James Bond has always been seen as the suave, sophisticated, gentleman spy. He always gets his man, and the girl. As it has been stated before, women want to be with him, men want to be him. Despite all of his swagger and suave sophistication, there are some undeniably tense and racist moments – often blatant and overt – in the films and novels he’s portrayed in.
Ian Fleming, the original author behind the Bond series, portrays 007 in much the same way as the movies do. But besides being the tough-guy that everyone wants, he’s also misogynistic, chauvinistic, racist, and basically a portrayal of a sense of white superiority over deemed ‘inferior races.’ A lot of this comes at the height of the British Empire’s deterioration, when the country still wanted to exhibit a sense of superiority over its former vassals.
As author Christoph Lindner wrote in his book, The James Bond Phenomenon: A Critical Reader, ‘Racism, sometimes understood as a cause of imperialism, ought instead to be seen as … a natural “consequence” of Empire.’ He goes on: ‘Similarly in Dr. No, it may appear that the narrative simply reflects a bigoted mentality, but the text’s racism actually serves to legitimize Bond’s role as imperial policeman, and Britain’s place in a post-colonial world.’
So for all of the chest-thumping and swagger that Bond portrays, the man is hardly without his faults. Here is a list of ten infamous moments in the films and novels that show Bond being unflinchingly, shamelessly racist and sexist.
10. Sexism in The Spy Who Loved Me (1962 Novel)
This novel was decidedly more sexist and racist than other Fleming outings. The Spy Who Loved Me was the ninth novel in Ian Fleming’s James Bond series, released in 1962. It was the shortest and most sexually explicit of Fleming’s novel, and it was also an experiment in that the story was told in first-person by a young woman, Vivienne Michel, for the first time. Bond didn’t make an appearance until two-thirds of the way through the novel.
The novel was a failure, probably because of Fleming’s lack of 007 action, and Fleming’s increasing sexism and violence against women. For being a supposed “gentleman spy,” Bond is notoriously horrible to women, which is apparent in the movies as well as the novels. The novel was banned in many countries, probably for the following infamous quote.
Near the end of the novel, after Vivienne Michel makes love to Bond, she remarks, “All women love semi-r*pe. They love to be taken. It was his sweet brutality against my bruised body that had made his act of love so piercingly beautiful.” We of course have to recognize that this book was written during a different time – but even then, the remark is a stark, cringe-worthy notion, even 50 years ago. Though it comes from Vivienne, the quote is decidedly a reflection of Fleming’s own views.
9. Violence Against Women in From Russia with Love (1963 Film)
From Russia with Love was the second James Bond film, following the success of Dr. No. It is considered more complex than its predecessor, but not as good as its successor, Goldfinger (whom many believe to be the best Bond film). From Russia with Love displays an acceptable film-version of the sexism and chauvinistic attitude displayed in the first book on this list.
Despite being the most well-known and well-loved Bond, Sean Connery awkwardly mirrored his character in this film, which ended up being quite disturbing when viewed in the modern age. In the film, Bond helps to defect the beautiful Russian clerk, Tanya. When he discovers that she is a trap, laid out to discredit 007’s reputation, Bond takes “appropriate” action and slaps Tanya hard in the face.
The ferocity of the attack shows an utter hypocrisy for the “gentleman spy.” This would not be the last time Bond acts terribly towards women, but it is one that certainly sticks out. And what made matters worse, was the subsequent remarks by the actor himself.
In a 1965 interview with Playboy magazine, Connery made this disturbing claim: “I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong about hitting a woman… An openhanded slap is justified–if all other alternatives fail and there has been plenty of warning. If a woman is a bitch, or hysterical, or bloody-minded continually, then I’d do it. I think a man has to be slightly advanced, ahead of the woman.” Definitely a poor way of thinking, making it seems that when James Bond hits a woman, the actor is right there with him, backing him up.
8. JW Pepper in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974 Film)
The Man with the Golden Gun was the ninth James Bond film, and the second to star Roger Moore as the MI6 agent. It’s a loose adaptation of Ian Fleming’s novel of the same name, and revolves around Bond finding the Solex Agitator, a device that can harness the power of the sun. The film was set in the face of the 1973 energy crisis, and reflected the popular martial arts craze of the time, with several kung-fu scenes.
The film performed poorly, received mainly negative reviews, and was utterly senseless in its plot and casual racism. One of the more transparent racists in the film comes in the form of southern sheriff JW Pepper, who was making his second Bond film appearance. For some reason, the producers believed they had found a winning formula in the racist, tobacco-spitting, whining redneck, who makes jokes about ‘pointyheads,’ and tries to convince his wife, while on vacation in Bangkok, that, “We’re Demmycrats, Maybelle!”
