Today it was revealed that Disney sensation Zendaya, the 19-year-old star of Shake It Up, will be playing the iconic role of Mary Jane Watson in the upcoming Spider-man: Homecoming.
As soon as news of this broke, I’m pretty sure all my pals at Echoba.se were like this, hoping I wouldn’t write an opinion peice about it:
After all, just the other day I’d written an article about how lazy and disingenuous it was for Hollywood to try and solve their diversity problem by simply recasting white characters with black actors. I’d even celebrated Marvel for taking a more evolved direction and adding diversity with black characters, not actors – and then they went and did this.
But while I stand by what I wrote there, in all honesty it kind of only applies to major characters. Mary Jane Watson, bless her, is really only known for two characteristics – she’s Peter Parker’s sassy girlfriend, and she’s a redhead. Our own Whiizzy-Wiig mocked up a ginger Zendaya and she looks great. It’d be really tough to come up with a coherent argument against why she shouldn’t play the part that doesn’t actually sound kinda racist, yo.
But while that’s all well and good – I still think Marvel made the wrong call with all the casting in Spider-man: Homecoming and this kind of illustrates the problem.
Clearly the issue of ‘diversity’ was hanging over their heads when they plotted out the new Spidey film. After all, you’ve got a white Peter Parker, a white Aunt May, a white bad guy (Vulture? The Tinkerer?) and white Tony Stark dropping in, and who knows which other characters from Spidey’s monochromatic rolodex.
But instead of just recasting a traditionally white role with a black actress, they could have actually shown some testicular fortitude and chosen a different Spider-man, instead.
There is, now, a highly popular, highly-regarded Spider-man character who is a person-of-color. Miles Morales, who was bitten by the same radioactive spider as Peter Parker, is swinging through New York solving crimes and righting wrongs and it’s about time Hollywood paid some attention to him.
And while a lot of people wring their hands and say: “Well, you can’t gamble a Hollywood movie on an unknown like that” I’d like to cough very loudly and point to Guardians of the Galaxy, or Ant-Man or a host of other lesser-known Marvel properties that did very nicely at the box office, thank-you-very-much.
And quite frankly I’m not interested in seeing Miles Morales on the big screen because I’m some hand-wringing Hollywood progressive. I’m just sick and fucking tired of Peter Parker. In the last ten years we’ve had, what, five movies featuring two incarnations of Peter Parker? Three different early morning cartoons? (Ultimate Spider-man is pretty good.) Jesus, that story has been told.
It’s like how we got to watch Bruce Wayne’s parents get killed not once, but twice in the new Batman v Superman movie. I’m over it. We don’t need to have that story told again.
So it was the perfect time to bring in a different Spider-man, and Sony and Marvel chickened out. Not only did they do that, but they then tried to slap a one-dimensional band-aid onto the diversity problem by saying: “Look! We cast a biracial girl as Mary Jane. We’re hella progressive, yo!”
No, you’re not. You took a lazy, chickenshit route instead of doing something brave and meaningful. And now all the racists on Twitter are going to get mad about it, and the Hollywood executives are going to hide behind that onslaught of hatred so they don’t have to face the bigger issue; which is that they dicked over Miles Morales yet again, in favor of a a safe, tried-and-tested, whitebread solution.