By W. Alejandro Sanchez, Senior Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs
On February 25, commentator Peter Bradshaw published a brief article in the renowned British daily, The Guardian, arguing that the next villain of the upcoming James Bond movie ‘Spectre,’ should be a woman.[i] While providing some possible candidates, this British columnist’s list does not go into greater detail of what kind of villainess could rival Bond.
Latin American women have a rich history of involvement in violent matters, including active participation in real-life insurgent groups, like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) or Peru’s Shining Path. Additionally, women have assumed prominent roles in Mexican drug cartels and other drug-funded criminal networks in the region. Thus, it can be easily argued that the main villain in a future Bond film should be a Latina.
James Bond and the “Real World”
Bond movies are notorious for featuring outrageous plots; for example ‘Moonraker’ (1979) involves a villain that possesses a space station and tries to destroy all human life on earth. Other movies have been inspired by the Cold War, with several references to the Soviet Union and its infamous intelligence agency, the KGB (‘Octopussy,’ 1983). As for the post-Cold War era, Bond has had to face non-Soviet threats that may not be aimed at world domination per se, but nonetheless a threat to global peace and stability. For example, ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ (1997) can be regarded as a commentary on the influence of the media in society. In that movie, Bond battles a media tycoon bent on utilizing the influence of his media empire to control the fate of governments.
More recent Bond movies have also touched on sensitive real world geopolitical realities. Most prominently, ‘Die Another Day’ (2002) faced considerably criticism for its plot centered on North Korean military attempts at invading South Korea. Additionally, ‘Quantum of Solace’ (2008) deals with Bond stopping a private energy company that is supporting a military coup in Bolivia. The movie also references the increasingly important topic of water control. In 2012, COHA published a report entitled “Latin America: Water Politics, Coups and James Bond,” that addresses these issues.
Female characters in these films are the brigade of “Bond Girls” – beautiful and smart women who aid the British agent, usually falling in love with him. Certainly there have been some particularly memorable henchwomen to the main villain; for example, Xenia from ‘GoldenEye’ (1995). However, a main female villain, not just a deadly assistant to the main character, is lacking from the Bond cannon. Hence, The Guardian’s Bradshaw is correct to declare that it is time for a main female Bond villain. In his brief commentary on the subject, Bradshaw argues:
It’s never really been tried. There was Lotte Lenya’s minor shoe-stabber Rosa Klebb in From Russia With Love, and a sort of ambiguous lesser role for Sophie Marceau in The World Is Not Enough. But the idea of Bond being seriously tested or threatened by a powerful woman – who might have one or two good lines? Might even win some preliminary skirmishes? That would be revolutionary.
There is plenty of space in the Bond universe for a powerful female character that stands up to Bond. After all, actress Judi Dench portrayed the great “M,” Bond’s iconic boss at MI6. At the time of this writing, it has been reported that Mexican actress Stephanie Sigman has been hired to play the character of “Estrella,” the newest Bond Girl in the English spy’s next adventure, ‘Spectre.’[ii]Sigman’s addition to the movie is significant, as it is the “first Mexican Bond girl to be featured in the franchise’s 50-year history.”[iii] She will be only the third Latina to be a Bond girl, after Talisa Soto, of Puerto Rican descent who appeared in ‘License to Kill’ (1989), and Barbara Carrera, who was born in Nicaragua and who appeared in ‘Never Say Never Again’ (1983).[iv]
While it is definitely a positive development that more Latina actresses are appearing in these iconic blockbusters, one obvious concern is that Sigman will be sexualized in Bond’s newest adventure—which is very typical for Latina actors in Hollywood (though there are certainly exceptions, like Michelle Rodriguez). Ultimately it may very well be time for a Bond villainess, and an ideal choice is to have a woman appear in the movie as a serious, no nonsense criminal, instead of one of Bond’s frivolous romances. Given the plethora of source material from the real world, a Latina villainess would be a rational and commercially viable move for the entertainment industry.