Even before Pepper hits the screen (where he adds zero plot development), The Man with the Golden Gun has already introduced a midget henchman, a Bond girl hiding in a cupboard, a lady named Chu Me, and two schoolgirl martial artists, all adding to the hilarious absurdity of any modicum of redemption that this Bond flick hoped to achieve.
7. Racism in For Your Eyes Only (1960 Short Story Collection)
For Your Eyes Only was the first short story collection by Ian Fleming, released in 1960. It contained five stories, “From a View to a Kill,” “For Your Eyes Only,” “Quantum of Solace,” Risico,” and “The Hildebrand Rarity.” The collection was a good example of showing the imperial attitude that Fleming grew up with during his life in the early 20th century, and many of the characters reflect this attitude with overt racism and a sense of superiority over “non-pure” peoples.
One of the most pure racism comes in the title-story, For Your Eyes Only, where Fleming writes that Cubans killed English couples by “firing machines with their monkey hands.” He later goes on to say that Cuban women look like monkeys in dresses. In the last short story, “The Hildebrand Rarity”, he calls a rare fish a “ni***rfish,” which is surely not the correct term for it, although one that might have somehow been acceptable for the time.
Nonetheless, it’s hard to look at stories such as these and call Fleming a “product of his generation,” because that would be a cop out – blatantly omitting the racism that seeps in his choice of words. He could have done better if he didn’t want to appear racist, but perhaps he was more driven by quick turnarounds and profits than politically correct rhetoric.
6. Racism in Octopussy (1983 Film)
Octopussy was the 13th James Bond film, the sixth to star Roger Moore, and the film with the crudest name in the series. The name was taken from Fleming’s 1966 short story collection, Octopussy and The Living Daylights, and it displayed some of the film’s more racist interactions and subtleties.
The film takes place in India, beginning with a shot of James Bond flying over the Taj Mahal. The people he meets and the events that follow are indescribably racist, and depicts more of an India in early 20th century than an India in 1983. The first two people Bond meet when touching down are a snake-charmer, who is whittling away at the Bond theme, and then a taxi driver. These two are his MI6 contacts, and the stereotypes don’t stop there.
Bond is taken to his hotel, where he wins money gambling. As he hands his contacts a share of his winnings, he remarks, “That should keep you in curry.” The following chase scene is continuously replete with similar interactions. Bond is attacked by a big Indian guy wielding an elephant gun.
Then he drives off in a Tuk Tuk taxi and makes his way into a crowded marketplace, complete with a swami on a bed of nails, a sword-swallowers, and a camel. These characters aren’t integrated into the narrative, but rather they’re just out-and-about, there for some sort of comedic value, perhaps.
The movie continues in much the same way. As film critic Danny Peary wrote, “the filmmakers make the mistake of demeaning Bond by having him swing through the trees and emitting a Tarzan cry, and having him hide in a gorilla suit, and later disguise himself as a clown (whom all the kids at the circus laugh at).” For shame, Bond. Have some dignity.
5. “Master and Servant” in Dr. No (1962 Film)
Dr. No was the first James Bond film, which starred Sean Connery and started Bondmania. It had the lowest budget of $1 million, but was a commercial success. It was based on the 1958 Ian Fleming novel of the same name. In the film, Bond is sent to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of a fellow British agent. I’m sure you can see where this is going.
During this time, in the real world, Jamaica was just months into gaining independence from the British Empire. It appears that Britain wanted to remind Jamaica of this, and it came with some stark observations. The most blatant came during a scene with Bond and a boatman/CIA helper, a black man named Quarrel.
After arriving at an island base, Bond, not wanting to get his sand in his socks, gets rid of his footwear. The following day, Bond is having a conversation with a bikini-clad girl when he shoots a cursory glance at Quarrel and says, “fetch my shoes.” What made it worse was the obedient compliance displayed by Quarrel, who runs off without a moment’s hesitation, and without expecting any kind of thank-you.
Despite Britain’s empire was slowly degrading, the movie showed that the country would never question the racial hierarchy of the times. In the film, the only other black people are barmen, waiters, and extras – all of them servants to the whitest guy in the room, James Bond.
4. “Yellowface” in You Only Live Twice (1967 Film)
You Only Live Twice was the fifth James Bond film, and the fifth to star Sean Connery. The screenplay was written by Roald Dahl, a friend (and accomplished author) of Ian Fleming, who wrote the book of the same name. This was the first film to discard most of Fleming’s plot. In the film, Bond is dispatched to Japan after American and Soviet-manned spacecraft mysteriously disappear in orbit.
