Gender-fluid film characters

Battle of the sexes when artistic licence goes too far

Does it really matter any more if a woman rather than a man plays Dr Who? Fewer and fewer of us seem to think so, especially female television viewers. Surely it’s the quality of the acting rather than the gender of the actor that is really important? Then what about changing 007 from James Bond to Jane or Janice or Janet Bond? My name is Bond: Jennifer Bond. It might not have quite the same vocal ring, and could leave Bond’s creator, the late Ian Fleming, both shaken and stirred at such a move.

The super cool character has been played by a number of famous actors, ranging from Sean Connery through to current Bond Daniel Craig, who has stated that his latest, No Time To Die, the 25th in the cannon, will be his last. So who will be next to take over one of the most coveted and reportedly most lucrative roles in the business? Rumours were circulating that it would be the British actress, Lashana Lynch, but that news has been revealed as something of a red herring.

In fact, with Bond retired as No Time To Die opens, she does get to become 007, but she doesn’t become James Bond or even Jane Bond. And producer and franchise holder, Barbara Broccoli has confirmed that James Bond will always be a man – probably. Not that our readers would be that bothered, as more of those surveyed than not reckon it would be no big deal for the world’s most famous fictional spy to change gender.

So fictitious characters are one thing, but what about playing historical figures accurately in terms of gender and race? Well, the race issue in most on-screen casting, as well as on stage, has mostly and happily stopped being an issue. One of the most “uncomfortable” images of the great Laurence Oliver’s stellar career remains seeing him “blacked up” as Othello in the 1965 British film, based on the National Theatre Company’s production. It simply wouldn’t happen now. A black actor might be cast as Othello but equally a white actor could get the job and play the part without the addition of skin-darkening makeup.

The same goes for probably any historically-based character, male or female. And what about gender? Could Julius Caesar be played by a woman, Cleopatra by a man, or Queen Victoria portrayed by a transgender actor?

Our survey figures on both race and gender were closer this time, with those for or against equally divided overall, at 48% on either side. But once again, fewer women than men were concerned, with a combined 69% saying it was either “not very” or “not at all” important. There has been much breaking down of casting barriers over recent years, including the important issue of actors with disabilities playing able-bodied characters. It’s a significant move forward and means that for many more actors the happy and welcome reality is that “all the world’s a stage.”

Surveys

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