The goal here is certainly not to simply glorify the career of the female Latin American criminal, nor to imply that there is anything wrong with Sigman playing a Bond girl. Rather given the history of Bond villains, it would be a somewhat welcome development to feature a new approach, such as casting a woman as the primary villain. Moreover, even though a Bond villain will ultimately loose the battle, these characters have, if properly written, fascinating backgrounds that explain the reasons why they behave the way they do. Hence, a Latina Bond villainess could be utilized as a fictional starting point discuss the reasons why women join Latin American violent movements and how their behavior morphs, if at all, as part of them.
Latinas as Insurgents
In violent Latin American movements, women have been forced into sexual slavery, utilized as concubines, and used for support operations. Nevertheless, there are several instances of Latin American women rising to leadership roles in violent entities, in addition to proving themselves to be valuable fighters in the field.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which has waged a war against the Colombian military since 1964, currently has around 8,000 fighters, of which a significant portion are women. The two sides have been in negotiations since 2012, and it is unclear if a final deal will be reached this year. The FARC has several women in roles of leadership, including Laura Villa, a guerrilla commander who has been part of the ongoing peace negotiations between the FARC high command and the Colombian government in Havana.[v] Another renowned female FARC fighter is Tanja Nijmeijer, a Dutch citizen who first went to Colombia to teach English, and later joined the rebels.[vi]
The FARC has taken particular care to make sure that the world is aware of its female influence. Case in point, the FARC has a webpage, MujerFariana.org, which focuses on the insurgent movement’s female fighters.[vii] The site has various articles about both current female FARC members, as well as historical Latin American women rebels. For example, a February post discusses the life and role of Micaela Bastidas, the wife of a Peruvian rebel that rose up against the Spanish empire in the 18th century.[viii]
The FARC website also has interviews with female fighters, as a kind of “rebel podcast,” as well as YouTube videos. One FARC-produced video currently available on YouTube (“La Dignidad tras las rejas,” which was uploaded on January 22, 2015 to the FARC’s account, “Lucero Fariana”) is meant to display solidarity with the FARC currently imprisoned female fighters.[ix] The short video begins with a shot of a woman with her eyes covered, handcuffed to a chair. The following scenes are a number of real-life female FARC fighters broadcasting messages in support of their imprisoned comrades. The film then switches to an amalgamation of clips of female rebels carrying out training exercises, such as climbing walls, and apparently in real action, as they are seen shooting their rifles.
Likewise, the Peruvian Maoist insurgent movement Shining Path has had several female fighters among its ranks. For example, Elena Ipanaguirre is the wife of Abimael Guzman, founder and leader of the insurgent movement. The two of them currently inhabit adjoining cells in a special prison in Peru while they serve life sentences.[x] Ipanaguirre, AKA “Comrade Miriam,” is known in the Andean nation for her fierce loyalty both to her husband and to the insurgent movement’s ideals. Moreover, a current Shining Path fighter that operates in the Valley of the Apurimac, Mantaro and Ene Rivers (VRAEM, as the region is commonly known) is Tarcela Loya Vilchez, AKA “Comrade Olga.” According to the Peruvian security forces, “Olga” is in her late 40s, of around 150cm of height, with a strong character, knowledge of weapons, and a leader of the insurgent movement’s Central Committee.[xi]
Given the aforementioned examples, it would not be difficult for Hollywood script writers to draft up a villainess with ties to Latin American insurgent movements and known for her fierceness in battle. After all, real life instances in the region have proven that female insurgents can have high-ranking roles in their violent organizations and can be just as deadly as their male counterparts.
Latinas in Drug Cartels
When we discuss the role of women in drug cartels, it is easy to think of them merely playing the role of concubines to narco-leaders, or as drug mules. This role is often highlighted in movies, such as ‘Maria Full of Grace’ (2004), which features a young woman who swallows wrapped pellets of drugs and then flies from Colombia to New York. Nonetheless, Latin women often enjoy major roles in drug trafficking organizations.
