Holding Out For A (Black) Hero
I’ve liked Spider-Man for as long as I can remember. That’s not even an exaggeration; while I know I went to see the original Sam Raimi Spider-Man in theaters I have no memory of it. My earliest memories of Spider-Man are me already having Spidey shoes, backpacks, folders, toys, and stickers. I would go into my local comic book store and pick up a bunch of old 99-cent Spectacular Spider-Man comics. My love for the character is deep and even deeper is my love for the concept of the character.
Peter Parker was my first Spider-Man. To some people he’s the only Spider-Man. I was one of those people until one fateful day in 2011 when I found out that there was going to be a new Spider-Man in the Ultimate Marvel Universe. Enter: Miles Morales, the half black half Puerto Rican thirteen year old who would be taking over the mantle of Spider-Man. As someone who is racially black and ethnically Puerto Rican I couldn’t have been more excited. It would have been enough for me to have a Spider-Man that looked like me, but it was one step further to have a Spider-Man that looked like me and was raised in the same culture as me. Finding out Miles Morales was going to be Spider-Man is one of the best moments of my life.
That was in 2011. In 2011 I was 13 years old and just starting some of the most stressful years of my life. The character that got me through those times continued to be Spider-Man and I desperately wanted there to be a live action adaptation of Miles Morales. I liked Peter Parker fine enough and Andrew Garfield in the Amazing Spider-Man movie was a fun adaptation of the character. Still I would have preferred Miles Morales over Peter Parker anyday. Throughout high school, as I read and learned more about the Marvel Universe I realized I would have taken any of the other “Spider-People” over Peter Parker. Jessica Drew, Anya Corazon, Kaine, and every other unlucky soul in the Marvel multiverse that was imbued with Spider-like powers and costume design. At the top of that list, though, was Miles Morales. Every kid wanted to be Spider-Man and because of Miles I finally was.
Fast forward to July 6th, 2017. I had tickets to see Spider-Man: Homecoming and I was more than a little excited. Throughout the movie I was laughing, smiling, and enjoying every little easter egg they had for the fans of comics. I had a great time watching that movie and everything about that movie was done right. So imagine my confusion when I came out of the movie feeling disappointed. When I came out of the movie with my sister I talked to her about my feelings on the movie and that quickly turned into me passionately talking about the entire Marvel universe and the other versions of Spider-Man. I didn’t realize it at the time but this was the answer to why I was disappointed with the movie. There was nothing wrong with the movie, it’s a fantastic movie and an excellent adaptation of the character and comics. I was disappointed because this isn’t my Spider-Man.
Sure, Peter Parker was the first Spider-Man I ever knew and that means a lot to me. His Ultimate Comics personality and identity was perfectly translated to the big screen and for that I’m thankful to Marvel and the team behind this movie. It feels weird to dislike this movie when I know that everything about it is great and appeals to me. Still, that’s how I feel and it’s because I’m tired of this pasty white boy being Spider-Man. On some level I hate and resent Peter Parker as a character. As a concept he’s brilliant and I will always respect the dichotomy between Peter and Spidey. As a character however, I want nothing more than to see Tom Holland’s Spider-Man recreate that soul crushing panel from The Death of Spider-Man. It’s nothing personal against Tom, I’m glad he’s Peter Parker and I’m even more glad that he has Zendaya to groom him to be an unproblematic white boy. But let me reiterate: I want nothing more than to see Zendaya (acting) holding Tom Holland’s (acting) lifeless body as Marisa Tomei (acting) cries behind them.
It’s the same way I desperately want Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers to die brutally or magically get super old so that Anthony Mackies’ Sam Wilson can take the mantle of Captain America. The way I want Grant Gustin’s Barry Allen to go into the speed force forever so Keiynan Lonsdale’s Wally West can take the mantle of the Flash. The way I want Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark to go into a weird pseudo death coma so that the MCU can introduce Riri Williams and have her become Iron Heart.
Yes, we’re getting Black Panther and that’s incredible. Having our own original black characters is important and great, I get that, I really do. And despite me understanding that there’s a part of me that thinks it’s incredibly badass for a black person to take over the role of a previously white character. Comic books are an old medium that thrived during extremely racist times. It would be nice to do a little course correction and do color-blind casting or at least implement the legacy characters of color that exist in the comics. I may be waiting for some black characters to make their big screen debut but there’s so many more characters of color that deserve this exposure too. I’m talking about Cindy Moon AKA Silk, Kamala Khan AKA Ms. Marvel, America Chavez AKA Ms. America, Amadeus Cho AKA Hulk, Sam Alexander AKA Nova, and that’s just Marvel! The DC Universe has Tim Drake AKA Robin, Cassandra Cain AKA Batgirl, Jaime Reyes AKA Blue Beetle, Ryan Choi AKA the Atom, Renee Montoya (sometimes AKA the Question) and many more!
With this incredible lineup of characters of color I shouldn’t have to look at the cast of superhero movies and not be sure if I accidentally stumbled into a cracker barrel. The lack of diversity issue isn’t exclusive to superhero movies, but it’s especially hurtful when there’s ample source material that the studios could take from that feature characters of color. The fact that we got Doctor Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy before Black Panther is proof that we need something to change. Black characters and characters of color exist and have always stood out to audiences, so there’s so excuse for them to not be featured in movies. We’ve been waiting for a long time and I’m tired of waiting. Being disappointed in an incredible movie for my favorite superhero was the last straw. I’m not going to make excuses for Marvel or DC anymore. I’m going to demand for characters of color to get their time on the big screen until they get equal treatment.