Spidey Sense Knows No Color

Marc Bernardin at Io9:

We just ran down the five bland white guys that are, reportedly, in the running to play Peter Parker in Sony’s Spider-Man reboot. Yawn. In this day and age, why does Spidey have to be a white guy?

Yes, I know: “Because that’s how Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created him.” There is no worse argument for anything than, “because that’s the way it’s always been.” Lee and Ditko created a wonderfully strong character, one full of complexity and depth, who happens to be white. In no way is Peter Parker defined by his whiteness in the same way that too many black characters are defined by their blackness. He’s defined by the people he cares for, by his career, by his identity as a New Yorker (incidentally, one of the most diverse cities in the world) — as too many good people died to prove, a man is defined by his choices, not by the color of his skin.

So why couldn’t Peter Parker be played by a black or a Hispanic actor? How does that invalidate who Peter Parker is? I’m not saying that the producers need to force the issue; that they need to cast a minority just for the sake of it — but in the face of such underwhelming options like Billy Elliot and the kid who played young Voldemort, why not broaden the search? It’s not like any of these blokes are lighting the world on fire like a young Johnny Depp or Leonardo DiCaprio.

And don’t tell me it’s because an actor of color would hurt the box office: Not only is Spider-Man one of the most recognizable fictional characters on the planet, and managed to do just fine with Tobey “Snoozeville” Maguire playing him, whoever they cast WILL BE IN A MASK FOR HALF THE DAMNED MOVIE. AND ON THE POSTER.

Jamelle at PostBourgie:

Bernardin is right on target; most superheroes aren’t defined by their race or ethnicity (indeed, as he points out, the only exceptions are black heroes), and you wouldn’t lose anything by mixing up the racial background of a character. Indeed, changing the racial background of a character isn’t exactly new; in the 1970s, DC passed the Green Lantern’s power-ring to John Stewart, an African-American architect and Marine veteran. And in 2002, Marvel introduced “Ultimate” Nick Fury, a black version of their long-standing character modeled after Samuel L. Jackson. And as Bernardin points out, Marvel went even further with the limited series Truth: Red, White & Black, which told the story of Isaiah Bradley, the sole survivor of a group of black soldiers forced to act as test subjects for the super-soldier serum that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America.

You could easily pen a non-white Peter Parker that retains essence of the character while reflecting the fact that he is African-American. Black Peter Parker, for instance, might not have grown up in Forest Hills or attended Empire State University, but he would still be a struggling photographer with a good head for science, and a huge crush on Mary Jane Watson. I would welcome the director who cast a non-white Peter Parker, in lieu of another twenty-something white guy. And if there’s anything I’d worry about, it’s that screenwriters might try to add non-white “signifiers” to this hypothetical Peter Parker, with horrible results.

Caroline Stanley at Flavorwire:

Community’s Donald Glover wants to be the next Spider-Man. And he’s hoping a Facebook petition (Donald Glover 4 Spiderman!!) and Twitter campaign (#donald4spiderman) will at least get his foot in the door. “Some people are mistaken,” he has said. “I don’t want to just be given the role. I want to be able to audition. I truly love Spider-Man.”

As io9 notes, there’s nothing about Peter Parker’s history that requires him to be played by a white actor — other than tradition. We love Glover in Community, and from what we’ve heard about his performance in Mystery Team, he has the chops to carry a big-screen part. And he’s certainly more interesting to us than any of the other actors currently in talks for the role (sorry, Billy Elliot and young Voldemort).

Stephanie at Informavore:

I once read an interview with one of the DC Comics executives where they discussed interpretations, legacy characters, and the immutable elements of their mythologies.  He argued there are three elements in defining the way a character is represented: 1) the absolutes; 2) the negotiables; and 3) the things up for grabs.

[…]

As such, I feel it’s best to refer back to our three-tier system for understanding the mythology.

