May Day! May Day! The delicious Grace Jones

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To understand May Day as a character is to know Grace Jones, a formidable, divisive, strong woman.

Emmeline Dewhurst

“To understand May Day as a character is to know Grace Jones, a formidable, divisive, strong woman.”

Grace Beverly Jones is a model, singer and actress. Born in Jamaica, she and her family moved to Syracuse, New York, when she was a teenager. Jones began her modelling career in New York state, then in Paris, working for fashion houses such as Yves St. Laurent and Kenzo, and appearing on the covers of Elle and Vogue. She notably worked with photographers such as Jean-Paul Goude, Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin, and Hans Feurer, and became known for her distinctive androgynous appearance and bold features. It wasn’t an easy ride for Jones, she lost many friends along the way, fought racism in Paris with an effortless poise.

Lets’ take it back shall we, to the start of the film where you see Bond in the white white snow, taking on the baddies and ending up in a floating iceberg with a gorgeous girl, the zip of her coat effortlessly being lowered, with the best Beluga and whatnot into the undeniable dream sequence of a Maurice Binder title. 

Bond, in his typical fashion, flirts with Moneypenny and absolutely not being allowed to throw her new, pastel pink, flowered hat for Ascot goes to the races! In this ‘set up the film’ scene we are introduced to May Day, notably one of the few people of colour, a fantastic juxtaposition to the aristocratic scene. She’s not in pastels like all the rest but in red and black, a modern day Cruella Deville (she sites Disney Villains as one of her inspirations for her costumes). A typical introduction to any Bond film you might say.

Zorin is the loud and bombastic typical Bond Villain, May Day in contrast is quiet, strong and unwavering. Not your average Bond girl, definitely more the henchman, as May Day teaches him to fight, protects him, goes to battle for him: all of which makes it all the more bittersweet when he breaks her heart and oh yes she has a heart, as all women do, that Bond and other men use and cast away in the films.

Grace had already had an illustrious career prior to AVTAK, if not in film but on the pages of fashion magazines and she had already been on the Broccoli radar, Jones indicating herself that at one point she had been up for the role of the jewel smuggler/circus leader that went to Maud Adams instead in Octopussy. I can only imagine that in 1983 the powers that be just felt too nervous about a truly romantic part being given to a black woman and a villainess who dies in the movie was more palatable to the old guard. 

A View to a Kill was by far Jones’ biggest role up to that point, in her book ‘I’ll Never Write My Memoirs’ she reveals that she got some help from Moore himself during filming, particularly during one scene when Jones just couldn’t act surprised upon discovering Bond in May Day’s bed. Jones writes, “That kind of pretending I found a little troubling. I couldn’t look surprised. Eventually Roger stuck something stupid on his head, and I was really surprised to see it, so I looked surprised, and that was the take they used.”

As mentioned before, when she fights Bond at the end of the film May Day realises Zorin has left her to die in his mine, and says, “And I thought that creep loved me!” She then helps Bond move a bomb clear of the mine with a handcar. She willingly drives it out of the mine, where it detonates, killing her. For me it comes across as a lesson we have all experienced in our lives in one way or another, choose a path, then choose another.

In an interview with Thames at the premier she states she deals with trouble to be happy… who doesn’t! She goes on to say you can see May Day ‘coming from a far far distance’, (using her own wardrobe for the character) and boy do you see her! But it’s not just her clothing, it’s her stare, her body, her presence that makes you see her.

Let’s’ talk about her ‘dominance’. There are notable scenes with May Day, one of her dominating a horse, jumping from the Eiffel Tower escaping the world’s best secret agent and of course going to bed with Bond, her by being on top of course. Even the promotion of the film is different from what we’d seen before, May Day was “privileged in the film’s promotion, standing back-to-back with Bond in movie posters that asked, “Has James Bond finally met his match?” This is undeniably a nod to Jones’ strength, the filmmakers knowing what they were dealing with.

Critics have accused May Day of decidedly lacking a voice for most of the film, often resorting to brutish, violent feats of strength to express her thoughts, for May Day, physical actions trump verbal expressions, and this is most notable in her sexual encounter with Bond, where she silently disrobes and jumps into bed with him. But where have we seen this before? This non-verbal expression? Jaws, Odd Job, Whisper or Mr Hinx. A featherweight critique as far as I’m concerned.

Charles Burnetts sees May Day as a “fluffer” character, a member of a group of women in the Bond films whom Bond seduces earlier in the movie but who disappear by the end and serve only to keep the male “agent” aroused until the arrival of the primary sexual object, the Bond girl. Burnetts suggests that May Day embodies aspects of both the “animalistic sexuality” of a colonizing white male fantasy… and a hyper-masculinity that threatens to destabilize Bond’s sexual politics. He goes on to say that he argues May Day serves as a high-watermark for the fluffer character, and, true to her name, as a kind of emergency distress signal with respect to the Bond film’s racial and gender politics. The people behind Bond however shackled by their character have always pushed the envelope, queer characters, characters of colour, strong females and weak males. This for me is a weak argument. May Day narratively and spatially upstages her conventionally beautiful and white Bond Girl counterpart Stacey Sutton, who as far as I’m concerned, is to remembered for screaming ‘JAMES!’ every now and again and not much else…

To understand May Day as a character is to know Grace Jones, a formidable, divisive, strong woman. A woman who came from nothing, made herself something and sacrificed for everybody so those that came after her would have an easier ride.

Last modified: 3 January 2024