Perhaps Spider-Man’s most endearing quality is that he is, and will always be an underdog, even with his superpowers. He was recently described by Spider-Man comic book writer Joshua Fialkov as ‘A guy that can’t ever win’. But a recent article from salon.com is questioning Peter Parker’s underdog status.
The article on salon.com, entitled ‘America deserves better superheroes: Why a straight, white Spider-Man is no longer a real underdog’ says that a straight, white Spider-Man (aka Peter Parker) cannot be considered an underdog in today’s modern society as straight white males are the ones that run the world . In essence Peter Parker no longer represents the underclass or minorities of today.
Andrew Garfield touched on this point a year or so ago during an interview with Entertainment Weekly. Garfield said “‘What if MJ is a dude?’ Why can’t we discover that Peter is exploring his sexuality? It’s hardly even groundbreaking!…So why can’t he be gay? Why can’t he be into boys?” The same goes for Spider-Man being played by a non-white actor, in 2010 when the reboot was announced there was a huge call for Donald Glover of Community fame to play Spider-Man, whilst most recently Andrew Garfield called for Miles Morales, a black hispanic teenager to be the next Spider-Man.
The salon.com article goes on to reference every Marvel film (and some DC) saying that every single one is helmed by a white, straight, male actor. When it comes to diversity in Spider-Man you hear that Spider-Woman hasn’t even been ‘thought about’ .You also hear people say that a Wonder Woman movie, or a Black Panther movie is considered a ‘risk’ by film studios.
Now, do I think that superhero films are racist, or sexist? Not particularly, these are characters that were created a long time ago, and as such shouldn’t be changed or adapted just to avoid the possibility of appearing racist or sexist. Especially when they’re popular worldwide and loved in almost every culture, on almost every continent, despite the colour of their skin, or their gender. And isn’t that ultimately what superheroes do? They transcend all of these sub-categories of people and treat everyone like human beings rather than labelling them.
Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to see a Black Panther film, or a Wonder Woman film, but I’d love to see any film, about any comic book hero that I grew up with. I don’t want to see a Black Panther film, because Black Panther is a black hero and that’d be super-diverse of film studios. I want to see a Black Panther film because I freaking love Black Panther and think he’s awesome. The same goes for Spider-Man, I’d watch a Spider-Man mask regardless of who was behind it.
This is something that Andrew Garfield accurately sums up “I have given that thought. I think one of the amazing things about Spider-Man is that you don’t see skin color when he’s in the suit. You don’t see any religious beliefs. You don’t see any denominations. Everyone can project themselves into that suit. It’s incredibly powerful in that way. So of course I think it’s important that the openness, the casting, in terms of who could be Spider-Man, could be absolutely anyone. A hero is a hero, whether you’re a man, woman, gay, lesbian, straight, black, white or red all over — it doesn’t matter. ”
So maybe Peter Parker isn’t really an accurate representation of a true underdog anymore but does it really matter? Spider-Man still is, regardless of whether it’s a white straight male, a lesbian female, or a black transgender dwarf behind the mask. Whoever is taking on the role of Spider-Man and fighting bad-guys and saving the day is the representative of anyone that is an underdog, or anyone that has ever been an underdog, regardless of what race, colour, gender or sexual orientation that person is, even the straight white males.
And it’s because of that that there are fantastic opportunities with Spider-Man to break the traditional straight white superhero mould. There’s Miguel O’Hara or Miles Morales that could be Spider-Man and positively represent a different types of people on-screen in a superhero movie. And If Sony made the decision to introduce one of these characters, they wouldn’t be needlessly retrofitting a character to adopt to a liberal world-view and they wouldn’t be breaking canon to appease anyone. But they would be doing something truly ground-breaking.
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