1.  The Absolutes
Teenage Peter Parker is raised by Aunt May and Uncle Ben after the death of his parents.  On a field trip, he gets bitten by a radioactive spider and gains superpowers.   To make money, he participates in underground wrestling matches.  When the owner cheats him, he lets a robber get away.  That robber later murders Uncle Ben.  Feeling responsible for his uncle’s death, he realizes “with great power comes great responsibility.”   Red and blue suit (though sometimes black), New York City, Daily Bugle, Mary Jane Watson, J. Jonah, Jameson, etc. are all part of the mythology.  You can’t replace these parts of the story.
Though Peter Parker has always been represented as white in the comics, I think it is fully reasonable to change the character’s ethnicity without destroying the core elements of the mythos.  Here’s why:
Peter grows up in the outer borough of New York City and becomes from an economically-disadvantaged background.  Family is an important part of his upbringing.  He works hard in school and hopes for a better life.  Due to short-sightedness, he takes the easy way out and makes the quick buck.  He suffers great loss due to senseless urban violence.  He deals with the mistrust of society because of his identity (Spider-Man, vigilante, masked hero).  Each of these elements are plausible within the context of an African-American character.  They are also plausible for a white or Latino character as well.   Superman might not work in the same way due to the Jewish overtropes and middle-America upbringing that are a part of the character’s creation.   Spider-Man could easily be an African-American teen.
For too long, comic scholars–both professional and casual–have lamented the white, homogeneous make-up of our superheroes.   Storm, Black Panther, Steel, and Green Lantern (Jon Stewart) are some of the most recognized heroes of color.  I was encouraged when WB decided to use Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes as a central character in the Batman: Brave and the Bold cartoon series.  For every Great Ten, Super Young Team, and Global Guardians that comics produces, you have the senseless killing of Ryan Choi (The Atom) in order to return Ray Palmer to the spotlight.
Could Spider-Man be black?  Sure.  Why not.  There’s lot of great discourse that come from it.  Is Donald Glover the right person to take up the mantle?  Maybe.  I’m a big fan of his comedic talents on Community.  He plays a character that is confident, cocky, goofy, and at ease with himself.  I think those are important things that fall under The Negotiables label.  Race, in turn, could very well be Up for Grabs.

Erin Polgreen at Spencer Ackerman’s place:

As of last night, the campaign #donald4spiderman was a trending topic on Twitter, and a slew of comics bigwigs and other industry luminaries are hopping on board.

I think it’s a good thing. More diversity in casting of stories from the comic book canon means more interpretations and layers to the character. Look at what Brian Michael Bendis did for Nick Fury in Marvel’s Ultimates line. Samuel L. Jackson plays the historically white character in Marvel’s Iron Man franchise.

Jeff Sneider at The Wrap:

Meanwhile, Brooklyn resident Michelle Vargas has created a Facebook group, “Donald Glover 4 Spiderman!!,” which has amassed 5,060 fans at last count.

And another Twitter attack is planned for Tuesday night — this time orchestrated by Glover himself, who plans to have his fans tweet the hashtag at 6:30 p.m. The plan is to make himself a trending topic again, since retweeting doesn’t count for trending.

Said Glover in a tweet over the weekend about the campaign: “Some people are mistaken. I don’t want to just be given the role. I want to be able to audition. I truly love Spider-Man.” Neither Glover’s represenatives nor Sony would agree to comment for TheWrap.

Talk show host Craig Ferguson (who, keep in mind, works for a rival network) endorsed the potential casting by retweeting Glover.

So who is Glover, other than Troy on NBC’s “Community”?

The 26 year-old, NYU-educated comedian won an Emmy as a writer on NBC’s “30 Rock,” and his comedy troupe, Derrick Comedy, recently released its first feature, “Mystery Team,” on DVD and On Demand. More crucially, his comedy videos have become a YouTube sensation, amassing millions of views.

While it’s unlikely that Sony and director Marc Webb would take such a huge creative risk by reinventing the beloved character since they each have a lot riding on this 3D reboot, Glover does have a devoted fanbase that’s roughly the same age as the audience that Sony wants to attract with this teen-centric project.

And Peter Parker is from the ethnically diverse neighborhood of Queens, New York. In fact, there’s nothing in Marvel’s “Spider-Man” comics that dictates that the character must be white.

Indeed, if Facebook earned Betty White a gig hosting “Saturday Night Live” and Twitter made Justin Bieber a household name, why couldn’t their combined powers help Glover land an audition for Sony execs?

It couldn’t be worse than Brandon Routh as Superman.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Movies, New Media, Race

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s