There’s been much kerfuffle over the casting of Lucy Liu as Watson in “Elementary,” CBS’ latest attempt at relevance in the form of a Sherlock Holmes adaptation. I’m personally excited about the casting, although I’m not completely stoked with the way they’re envisioning the character, but I’m willing to give the show a try for at least a few episodes if it makes it that far. This being CBS, I’m not holding my breath.
Some people are really quite upset at the idea of having a woman play Watson, which leads my mind down the path of all these other traditionally male characters we have floating around in ongoing franchises. It should come as no surprise to learn that I love queering traditional narratives and genderflips are sometimes an excellent and fun way to do that. The Watson-Holmes dynamic is already so interesting and fun to explore that I think casting Liu as Watson is going to add a new element to play around with.
When I start thinking about genderflipping, I always come back to my favorite franchise of all time: Bond. Yes, that’s right, I dig the 007.
I was quite excited when they cast Judi Dench as M, a move that incidentally reflected a real-world change in the power structure at British intelligence, but I’ve been thinking for a number of years now that we really ought to take it one step further: Can we have a female Bond, please?
Jane Bond would be a fantastic play on everything that’s happened in the Bond franchise, which always to me has had a sense of almost making fun of itself, if you read between the lines. There’s something so stagy and outlandish about the series, something so superspy and ridiculous, that there is a whiff of self-parody. This may also be because I grew up surrounded by Bond parodies so just kind of naturally folded my view of the series into that worldview; others seem to feel quite strongly that Bond is Serious Business Not To Be Taken Lightly.
And make no mistake. I love James Bond. I really, really do, and this seems to surprise (and sometimes horrify) people, because apparently it’s out of character for me? But whatever, I love explosions and gadgets. I love the latest iteration of Bond girls, all of whom are talented, skilled, and awesome women in their own right, rather than simple arm candy for Bond. I love traveling around the world and I love pretty frocks.
And I love Bond himself; there’s something about his character that appeals to me, and I think it’s that I feel like he’s constantly fronting to cover up a deep sadness about him. The whole Bond persona is just that, a persona, and it seems to me like it’s his way of dealing with the world, sinking deep below an armor of shaken-not-stirred, eyebrow raises, and fancy suits that somehow magically turn into rock climbing gear.
Back when I was a young thing, I really wanted to be James Bond, in a way, and I was deeply disappointed when I found out that this was not actually going to happen1. Like Bond, I wanted to escape something within myself and becoming an international person of mystery swooping in to save the world seemed like a great way to do that. Plus, did I mention the explosions and gadgets?
I’d love to see Jane Bond played as straight as James Bond, because I feel like messing with a good thing is the most common problem with genderflips. People feel this need to alter the character to compensate for the gender change, and it dilutes the punch of having a genderflip in the first place. Jane Bond would challenge conventional views about masculinity, and the whole Bond franchise itself, too; I think she would expose some of the deeper things going on below the surface that people miss because they’re distracted by exotic locations and explosions2.
What comes off as sauve and slick with James would be read as cold with Jane, I suspect; look at how M plays for audiences. She’s the ultimate ice queen, super private and reserved, much like James himself, but it feels very, very different because it’s Judi in the role and not Bernard Lee or Robert Brown. Likewise, James’ bedroom antics would be labeled as slutty when it’s Jane, which I think says a lot about audience perceptions of sexuality and gender. It’s okay for James’ prize at the end of the movie to include a fling in an exotic location, but not for Jane, I suspect.
Plus, why shouldn’t girls get all the toys? I want to see Jane coolly and competently flipping people out of the ejector seat in her Aston Martin, taking down the bad guy in one shot while surrounded by a hail of bullets, and escaping from the scene in a tank or something. We tell girls that they can do anything, but the action heroes are usually dudes, and while the Bond girls are getting cooler...they’re still the Bond girls, you know? I want to see Bond BOYS. And girls, because, hey, maybe Jane rolls that way.
And if Lucy Liu as Watson set the cat among the pigeons...I imagine that Halle Berry3 as Jane Bond would create a cataclysm.
1. It turns out that intelligence agencies don’t really fancy disabled people or those with FBI red flags. WHO KNEW. Return
2. It’s okay, I totally get distracted too...on the first five or six viewings, anyway. Return
3. Think of it: She could be the first person to play a Bond girl AND Bond! Return