Just like you, I was thrilled to hear that my favorite comic book hero had cleared the contractual hurdles that had previously prevented him from appearing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Spidey’s coming home! It’s fun to think of him trading quips with Iron Man or annoying Nick Fury on the big screen, isn’t it?
This is a big opportunity to bring Spider-Man back in a bold new way. But do audiences really want or need yet another take on how he got his start? Marvel has a unique chance to do something different. Maybe skip the origin story (or condense it into the opening credits like The Incredible Hulk); make him a little younger than the other main heroes; or even open the casting to find the best actor who can meet the physical demands of the action sequences while portraying Peter as a likable guy…even if he’s not white.
This being the Internet, everyone had something to say about that last possibility. “Why would you want to do such a thing?”, “That’s not the character!”, “Political correctness run amok”, and other strong reactions rooted in possessiveness, fear and resentment toward change.
I’d be open to it. Here’s why.
Spider-Man has always been the “everyman” hero. Peter Parker is not a God like Thor, an alien like Superman, a time-displaced soldier like Captain America, a deadly spy like the Black Widow, and certainly not a billionaire like Iron Man or Batman. He’s a bright if slightly awkward kid from a very modest background. When we meet him, his biggest problems are trying to balance school, family, work, and still figure out his social life. Even when he becomes Spider-Man, all of those problems are still there, they just get complicated to an incredible degree.
And that was me as a kid, even though I don’t look anything like him. My parents moved to the US from India in the 1970s and I was the first in my family to be born as an American. It was an interesting and often challenging experience growing up and straddling two worlds. I was on my own figuring out this dual identity – trying to fit in both at school and at home, with neither “world” quite understanding the other. It was a lot of pressure and often lonely. Peter Parker was also on his own, trying to balance two lives and somehow make both of them work. He didn’t seem particularly depressed about being in this position but it’s not like he particularly enjoyed it either. He just got on with it because that’s what the good guys do. You do the right thing (even when it’s tough) because you can and should, and not for credit or glory. I admired and aspired to that. Out of all the superheroes that I enjoyed, Peter Parker always seemed the most “real.”
These qualities are in no way defined by racial background and are not unique to any one ethnicity. So why couldn’t the next big screen version of Peter Benjamin Parker be…y’know…not white?
Here’s one response:
And that’s simply that that’s not how those characters were created and written and to change their race just to appease political correctness is a massively hollow gesture.
First of all, “political correctness” is a lazy non-argument. I can only speak for myself, but I just don’t see the notion of a non-white Peter Parker as a means of avoiding offense (because who is offended by a white Peter Parker?). Second, let’s take a moment to consider how the character was created.
Peter’s appearance was designed in a time when minorities didn’t warrant a non-exoticized role in media. In 1962, Hawaii had only been a state for three years, African Americans were still fighting for the right to vote, the idea of landing on the moon was science fiction, and my interracial marriage would have had me thrown in jail. It was a very different time and even something as simple as comic books reflected that.
But society and how we related to it has advanced considerably since then. There’s nothing “massively hollow” or unreasonable with our entertainment media mirroring the wider world that we live in today. It’s how we relate and connect to it.
Character: The way someone thinks, feels, and behaves: someone’s personality
This is 2015. Changing Peter’s skin color wouldn’t affect any of the characteristics that make him the man he is. It’s not “political correctness,” it’s taking the source material and presenting it as modern day storytelling. It’s no different than organic webshooters (eww), Flash and Mary Jane dating in high school, and Otto Octavius working for Harry Osborn. It’s no different than Peter as a skateboarding smart-aleck loner with a younger Aunt May, while Gwen Stacy, Curt Connors, and Max Dillon are all Oscorp employees. And changes aren’t limited to this franchise: We’ve seen Jarvis become an AI virtual assistant, the X-Men’s black costumes, and Ducard as Bruce Wayne’s mentor. It goes on and on. Somehow, reality avoided collapsing into itself.
Some suggested that their desire to see Peter remain white (because it needs to be exactly like the comics) resulted in their being persecuted as racists.
If you prefer Peter Parker be played by a white guy because that’s how he’s been portrayed since the character’s inception then hey – that’s your call and your right as a Spidey fan. No one can tell you that you’re wrong. They’ll try, but don’t let them. And that goes vice versa as well. At the end of the day it’s anyone’s opinion.
But to anyone foaming at the mouth out there, yelling anyone and everyone down over all this in the name of political correctness or ‘teh lulz’ or whatever, I’m gonna say the following once and use fancy italics to drive it home:
[fancy italics] Spider-Fans who disagree with the idea that Peter Parker needs to be played by a non-white guy are not racist. It’s an opinion based on decades and decades of stories and thousands of comic books. They’re not the Devil, they’re not Nazis, they’re not racists and they’re not monsters who need to be run out of town with torches. They are fans with an opinion, just like you.
That guy or gal you’ve been calling racist until you’re blue in the face on social media because they’d prefer a white guy playing Spidey? Hey, they probably love Shang Chi or T’Challa as well. Or does that make him or her a racist, too? Ridiculous! Stop the madness, Spider-Fans.
