The last thing Spider-Man should be is another white guy

Illustration for article titled The last thing Spider-Man should be is another white guy

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?

Illustration for article titled The last thing Spider-Man should be is another 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.

Illustration for article titled The last thing Spider-Man should be is another white guy

I remember the hue and cry that was raised when the rumor floated that Will Smith was offered the role of Captain America, despite the fact that the very military drug experiments that turned Steve Rogers into a superman would've most definitely been tested on black WWII soldiers first (as Kyle Baker so expertly theorized in Truth: Red, White and Black). Now, I like Chris Evans a lot, but I'd be way more interested in a black Cap film — and, honestly, no actor alive comes across as more American than Will Smith. And, if The Avengers does borrow from the Civil War storyline, wouldn't a Will Smith-Robert Downey Jr. face-off be infinitely more interesting? The road not taken.


There is literally no facet of our lives that hasn't been made better by colorblind thinking — our armies are stronger, our sports teams are better, our children are more beautiful — why can't it extend to our on-screen superheroes?


Josh Wimmer

Goodness, some of the comments. If someone would just invent a way to harness the power of disproportionately outraged nerditude and turn it into cheap and clean electricity, we could solve global warming with a couple of io9 posts.

Here's the deal: As sacrosanct as we may like to think our stories and heroes are, they're part of that sphere of life we call "art." And one of the fundamental axioms of art is that experimentation must be allowed and ought to be encouraged. Sometimes an experiment will yield good results, and sometimes it won't.

But we can't know unless we actually go through with the experiment. What in the name of God will happen if someone makes a Spider-Man movie with a non-white Peter Parker? Here is what will happen:

(1) Some people will be outraged, which is their problem. Some people will be delighted, which is not a bad thing, as the world could use more delight. And some people won't care.

(2) The movie might be good or it might be bad, or it might be somewhere in between.

(3) They might make another movie with a non-white Peter Parker, or they might not.

(4) Nothing will explode and no one will die.

(5) Life will go on.

The point is, the notion that some ideas ought to be a priori off-limits in the realm of art is, frankly, embarrassing. When someone says, "Hey, what if we made Peter Parker black?" the immediate response should not be, "NOOOOOO!" It should be, "It'd be interesting to see if they could pull that off. And if they don't, so what? The world has survived a failed superhero movie in the past." (And yeah, the same goes for "Hey, what if we made Luke Cage white?" I think pulling that off would be a lot harder — the same way I think it'd be harder to write a novelized version of Lost than a novelized version of The Wire — because each story or character bears its own particular shape and challenges, but sure, go ahead and try.)

One final thought: When a bunch of fans react this abruptly, rejecting an idea out of hand when it's nothing more than a blog post, and not even a possibility being bandied about by studio execs, that mind-set is what scares Hollywood away from trying potentially interesting things. Some writer or director says, "Well, I was thinking of taking the character this way..." and the immediate response from the money people is, "No, audiences aren't comfortable with new ideas. Just make sure you get the catchphrases in there, give us a big fight at the end that we can CGI the hell out of, and I'll call Megan Fox's people and see if she's interested in being attached to it."