Why the Zendaya Spider-Man Movie Controversy Isn’t a Big Deal to Me… and Shouldn’t Be to You

It seems there’s been a slow-burning uproar the last few days, since The Wrap posted an article leaking the alleged “real” role that young actress Zendaya has been cast for the upcoming film Spider-Man: Homecoming.  In it, the article states that Zendaya, a young woman of color, will be playing the role of Mary Jane Watson, whom Spider-Man fans know to be the most iconic and well-known of Spider-Man’s love interests.  In response, many fanboys–most of them white, of course–have taken to various social medias and websites to vent their collective outrage over this decision by the powers at Sony.

As a Spider-Man super fan myself, I’ve been aware of this announcement since it went live, and somewhat vaguely aware of the “backlash” that’s resulted.  To be perfectly honest, it’s hard for me to get worked up over this issue, for a number of reasons.

  1. MJ’s race doesn’t fucking matter!  I love the way I’ve seen most of the racists coding their response to this one.  They know damn well they can’t openly say, “I’m angry because MJ shouldn’t be black!”, so instead they attack her hair color.  “MJ should be a redhead!” they shout.  It’s purely code for saying she should be white, which is complete and utter bullcrap.  I’ll say here what I’ve said elsewhere: with very few exceptions, there are almost no Marvel comic book characters whose origins and backstories demand they be white.  The Human Torch.  Doctor Strange.  Iron Fist.  Hell, Iron Man, for that matter.  And Spider-Man, as well as his supporting cast.  Anyone who claims these characters must be exactly as they have been portrayed in the comics is saying so from a position of privileged ignorance
  2. It’s not official, at least not yet.  The Wrap article, while it has certainly touched off a minor firestorm with this alleged development, can’t actually be officially taken at its word… yet.  Until Marvel or Sony comments one way or the other, this is just a high-profile piece of gossip from a website.  Does it sound like something Marvel would do?  Yes it does.  Does it seem like a logical development to include MJ in the Spider-Man films?  Totally.  Would Zendaya be the proper age to play MJ in a high school iteration of Spider-Man?  Hell yes.  But until we hear something official, we may be getting wound up over nothing.
  3. The racists are clearly losing, anyway.  There’s been more focus on the backlash against the backlash.  I’ve seen articles where Twitter trolls get schooled for their coded comments about Zendaya’s race, and hair color.  Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn has defended the concept of a person of color playing MJ, very eloquently citing need for our movies to reflect the diversity of the world in which we live.  The “controversy” surrounding this hypothetical piece of casting is really nothing more than the slowly, noticeably, deteriorating yelling of the privileged racists whose voices are becoming less and less important as time goes on.  The powers at Marvel and Sony are not listening, and continuing to make movies and shows that prove to be highly successful, both financially and critically.

On a personal note, if Zendaya is indeed portraying MJ in Spider-Man: Homecoming, I am a-okay with this, in exactly the way I would have been okay with a Peter Parker who had been cast as a person of color.  I’m not familiar with her work, but I will say that she does look stunning, and I’m willing to bet that Marvel and Sony would be putting her in the role because they know she can do the character justice.  To me, that’s all that matters, and Marvel has long since earned my trust in these areas.

If Zendaya is MJ, bring it on!  I’m sure she’ll be wonderful.


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