James Bond as a character embodies the imperialism of the British empire: a British man free to traverse and interfere in other nations with little consequence, all in the name of nation. Unlike other excursions however, in Live and Let Die, Bond isn’t grappling with routine spy stuff of the global order, but merely a heroin drug cartel. Why is this the case?
Bond films are always made as a reaction to its previous incarnation, in this case, Live and Let Die is a direct reaction to the bombast and spectacle of Diamonds are Forever. Live and Let Die represents an attempt to make a grittier and hipper take on the franchise. How do they do this? By dropping Bond into a blaxploitation picture.
It is a film that does not empowers African Americans, but rather regurgitates blaxploitation tropes without their original empowering subtext. The film instead reduces the tropes to their most racist form, parading them as a form of cultural tourism Bond undergoes as he traverses the seedy lands of blaxploitation. Pimps, drugs, Voodoo; Bond encounters them all. What results is racist exploitation of blaxploitation iconography within the film, creating an onslaught of reductionistic, racist imagery.
No people of color emerge unscathed from this racist cultural appropriation. CIA operative Rosie Carver, the first woman of color Bond has sex with in the franchise, exists merely to be killed off in a later scene. Her presence is supposed to affirm the cultural hipness of Bond without actually giving the character substance or agency.
Solitaire, the main female lead, is another victim of the film’s (and franchise’s) terrible gender politics, losing her powers of fortunetelling when Bond takes her virginity. Of course, much of the sexism and racism comes form the source book itself, long seen as unfilmable. After Bond rescues Solitaire from Mr. Big (the drug cartel leader), her response is the book is
"She smiled. ‘[…] ’You’ve given me a new life. I've been shut up with him and his nigger gangsters for nearly a year. This is heaven.”
Being with an embodiment of British imperialism and whiteness is better than being with black men any day. In seeking to reaffirm the current and gritty relevance of James Bond, the filmmakers tried to film the unfilmmable, hoping a blaxploitation twist would help tamper the racist material. The result is the worst entry in the franchise.