SPOTLIGHT November 2022: Barbara Broccoli, Beloved BOND and Beyond

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Barbara Broccoli and I were born in the same year, 1960, and both our lives were changed by James Bond. Okay, mine in a far less significant way than hers.

But when I saw Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore kick ass – and even karate chop Bond himself – in Goldfinger it opened a four-year-old girl’s eyes to the fact that women did not have to be a prim Doris Day or a sweetly compliant Julie Andrews (the most popular actresses in 1964, the year Goldfinger came out) but rather they could be a pilot who runs her own business and hires only women and then proves to be the heroine who saves the day by double crossing her evil boss. It’s Pussy Galore who derails Goldfinger’s nefarious plans not Bond.

I know that from today’s vantage point those early Bond films had some cringeworthy moments of sexism but we need to remember the social context in which they were made and appreciate how a woman like Pussy Galore could be liberating to a young girl.

So for that I am thankful to Broccoli’s father Albert R. Broccoli who, along with Harry Saltzman, brought Ian Fleming’s 007 agent James Bond to the screen.

In Broccoli’s case, Bond was essentially part of her family almost from the day she was born.

THE FAMILY BUSINESS

Broccoli is the daughter of Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and actress Dana Wilson Broccoli. The year after she was born her father partnered with Saltzman to secure the rights to Fleming’s books and in 1962 brought MI6’s most famous agent to the screen in Dr. No with Sean Connery as James Bond.

This year Bond celebrates 60 years on the big screen, the only other notable franchise that has been around longer and produced more films is Toho’s Godzilla. Although Fleming never stated Bond’s birthday in his books, John Pearson’s fictional biography of Bond, James Bond: The Authorized Biography of 007, gives him a birth date of November 11, which makes this month the perfect one to celebrate 007 producer Barbara Broccoli.

Having a famous father who made Bond movies meant that she grew up on movie sets and got to see how films were made from an exceptionally young age. Those early experiences made an impact on her and she graduated from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, where she studied motion picture and television communications.

BEHIND EVERY BOND…

She was lucky to have a supportive father who mentored her into the film industry by having her work on his films. While still a teenager, she worked as a publicity department assistant on the 1977 Roger Moore Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me, and two years later worked as a second assistant director (uncredited) on Moonraker. With each Bond film she moved up the production rungs and received associate producer credit in 1987 for The Living Daylights, the first film featuring Timothy Dalton as Bond.

In 1995, her father handed over the producing duties and control of his Eon Productions, the company behind the James Bond franchise, to Barbara and her half-brother Michael G. Wilson.

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson

That year also marked a transition for Bond. Dalton, after just two films, was replaced by Pierce Brosnan who would usher Bond into the 1990s. It was also a transitional period because the character Fleming had created back in the 1950s was starting to show his age or more precisely his out-of-datedness. In 1964, Bond could slap a woman on the butt and dismiss her with the line “Man talk” without stirring any controversy but in 1995 Broccoli knew that the franchise had to deal with Bond’s sexism.

BARBARA’S INFLUENCE

With a new actor on board as 007, it was the perfect opportunity to make some changes. Broccoli is credited with clever casting of Judi Dench as ‘M’ making her Bond’s first female boss. Broccoli, who is known for being a hands on producer, likely influenced or at least encouraged the scriptwriters to directly call out Bond for being a dinosaur and chauvinist, and to have the female characters challenge him more.

In 1996, Albert Broccoli died. This left the lucrative Bond franchise clearly in the hands of his children who were not only well steeped in Bond but who had also proven their producing chops with the success of GoldenEye, a film that their father could be proud of.

Broccoli would face another changeover at MI6 after Die Another Day came out in 2002. That would be Brosnan’s final Bond appearance and once again the franchise needed to find a new actor to fill the iconic role. It would be four years before the next Bond film and there was considerable media buzz about who the next Bond would be and of course every fan and every media outlet had their own ideas. Broccoli and Wilson wanted to take the series in a new grittier, more realistic direction and eventually decided on Daniel Craig for Bond and Casino Royale as the project.

There was initially a lot of fan outrage based mostly on ridiculous things such as he’s blond, he’s too short, he has blue eyes.

COMMITMENT TO CHOICES AND CHANGES

On the website MI6: The Home of James Bond 007, Broccoli is quoted regarding all the speculation and media frenzy: “The REALITY was that Michael and I always wanted Daniel. He was our first choice from the get-go. The fact was we approached him and he said, ‘Look, I’ll consider it, but I’m not going to make a decision until I read a script.’ So the time between giving him the script and announcing him was about three or four weeks. All of that other stuff was a lot of speculation. Obviously, we didn’t know if he would do it, so we did meet a lot of people and we considered people, but the speculation was… dumbfounding to me. There was so much press going on, rumors about what we were doing that just were not true. We wanted him. He’s the only person we offered the role to. He read the script and he agreed.”

Casino Royale rebooted and re-energized the franchise. The casting of Craig also proved inspired and took the character in a new, more grounded, more emotionally complex direction that culminated last year with the financially successful and critically acclaimed No Time to Die marking Craig’s final appearance as Bond.

