No doubt you’ve all heard the recent news that Zendaya has apparently been cast as Mary Jane Watson in the newest incarnation of Spiderman within the MCU. So I’m pretty sure you’re all aware that many comic fans were very angry at the idea of a black Mary Jane and this raises a big question…is there anything inherently wrong with changing the race of fictional characters and why is it such a big deal in the first place?
This is not an issue purely rooted within comic characters; recently we’ve seen people have problems with the idea of Idris Elba playing James Bond and NomaDumezwini as Hermione Granger on stage in the West End show, “Harry Potter and The Cursed Child”. Now let’s take the James Bond issue first…
James Bond in lore a half Scottish, half Swiss man, who was educated at Eton. Now if we are to assume that the movies will obey original literary lore, therefore it does make sense to be somewhat disagreeable to the idea of James Bond being played by a black man. Quite simply that lore does not make sense to align with that portrayal. Yet that is not usually the argument put forth by those who don’t want to see a black 007. This is a situation where there is indeed justification to not change the race because it is built into the character’s lore, if you change it you must also change the lore and drastically at that.
Now onto the issue of Hermione, the most amusing thing about this entire situation is that fact that the initial description we’re given of her is completely racially ambiguous yet most of us assumed as a child and adults helped along by the film portrayal by Emma Watson that Hermione is white. The description is that she has, “bushy brown hair” and brown eyes; now why could that not describe a black or dual heritage girl? In fact, J.K Rowling stated herself, “Canon: brown eyes, frizzy hair and very clever. White skin was never specified. Rowling loves black Hermione” so with that we mortals should undoubtedly be silenced, Canon has been revealed by the creator herself.
Let us move past the more mainstream characters to the root of the issue, though, or at least as I see it. Many of the comic characters we love and grew up with were made during an era where segregation was alive and kicking. The idea of a black hero or brown heroine was absurd. This did not mean they did not exist, simply they were very unknown or it was a great struggle to get one in print. In fact even once we began to get more black comic characters such as Luke Cage and Falcon even then they obeyed certain racial stereotypes of being ghetto heroes with roots as gangbangers and hustlers.
Point being that growing up as a young black child I saw no superheroes I could pretend to be because none looked like me which would explain initially my big draw to Black Panther and Blade both of whom my father introduced me to for a very good reason. Now imagine the struggle of a young Indian child or Chinese child, or Maori child…you get the point.
We now live in an age where comic movies are the biggest movies ever, and I have news for you. They are not for us.
Let me explain, they are not for us in this context, they are not our introduction to the world of comics and super-people. We are simply happy to see our childhood on the big screen but these movies are going to serve as the introduction of that world to little children the world over much like the 90’s Marvel and DC cartoons were for us, or the comics themselves were for those before us. The point is that in this hopefully more open minded and closer world children should be able to see themselves in fiction so much more easier, there should be a greater balance.
A little black girl should be able to see herself as Spiderman’s girlfriend. What’s wrong with that? Spiderman is based in Queens but yet his entire supporting cast is white, how is that realistic? Plus being white was never core to Mary Jane’s character, her lore is not based upon that one fact. Which brings me to this…those who’d debate and contend my opinion here, “What if we made Black Panther white? You’d complain then…” Well here is the point…Black Panther’s race is core to his character, he is from the only nation in all of Africa to never be invaded during all the centuries of Europe’s inroads to the continent, so how on earth could he be white? It would make no sense to just change his race, it is a core and important part of his character, it shapes his perspective on the world outside of Wakanda and how he deals with other characters from certain villains like Doctor Doom to the other Avengers.
The point is guys, stop complaining. Your life will not be effected by seeing a black Mary Jane, a white female Ancient One, or a young black woman called Ri-Ri who has managed to build an Iron Man armour becoming Ironheart or a young Muslim woman becoming Captain Marvel. It will however have a subtle yet profound effect on some child somewhere in the world, you have so many heroes and she-roes, give others a couple too.
Oh and by the way, you do have what essentially amounts to a white Black Panther by the way, it’s T’challa’s adopted white brother Hunter who goes on to become the anti-hero White Wolf and the leader of the Hatut Zeraze, the Wakandan secret police…no shade though.