Film Forward

This Director Thinks That Zendaya — A Woman Of Color — Could Nail This ‘Iconic’ Role In The Next Spider-Man Movie

It’s about talent, not skin color

The Wrap recently reported that actress Zendaya will be playing Mary Jane Watson in the 2017 film, Spider-Man: Homecoming. The reboot will feature Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, and also star Robert Downey Jr., Michael Keaton, and Marisa Tomei. 

Prior to the report, it was unclear which role Zendaya would play  — and she and Marvel have yet to confirm the news — but that didn't stop some fans from getting upset that a woman of color could play a traditionally White female lead. In the comics, Spidey's love interest is a White redhead, who was also portrayed onscreen by Kirsten Dunst in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films from 2002-2007. 

While there were racist comments made about Zendaya's casting, others took a more thoughtful approach in expressing their concerns about the movie staying true to the source material. Relating to these more carefully constructed concerns was Marvel director James Gunn. The man behind Guardians of the Galaxy wrote on Facebook, "People get upset when something they consider intrinsic to a comic book character changes when adapted for a film. I get this."

An avid fanboy himself, he said he understood how people might think a bad casting could take away from the character, saying, "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." However, he did not feel this was the case with Zendaya and further stated that a character cannot be boiled down to their skin color.

Pointing to Michael B. Jordan's casting as Johnny Storm/The Human Torch in the recent Fantastic Four movie, Gunn stated that he was able to capture the character traits of being "fiery, funny," and "big-mouthed." It was not about being a blond, White man. It was about the actor or actress maintaining the "primary attributes," which makes the character "iconic." In terms of Mary Jane, he feels Zendaya could perfectly capture her "alpha female playfulness."

Most importantly, he felt that Zendaya's casting is "reflective of our diverse present world," and we may be "happily surprised" at the job that she could do. You can read his full post below, which has been shared nearly 3,000 times.

Spider-Man comic book writer Dan Slott echoed many of the same sentiments as Gunn. Slott tweeted that "heroes and great characters come in every color and they are here for EVERYONE. There's nothing about Peter Parker or Mary Jane that HAS to be white."

If confirmed, Zendaya's casting would not be the first time that a comic book character has had their sex or race changed in print or on the screen. In the 2011 Ultimate Fallout comic book, a Black and Latino teenager named Miles Morales was introduced who dons the Spidey outfit. More recently, Iron Man writer Brian Michael Bendis disclosed that, moving forward, the titular character of his series would be a woman of color named RiRi Williams

Slott also pointed to other characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe who have seen their race changed in the film adaptations, such as Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson, and Heimdall in the Thor movies, played by Idris Elba. 

Although their races might have changed, fans can still relate and see themselves reflected in the new "original characters."


Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.