I didn’t really see any of these hyperbolic accusations of racism flying around, but maybe I don’t hang out in those parts of the Internet. I made the mistake of scrolling through the comments, where the author’s true colors (ahem) started to shine to the point where I feel compelled to respond.
…where does it stop? Race-swap Spidey… then who’s next? Which character doesn’t get to be a white guy or gal anymore because reasons?
Or maybe we just go all the way and take all those bad white people out altogether. Except for the villains, of course, and people like Jonah.
Or! We could just leave him as is. A white dude from Queens. That, too.
Complaining that a character “doesn’t get” to be a certain way “because reasons” while simultaneously demanding the exact same thing – talk about missing the point, not to mention a histrionic display of pot/kettle logic.
And how quickly these angry voices forget: Michael Clarke Duncan as The Kingpin. Idris Elba as Heimdall. Sam Jackson as Nick Fury. Jamie Foxx as Electro. Laurence Fishburne as Perry White. And long before Halle Berry made one of the worst movies in recent history, the one and only Eartha Kitt was Catwoman. That was in 1966 and the world kept going, so why is this idea a problem 50 years later?
Here’s where it gets tricky. Hold tight.
Racism: A belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
Not for one second do I think that there’s some deep-rooted prejudice involved with these particular articles (although I’m not kidding myself – the recent response to the “black Stormtrooper” featured in the Star Wars trailer shows that such attitudes are still alive and well in fandom). I’m a comic book fan, so I absolutely get wanting to see your favorite comic brought to life as you’ve always known it. But closing yourself off to the notion that Peter Parker can’t work as a character if his skin tone is different is 1) overlooking the characteristics that define him as a human being and 2), suggesting that the skin tone is inextricably linked to those characteristics. Every single comic book movie has taken liberties with origin stories, powers, costumes, etc. If you’re letting yourself get hung up on the racial aspect, well…
And no, I’m not here to condemn anyone. Like I said, I absolutely get why you’d want to see things continue a certain way. But I also think that it’s important for all of us to acknowledge what’s at the heart of these responses, even if it’s unintentional. Not to judge, but to better understand each other and ourselves. Only then can we continue to grow as people.
I’m not demanding that Peter be deliberately recast as a person of color. That’s not what I’m about. I just don’t think it would be the end of the world if a new movie took a step in that direction.
Then there’s this response:
I’m obviously suggesting that should Marvel cast a black actor as Spider-Man then they simply should be Miles Morales and not Peter Parker. Why? because Marvel already have a strongly written, well developed and brilliant black Spider-Man in Miles Morales, and to not do a Miles movie, but have a black Peter Parker would be an insult to his character.
Miles Morales is so much more than a “black Spider-Man.”
Defining Miles as the “black Spider-Man” as a way to rationalize keeping Peter white summarizes the challenges that we as a society are still facing. He’s also not just black, but biracial.
Let’s put that aside for a moment and try looking at him as a character.
Miles Morales is not Peter Parker. His story is different in that he found himself in the position of taking up a mantle and struggling to be worthy of a legacy. Miles was introduced in 2011 and just like Peter, his race and cultural background is a product of its time that’s never factored into his story. It doesn’t inform his character as written – Miles doesn’t casually drop Spanish into his sentences, he’s not craving certain “ethnic” dishes, listening to specific types of music, or waving any other banner saying, “HEY, IN CASE ANYONE MISSED IT, I AM NOT A WHITE GUY.”
Miles was created in a space that was allowed to reimagine Spider-Man for a new modern-day audience – embodying the core power and responsibility characteristics we all admire with an appearance that’s reflective of the broader awareness of the world and times we live in. It’s insulting to put him in a box as the de facto “black Spider-Man.” He’s so much more than that. He’s the kid out of his depth, the nervous hero who rises to the challenge because it’s the right thing to do. If you look at him as an exercise in political correctness or the token minority Spidey, then you’ve missed the point.
I’m a Miles fan. I love his series and even created a podcast for it. I’ll be first to tell you that Miles on screen would be phenomenal, but it 1) wouldn’t be happening anytime soon because his is a different story and 2) should not be the “out” for those unable or unwilling to accept the idea of Peter Parker looking different.
I find it fascinating that a medium that encourages and celebrates creativity and infinite possibilities can also attract those who not only fear change but are resentful to the point of hysterics. But I also believe that they represent a vocal minority. This is an exciting opportunity to do something fresh and different. It may happen, it may not. Either way, the prospect of a new take on Peter Parker should be exciting, not something to fear. I think we can all agree that at the end of the day, we’re just hoping for the best possible actor to take the role. Someone that can handle the physicality and smart-aleck attitude of Spider-Man, while balancing it with the heart and appeal of a good kid trying to do his best.
I feel bad for those that can’t wrap their heads around it for whatever reason. But then again, it’s not like they won’t go see the next Spider-Man movie anyway, regardless of who was playing the lead. The world will still be here.