Also on the MI6 site, Broccoli reflected on what her late father might have thought about Craig: “I think he would love Daniel. When Daniel did that scene where he shoots the gun, I burst into tears because that’s all I could think of, that ‘I just wish my father was here to see him in this role.’ Because I think he would have loved him.”

BEYOND BOND

Although she is closely aligned with the Bond franchise, Broccoli does leave espionage behind for other projects. Broccoli has set up her own company, Astoria Productions, which produced Crime of The Century for HBO. With Wilson, she has produced such independent films as The Rhythm Section, The Silent Storm, and Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool.

She also has a love for live theater and in 2002 she co-produced a successful West End stage production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which was adapted from the film her father produced from Ian Fleming’s children’s novel.

This year she serves as producer on the film Till directed by Chinonye Chukwu. The film centers on the tragic death of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American boy who was abducted, tortured, and lynched in Mississippi in 1955. The film takes the maternal point of view of Mamie Till-Mobley who made sure her son’s death had meaning and turned it into a catalyst for the civil rights movement.

Still from TILL

In the press kit for Till, Chukwu says she was inspired by the persistence of Broccoli: “One thing you will quickly learn about Barbara is once she’s made up her mind, she really stops at nothing. I was really moved and to feel so wanted and appreciated as an artist. One of the first things I said in our meeting was the protagonist of this film is Mamie, it’s all about Mamie and her emotional journey.”

ACCRUING HONORS

Broccoli’s honors include being appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2008 and Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2022 for services to film, drama, philanthropy and skills. She and Wilson have received the David O. Selznick Achievement Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures in 2013 as well as the 2022 Pioneer of the Year Award from the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation.

Broccoli serves as Vice President for Film for BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts), President of the National Youth Theatre, and a Trustee of Into Film, a film education charity working with young people aged 5 to 19. Broccoli and Wilson serve as Directors of the Dana and Albert R. Broccoli Foundation. According to her bio in the production notes for Till: During the production of No Time To Die, Wilson and Broccoli created a dedicated apprenticeship which gave twenty-one young people from a range of backgrounds the opportunity to work as paid trainees on the film.

Last year Variety included her in its Variety 500 (its index of the 500 most influential business leaders shaping the global media industry) and stated: “As the person charged with steering the revered James Bond franchise (along with half-brother Michael G. Wilson), Broccoli had to make some tough decisions during the pandemic, delaying the theatrical release of 25th entry in the series No Time to Die multiple times before its October 2021 release, while offers to take the film straight to a streamer were turned down. Star Daniel Craig has said this will be his final outing as the British superspy, so Broccoli is now faced with an even tougher challenge: choosing the next 007. Matters have been complicated by Amazon’s $8.45 billion deal to purchase MGM, co-owner of the Bond franchise, but she and Wilson are known to exert exacting control of the series. She has already declared that Bond will remain a big-screen experience and not go streaming-first.”

PRESS IMPRESSIONS

Tatiana Siegel opened her Hollywood Reporter profile of Broccoli with this: “For nearly three decades, the shockingly modest producer (and former Hollywood Reporter intern) has steered the James Bond franchise through multiple reinventions — including handpicking Daniel Craig — and now sits atop a 007 empire worth billions. Just don’t tell her she has power and influence: ‘I’m boring,’ she says.”

Siegel also got Broccoli to discuss Bond at another crossroads with Craig’s exit from the franchise: “Michael and I are very protective of [Bond]. My father used to say, ‘Don’t have temporary people make permanent decisions,’ and I think that’s always been at the forefront of our minds. Studios can have tremendous turnover, and over the years we’ve had lots and lots of different people. So we’ve had to kind of maintain a consistency of leadership in order to keep an eye on the longevity of the franchise.”

But my favorite quote from that Hollywood Reporter article was about whether the next Bond should be Black or female. Her response: “I think it will be a man because I don’t think a woman should play James Bond. I believe in making characters for women and not just having women play men’s roles. I don’t think there are enough great roles for women, and it’s very important to me that we make movies for women about women. He should be British, so British can be any [ethnicity or race].”

That’s how you make real changes. Broccoli has proven that a woman can steer a male-centric franchise to great success and help it to evolve into something better, richer and more diverse than it was but without sacrificing what made it entertaining and exciting.

Kudos to Broccoli and I can’t wait to see where she takes Bond next.

WHY WE CHOSE HER

Barbara Broccoli epitomizes what a great producer should be: smart, creative, passionate, tenacious, and successful. Along with her half-brother Michael G. Wilson, she oversees one of the longest-running, most acclaimed, and most financially successful film franchises in the world. But she is not content with that achievement alone and consistently seeks to produce other films and theatrical stage productions as well as engage in philanthropy and activism. As a teenager she knew she wanted a career in the film industry and she set out with fierce determination to achieve that end and has risen to the top in her field with the awards, critical acclaim, financial success and respect of her peers to prove it. — Beth Accomando

Beth Accomando

Beth Accomando is host of KPBS Cinema Junkie Podcast and author of the blog Cinema Junkie. She also programs film series and events as part of Film Geeks SD at venues such as Museum of Photographic Arts and Digital Gym Cinema. She loves horror, zombies, kaiju and film noir.