Even if my good friend and Jonah Ray co-host disagree, James Bond is cool. It is the gold standard for the spy film genre, and all other spy films are compared to the Bond legacy that spans nearly 60 years. But in all of this story Bond has never been portrayed by a woman. This is mostly because the character was conceived as a snobbish Englishman, but also because of Hollywood’s long-standing reluctance to put women at the center of big-budget action franchises.
Marvels Black widow does his best to reverse this archaic notion and puts Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh at the center of a global espionage adventure. They run, they fight, and they jump from different things from very high places. It’s certainly its own thing, a meditation on the importance of family in a chaotic world, but it’s still indebted to Bond’s legacy. It is so in debt that Natasha Roman off sits down to watch the Roger Moore Bond film Mondraker
In a new episode of Galaxy brains, I am joined by Amanda Ohlke, Head of Adult Education at International Spy Museum in Washington DC, dealing with the history of women in the spy game and helping me decide whether or not there will ever be a female James Bond. Here is an excerpt from our conversation (which was edited for the sake of clarity)
Dave: I want to ask you about the gender in this film and the gender in spy crime in general. It is very rare that we get a cinematic representation of a female spy. And there has been a lot of talk on the internet that maybe we should have a female James Bond, but hopefully this movie will somehow scratch the itch people have for a female James Bond. Do you think that’s so
Amanda: Well, it will never quite scratch the itch. But we don’t want a woman to be like Bond. He was long ago accused by M of being a chauvinistic dinosaur. And so it’s very, very fascinating and cool to see Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh in the film. And they are strong women. But I hated the many, many women who are the thugs in it, all of these weirdos that spread all over the world and happened to look amazingly amazing.
Dave: Interesting that you bring up that. It reminded me of the fembot from Austin Powers
Amanda: It’s really. I totally agree with you. I thought, God, all these women, they are being forced against their will. You’re under the control of an older white man, you know, and he just gives the shots and pulls all the strings. But I love the relationship between the two sisters, and I just love that they wanted to do this mission because it sounded like it was fun. And for that I often had a smile on my face. It felt like real women talking to each other and very capable people who might kill people, but they’re really good at it. And you know, they take pride in what they do. And now they are going to use those skills for something good and meaningful. And that’s a really cool turn of the tables.
Dave: Glad you mentioned the idea of fun because I think in most of the spy novels, the job of the spy, the spy world is considered fun. You know, it’s viewed as some kind of swinging cool thing, especially in the 1960s when the James Bond archetype ruled every single spy movie that ever existed. I believe that it wasn’t until after the Bourne films that Hollywood really saw interest in a darker, more uncomfortable gray image of the spy film. How close is the idea of the funny, boozy and exciting spy world to the real spy world?
Amanda: Our former director at the spy museum, Peter Ernstthat comes to mind. CIA intelligence veteran who never understood why I love the following story so much. But he was at a cocktail party and he knew he had to put a bugging device, a recording device, in the office of the man who was hosting the party. His wife was on the lookout then. Peter wears a tuxedo. He slips out of the party inconspicuously, goes downstairs, spreads his handkerchief over his suit, lies down on the floor, gets under the desk. This listening device drills to the bottom of the desk where it goes unnoticed, collects the handkerchief where the chips from drilling fell so they’re not on it and they’re not evidence. Peter puts that in his pocket and returns safely to the party, another martini shaken, not stirred.
Dave: So that sounds funny to me. I would do that.