As with other ‘60s Bond films, the film was quite racist in its portrayals of other societies and ethnicities. At least You Only Live Twice had some sensibility to be more restrained at parts in its depiction of Japanese society – such as the nearly dialogue-less Shinto wedding sequence. But still, there’s always room to improve.
The most racist sequence took place when Bond receives “plastic surgery” to fit in to the Japanese culture during his investigation. He is given a wig, a spray tan, and fake eyelids (playing on the Asian racial stereotype of having slanting or slitted eyes). The end result is a form of yellowface – an actor playing a stereotyped Asian character – though in a few scenes the disguise is abandoned. Good thing, too, because a 6 foot Scotsman isn’t going to fit into the native Japanese crowd, no matter how much racist disguise he’s sporting.
In another scene, after Bond finishes with his newest conquest, he ponders why “Chinese girls taste different from all other girls.” The woman then promptly traps him in a fold-up bed, quite deservingly.
3. Racism In Goldfinger (1959 Novel)
Goldfinger, the seventh novel in Fleming’s James Bond series, was published in 1959. The story centers on 007 investigating the gold-smuggling activities of Auric Goldfinger, who is suspected of also being connected to the Soviet counter-intelligence organization SMERSH. The novel went to the top of the best-sellers lists upon its release.
Throughout the novel, as many of the others, readers are subjugated to unflinching racism, mainly in the face of real-world issues of South Korea being seen as allies, and North Korea as enemies. The villainous henchman, Oddjob, is a vicious anti-Korean stereotype. In the books, he is carefully presented as North Korean, while the movie omits this fact.
In the book, after showing off his karate skills, Auric Goldfinger gives Oddjob a special treat: “Goldfinger took the cat from under his arm and tossed it to the Korean, who caught it eagerly – ‘I am tired of seeing this animal around. You may have it for dinner.’ The Korean’s eyes gleamed.”
Later, Goldfinger explains why he only hires Koreans: “They are the cruelest, most ruthless people in the world… When they want women, street women are brought down from London… The women are not much to look at, but they are white and that is all the Koreans ask – to submit the white race to the grossest indignities.”
Tragically, Bond portrays the same indignation as the antagonist. “Bond intended to stay alive on his own terms. Those terms included putting Odd-Job or any other Korean firmly in place, which in Bond’s estimation was lower than apes in the mammalian hierarchy.” Ouch.
2. Blaxploitation in Live and Let Die (1973 Film)
Live and Let Die, the eighth film in the James Bond series, has consistently been considered the most racially charged James Bond film. In it, 007 is sent to Harlem, where a drug lord known as Mr. Big plans to distribute two tons of heroin to put rival drug barons out of business. Mr. Big is discovered to be the alter ego of Dr. Kananga, a corrupt Caribbean dictator.
Live and Let Die was released during the height of the blaxploitation era, and the film did its best to get its piece of the craze. Many blaxploitation archetypes, caricatures, and cliches are depicted in the film, including derogatory epithets (“honky”), black gangsters, and cars as “pimpmobiles.” The film was a huge success.
In the film, Bond visits jazz clubs and witnesses wildly-dancing characters, and he fights cocaine dealers. All of the black characters (except a CIA agent, who dies) are bad guys and in league with Mr. Big. There’s a stereotyped cab driver, a turncoat female CIA agent, and lots of hard-drinking extras.
1. Racism in Live and Let Die (1954 Novel)
For all of the racial stereotypes and craze-hopping of the film, the novel version of Live and Let Die was worse. It was the second novel in Fleming’s series, and the author wrote the novel in Jamaica. The novel had a similar storyline to the film, but with harsher ideas and crude remarks of blatant racism.
In the book, there is an undercurrent of fear that black people can be easily manipulated to rise up against white society. Much of the book expressed a disgust at the idea of black/Asian couples having children. The book is also full of non-politically correct phrasings about black society, one of the worst of which is the title of Chapter 5, called “N****r Heaven.” (The name was changed to Seventh Avenue in the American release).
The book was banned in Ireland in 1954. One example of why comes from a dialogue between Bond and Felix Leiter in the chapter above. Leiter says, “‘[better] the frying-pan you know than the fire you don’t. It isn’t a bad life when it consists of sitting in a comfortable bar drinking good whisky. How do you like this corner of the jungle?’ He leant forward. ‘Just listen to the couple behind you [a black couple]. From what I’ve heard, they’re straight out of N****r Heaven.’”
Although surely a “product of his time,” phrases and words that come out of Fleming’s Live and Let Die have no place in modern society. Even worse, the novel was one of Fleming’s most successful.
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