Anghus Houvouras on the casting of the new Spider-Man…
The notion of diversity in the superhero world isn’t nearly as black and white as some would have you believe. From the very moment we learned Sony got wise and agreed to share Spider-Man with Marvel, finally placing everyone’s favorite wall-crawler into the shared Marvel Cinematic Universe, a strange rallying cry began.
“Spider-Man doesn’t need to be white anymore.”
It isn’t all that surprising. There’s been a growing call for diversity from comic book fans and superhero movie aficionados. “Where are the heroes of color?” they cry. “Where are the female superhero movies?!” they declare! I understand the principle behind this. It would be nice to see some superhero universe featuring a more ethnically diverse slate of comic book characters. However, I find much of the zeitgeist strange, if not a little frightening.
When the online film world learned that Johnny Storm a.k.a. The Human Torch would be cast with a black actor (Michael B. Jordan), it became the topic du jour. White as Wonder Bread Johnny Storm would now be black. This resulted in a number of heated conversations over the following months, but for me, it didn’t even register as a blip on my radar. I suppose because the character of The Human Torch never really had a strong identity. He was always young, brash, and arrogant. A hot-head with a short fuse. Someone who wanted people’s respect but had trouble being taken seriously. You could have put any talented young actor in the role with any ethnic profile and I doubt I would have thought much about it.
The Spider-Man argument feels like something else entirely. A strange, politically correct rallying call that started within seconds of the Sony/Marvel announcement. Op-Ed pieces started popping up within hours. “We don’t need another white Spider-Man!” “Bring on Miles Morales.” Even comic creators like Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott was hammering away on Twitter letting his followers know that Spider-Man could be played by any actor of any ethnicity. That Spider-Man’s alter-ego Peter Parker could be played by anyone.
I noticed a strange malignancy around the argument. Something ugly forming as more and more people joined the loud cries of giving us a new Spider-Man. Not the caucasian super nerd we’ve seen in comics for decades, but a new Spider-Man…
…a black Spider-Man.
There were lots of insanely contradictory statements online that seemed to boil down to this basic thought:
“It doesn’t matter what color Spider-Man is… but he should be black.”
Why does Spider-Man have to be black? Why is that the solution for diversification of the superhero movie world? I’ll tell you why: because Americans are dumb. Apparently racism can be ended in our time if we just replace white actors with black ones… or women. Surely that’s a start, but the cries of a Black Spider-Man are as laughably narrow-minded as those who cling to the idea that Peter Parker has to be white. What about the variety of other races, creeds, and colors available to us?
What about a Pakistani Peter Parker? Or a Samoan Spider-Man? What about a Welsh Web-Slinger? Or an Asian Amazing Spider-Man? What if we started thinking outside these stupid, rigid restrictions and found the best actor for the role? Surely we could find a Peter Parker, or a Miles Morales (or a Ben Reilly).
I don’t care what color Peter Parker is if he’s the right actor for the role. I don’t care if they opt for Miles Morales, either. But you’re kidding yourself if you think Miles Morales is some kind of radical departure from the Peter Parker model (nerdy science kid, dead father figure). We could use a little variety in our superhero alter egos, but the calls for a black Spider-Man feel like people needing a win rather than finding the right actor for the role.
I don’t know what the future holds for the new Spider-Man, but I know there are lots more options available for Spider-Man than simply changing him from white to black.
Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker. His latest work, the novel My Career Suicide Note, is available from Amazon. Follow him on Twitter.