia With Love. If it weren’t for the ground-breaking work of the real-life Johanna Harwood and her generation, I wouldn’t get to do what I do now.
Bond’s character is one of the enduring loves of my life—I don’t want to change him. But the world he manoeuvres through is nowhere near as homogenous as many assume it to be. Real life spies aren’t all straight, white or male, so why are so many of their fantasy equivalents? I’m excited to take this opportunity to mirror the inclusivity of the modern MI6, diversifying the heroes we celebrate in popular culture.
About Double or Nothing by Kim Sherwood:
James Bond is missing…
007 has been captured—and perhaps killed—by a sinister private military company. His status unknown. MI6 holds out hope that their most lethal agent will find his way home. But in the meantime, the rest of the Double O division has a job to do.
Meet the new generation of spies…
Johanna Harwood, 003. Joseph Dryden, 004. Sid Bashir, 009. They represent the very best and brightest of MI6. Supremely skilled, ruthless, with a license to kill, they will do anything to protect their country.
The fate of the world rests in their hands…
Tech billionaire Sir Bertram Paradise claims he has developed new cutting-edge technology capable of reversing climate change and saving the planet. But can his grandiose promises be trusted, and are his motives as altruistic as they appear? The new spies must uncover the truth because the stakes could not be higher; for humanity… and for James Bond himself.
Time is running out.
Thank you very much for this great post. I am getting a lot of help.
No Time To Die was a great wrap up for Daniel Craig but what happens to 007 and/or Bond next? Should Bond veer towards non-fiction and risk its escapism value or dare it risk reverting to the more incredulous make-believe of earlier years and face the tsunami of adverse criticism that the Gray Man got recently?
Maybe Bond should get back to the basics. If you’re an espionage aficionado, an Ian Fleming follower or a 007 devotee then you must know about puffer fish poisons and who wrote the Trout Memo and Beyond Enkription and why. If not, and you want to be an espionage illuminatus, you had best Google “Trout Memo” and study The Burlington Files and Pemberton’s People in MI6. Why? The grey areas surrounding fact and fiction have never been murkier. The world can’t even make up its mind who is entitled to be the president of the USA despite the facts.
If Bond doesn’t get real or more realistic we reckon the final nail in wee Jimmy Bond’s coffin may have been hammered in by Jackson Lamb. Mick Herron’s anti-Bond sentiments combine lethally with the sardonic humour of the Slough House series to unreservedly mock not just Bond but also British Intelligence which has lived too long off the overly ripe fruits Fleming left to rot! Time for a fresh start based on a real spy.
For more beguiling anecdotes best read a brief and intriguing News Article about Pemberton’s People in MI6 dated 31 October 2022 in TheBurlingtonFiles website and then read Beyond Enkription.
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