The power behind James Bond

The deal that allowed Amazon to acquire the rights to the British spy saga has revealed a fascinating story. Bond's cinematic owner is an American woman, Barbara Broccoli, whose family has managed the franchise for nearly 60 years.

12 August 2021

The film industry has been abuzz in recent months. And, why wouldn’t it be? Jeff Bezos recently announced the acquisition of Metro Goldwyn Meyer (MGM) for nearly US$9 billion. This is a very efficient way to grow Amazon Prime’s streaming catalog, and it features a true cinematic crown jewel: the James Bond saga. The deal drew acclaim but also brought to light a new partner, Barbara Broccoli, the co-owner of the rights to the British spy and one of the most powerful female producers in the world.

Thanks to the Metro Goldwyn Meyer (MGM) lion, which will now roar for Amazon, Jeff Bezos’ company now has a mighty library of 4,000 titles for its streaming platform. And in the case of Bond, it will be Barbara Broccoli who will always have the last word on all matters related to the British spy.

The story. Thanks to a score of films about the planet’s most famous spy, the Broccoli name has risen to the top of the cinematographic Olympus.

  • It all grew out of the passion that the family patriarch, producer Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli, had for Ian Fleming’s novels. His love was so deep it led him to partner with Harry Saltzman to obtain the rights to the British writer’s work — except for two of his novels, Casino Royale and Thunderball
  • After purchasing the rights, Broccoli created EON Productions, a family-owned company that has jealously guarded the integrity of 007’s intellectual property since 1962.
  • Almost 60 years and 25 films later, Barbara Broccoli — daughter of her father’s third marriage — controls EON together with her stepbrother Michael G. Wilson. She is not only Bond’s guardian, but also protector of his literary brother Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, another Ian Fleming creation.

Female power. Broccoli’s negotiating power is well known in the film industry, not only because she stands on an equal footing with the world’s major producers and distributors, but also because she is able to say no to television series offers and totally controls where, how, when, and in what way the films can be seen.

  • So, even though Amazon bought MGM, Jeff Bezos has no say against the veto power of the film industry’s most powerful woman, who also happens to be an independent producer.
  • “Until I was 7 or 8 years old I thought James Bond was a real person because of the way he was always present in our lives and in conversations at home,” Barbara Broccoli recalls in a Variety magazine interview.
  • Broccoli began working with the Bond franchise at the age of 22, as assistant director on Octopussy, which was released in 1983. But her most notable role has been as producer of the Bond films starring Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig.

Support for #Me Too. Barbara is also the one who has the final say on who will play James Bond. “He was written as a man, and it makes more sense to make the women in his stories more interesting, rather than make him a woman,” she told the British newspaper The Guardian, to counter feminist voices calling for the spy to change gender.

  • And regardless of Bond’s gender, the films produced by EON are known to be much safer spaces for women than most of the major productions in the film industry.
  • Broccoli’s production company has publicly supported the Time’s Up movement and is a promoter of #MeToo. What’s more, she has financed most of the studios that this movement uses to denounce the inequalities that still exist between men and women in the film industry.
  • Whether at the London Film Festival or at the BAFTAs — the British Oscars — Broccoli did not hesitate to hand out Time’s Up buttons when the movement was in full swing.
  • She herself says she has suffered discrimination and machismo “all the time” and believes that it is important for women to share their stories. “That will help us heal some wounds and help us build on each other’s strengths,” she explained.
  • EON is also engaged in producing stories written, directed or starring women such as Nancy (2018), The Rhythm Section (2020), or Movie Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017), among other productions. Many cultural and educational projects around the world are discreetly funded by the Broccoli Foundation.