Hollywood can’t seem to win for losing. Many were outraged at the “whitewashing” of the character The Ancient One, a character depicted as an Asian man in the comics, who will be played by Caucasian actor Tilda Swinton in ‘Doctor Strange’. But when another Marvel movie attempts to diversify its lineup by casting a non-white actor as a character that is usually depicted as Caucasian, other people are vexed.
The latest source of concern? Zendaya, who is biracial, is reportedly playing Mary Jane Watson in ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’. This hasn’t been confirmed by either Sony or Marvel Studios who are co-producing this film, but Zendaya herself did post the following image on Instagram:
Yep, that’s some red hair, alright!
Though he isn’t affiliated with the production, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ director James Gunn offered his support to the casting via Facebook:
“People get upset when something they consider intrinsic to a comic book character changes when adapted for a film. I get this. There are movies I dislike because I think there’s a basic misunderstanding of the story or the character when the comic is transferred to film (I still hate how in the first Batman movie the Joker was revealed as the murderer of Bruce Wayne’s parents, for instance.)
That said, I do not believe a character is the color of his or her skin. When Michael B Jordan was cast as Johnny Storm I didn’t understand the uproar. The primary characteristic of Johnny was not, to me, that he was white, or that he had blonde hair, but that he was a fiery, funny, big-mouthed braggart of a hero. I was happy that he was going to be played by one of the finest and most charming young actors out there.
Yesterday, a rumor broke out that the character of Mary Jane was being played by a young black woman, Zendaya, and all hell broke out on the Internet (again). I tweeted that if people find themselves complaining about Mary Jane’s ethnicity they have lives that are too good. (For those of you who think this means I’m confirming that Zendaya IS playing MJ, realize that although I’ve read the Spidey script, and I’ve met the actress in question, I have no idea what her role is. There’s a good chance someone told me at one time or another, but, if so, I can’t remember. I’m going to find out when I go into Marvel this afternoon, but I feel free to speak until that time because it’s about the concept about a black woman playing Mary Jane, not the actuality or hypothesis of it.)
I got a thousand or so responses to my tweet. Most of them were positive. Some folks disagreed – they thought the character should look like what she looks like in the comics – but were thoughtful. And a handful were flat out racist.
I can’t respond to the racists – I’m not ever going to change their minds. But for the thoughtful majority of you out there:
For me, if a character’s primary attribute – the thing that makes them iconic – is the color of their skin, or their hair color, frankly, that character is shallow and sucks. For me, what makes MJ MJ is her alpha female playfulness, and if the actress captures that, then she’ll work. And, for the record, I think Zendaya even matches what I think of as MJ’s primary physical characteristics – she’s a tall, thin model – much more so than actresses have in the past.
Whatever the case, if we’re going to continue to make movies based on the almost all white heroes and supporting characters from the comics of the last century, we’re going to have to get used to them being more reflective of our diverse present world. Perhaps we can be open to the idea that, although someone may not initially match how we personally conceive a character, we can be – and often are – happily surprised.”
Mary Jane was played by Kirtsen Dunst in the first three ‘Spider-Man’ movies.
Just for the record, Zendaya is half-white, half-black. Even so… I mean she’s gorgeous, right? What does it even matter? This is like the racist, misogynous crap “the internet” felt free to fling at ‘Ghostbusters’. It’s one thing if the movie turns out to be crap, but it’s time for moviegoers to follow stage theater-goers, where actors of all races play characters that are traditionally depicted as being white, because of course they were!
It was a different world back in the day. It didn’t occur to comic book creators in the 60s (before and even after) to create non-white characters, because that was all they knew. But creative people today are more diverse and want to reflect their experiences.
But once again, it has NOT been confirmed that Zendaya is playing Mary Jane. She is still listed as playing a character named Michelle. So this could be much ado about nothing.
What do you think of Gunn’s comments? Are they warranted?