Perhaps the most prominent female narco is Sandra Avila Beltran, known as “The Queen of the Pacific.” She is a Mexican citizen with ties to both Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, as well as the Norte del Valle Cartel, a Colombian drug cartel. She was arrested in Mexico in 2007 and extradited to the U.S. in 2012. After serving prison time in Florida, she was sent back to Mexico where she remained imprisoned until her release in February 2015.[xii]
Another renowned narco is Claudia Ochoa Felix, also thought to work for the Sinaloa Cartel, but as the leader of a hitsquad. In 2014, there was a global media frenzy over Ochoa Felix, as numerous media outlets republished photos of her from her social media accounts (i.e. Twitter and Instagram); several of the pictures show her holding weapons and in at least one photo she has a couple of men wearing ski masks at her side holding weapons.[xiii] These photographs have since been deleted while Ochoa Felix claims that she is not a narco, but rather a private citizen and mother of three. Nevertheless, the theory remains that she works for the Sinaloa Cartel and may have been involved with two of its leaders, the now imprisoned Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, and the also-imprisoned Jose Rodrigo “El Chino Anthrax” Arechiga Gamboa, leader of cartel hit squad Los Antrax.
Finally, there are constant reports by the Mexican media of women arrested because of their involvement with the cartels: not as drug mules, but assassins. For example, in April 2014, two women were arrested in Chihuahua for working as hit women. One of them, an active-duty female police officer, was arrested along with three other gunmen after they assassinated four individuals in Ciudad Juarez.[xiv]
In other words, Latin American criminal women have shown themselves to be deadly narco leaders and hitwomen. Surely one of them can inspire a script.
Shooting for ‘Spectre’ is well underway, as recent fan videos have appeared about a car chase sequence in Rome.[xv] Bond movies take the spy to various locations across the worlds, and Latin America will once again play a role in this Bond adventure.[xvi]At the time of this writing, the ‘Spectre’ production team, including Daniel Craig (who plays the latest incarnation of the English spy) are filming in Mexico City. At least a few of the movie’s scenes will apparently include Bond running through Mexico’s capital during a Day of the Dead carnival.[xvii] While Latin America will not play a prominent role in ‘Spectre,’ like it did in ‘Quantum of Solace,’ it is positive that the region continues to be present in the spy’s adventures.(Bond has travelled to Latin America and the Caribbean before to fight villains, like Jamaica in ‘Dr. No,’ 1962, and Cuba in ‘Die Another Day,’ among others).
It is a positive development that a Latin actress, Stephanie Sigman, will have a role in the upcoming blockbuster, but she will be a Bond girl, rather than a villain. Unless there is a major plot twist in the script,this is a shortcoming on behalf of the film’s script-writers. ‘Quantum of Solace,’ which revolves around water politics and military coups in Bolivia, exemplifies that there is plenty of source material to inspire another Latin American-themed Bond adventure. Moreover, the history of real-life Latin American violent movements, such as insurgent groups like Shining Path or the FARC to Mexican drug cartels, highlights how Latin women have enjoyed prominent roles within these entities. Even more, a fictional villainess allows us to understand some of the real-life reasons why Latinas decide to join the criminal life.
The plot of ‘Spectre’ remains under wraps, though it will reportedly revolve around Bond fighting a “sinister organization.”[xviii] Moreover, the German-Austrian actor Christoph Waltz will play Bond’s nemesis.[xix]While Waltz will probably make a fine villain, it feels like this was an opportunity-lost for the Bond franchise. Since they are filming in Mexico and have a Mexican actress in the cast, it would have been groundbreaking and “revolutionary,” as The Guardian’s Bradshaw put it, to have a villainess. Even more, given the plethora of source material from the role of real-life women in Latin American violent movements, a Latina Bond villainess one would have been the natural choice for such a role.
By W. Alejandro Sanchez, Senior Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs
Please accept this article as a free contribution from COHA, but if re-posting, please afford authorial and institutional attribution. Exclusive rights can be negotiated. For additional news and analysis on Latin America, please go to: LatinNews.com and Rights Action.
Featured Image by: The Official Teaser Poster for ‘Spectre,’ http://www.007.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/SITE-copy.jpg
[i] Peter Bradshaw. “The James Bond baddie should be a woman.” The Guardian. “James Bond Notebook.” February 25, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/25/next-james-bond-baddie-woman?CMP=EMCNEWEML6619I2
[ii] Justin Krol. “Stephanie Sigman joins James Bond film ‘Spectre.’” Variety. March 10, 2015. http://variety.com/2015/film/news/james-bond-spectre-stephanie-sigman-casting-1201449990/
[iii] Justin Krol. “Stephanie Sigman joins James Bond film ‘Spectre.’” Variety. March 10, 2015. http://variety.com/2015/film/news/james-bond-spectre-stephanie-sigman-casting-1201449990/
[iv]PalomaCorredor. “Penelope Cruz to be the third Latina ‘Bond Girl’… and the oldest.” VOXXI. June 6, 2013. http://voxxi.com/2013/06/06/penelope-cruz-latina-bond-girl-oldest/
[v]Brittany Peterson. “Entrevista con Lider guerrillera de las FARC. Sputnik News. February 13, 2014.http://mundo.sputniknews.com/spanish_ruvr_ru/2014_02_13/Entrevista-con-lider-guerrillera-de-las-FARC-2210/
[vi]Sarah Rainsford. “Tanja Nijmeijer: Dutch Farc rebel at peace talks.” BBC. January 31, 2013.http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-21237362
[viii]“Micaela Bastidas Puyucahua.” MujerFariana.org. February 18, 2015. http://mujerfariana.org/index.php/heroinas/267-micaela-bastidas-puyucahua
[x]“Esposa de Terrorista Abimael Guzman exige visitas conyugales.” El Comercio (Peru). October 7, 2014.http://elcomercio.pe/politica/justicia/esposa-terrorista-abimael-guzman-exige-visitas-conyugales-noticia-1762426
[xi]“La violenta ‘camarada Olga’ asumiria liderazgo militar de los senderistas del Vraem.” La Republica. Politica. August 28, 2013.http://www.larepublica.pe/28-08-2013/la-violenta-camarada-olga-asumiria-liderazgo-militar-de-los-senderistas-del-vraem
[xii]“Sandra AvilaBeltran, la Reina del Pacifico, esta libre.” UnivisionNoticias. February 7, 2015.http://noticias.univision.com/article/2238473/2015-02-07/mexico/noticias/ordenan-liberar-a-sandra-avila-beltran-la-reina-del-pacifico
[xiii]“La sexy jefa del narco de Mexico se muestra también en videos.” Infobae.com. Sociedad. June 2, 2014.http://www.infobae.com/2014/06/02/1569592-la-sexy-jefa-narco-mexico-se-muestra-tambien-videos
[xiv]Carlos Coria Rivas. “Arrestan a dos mujeres sicarias en Chihuahua, una de ellas policía.” Imagen.com.mx. April 28, 2014.http://www.imagen.com.mx/arrestan-dos-mujeres-sicarias-chihuahua
[xv]Joey Paur. “New car chase videos from the set of Spectre.” GeekTyrant. March 22, 2015. http://geektyrant.com/news/new-car-chase-videos-from-the-set-of-spectre
[xvi]“Mexico amanece en pleno Dia de los Muertos por rodaje de ‘James Bond.’” Diario Las Americas. March 19, 2015.http://www.diariolasamericas.com/4868_cine/3010520_mexico-amanece-pleno-muertos-rodaje-james-bond.html
[xvii]ShyamDodge. “Panic in Mexico! Daniel Craig frantically runs through Day of the Dead carnival while filming new Bond movie Spectre.” Daily Mail. March 25, 2015.http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-3011929/Panic-Mexico-Daniel-Craig-frantically-runs-Day-Dead-carnival-filming-new-Bond-movie-Spectre.html
[xviii] Joey Paur. “New car chase videos from the set of Spectre.” GeekTyrant. March 22, 2015.http://geektyrant.com/news/new-car-chase-videos-from-the-set-of-spectre
[xix]Mikey Smith. “Who is the new Bond villain? Everything we know about 007’s Spectre nemesis.” Mirror.co.uk. December 4, 2014. http://www.mirror.co.uk/tv/tv-news/who-new-bond-villain-everything-4747137