Spider-Man: Homecoming began production this summer after the webslinger made an appearance in Captain America: Civil War. An online article announcing that ex-Disney Channel star Zendaya was to play the role of Mary Jane “MJ” Watson, Parker’s infamous love and valiant friend, exploded all over the internet in August. Since then, many fans have either actively shown their support for the actress of color or complained that she doesn’t have the chops to take on the role. Most of these complaints have been based solely on external features, such as the color of her hair and skin.
I can’t fathom how these arguments are plausible. Some are even claiming that because Zendaya doesn’t have natural red locks, an infamous trait of MJ, she shouldn’t portray the character. I find this ridiculous; in fact, Kirsten Dunst, the actress who played MJ in the original series, was a natural blonde. Where were the complaints then? These arguments are based solely on the fact that Zendaya is a woman of color.
Besides, this wouldn’t be the first time an iconic redhead character was portrayed by a person of color. In the CW’s The Flash and Supergirl, characters Wally and Iris West and Jimmy Olsen, are played by black actors, who don’t look anything like their counterpart comic book appearances. And yes, they still nail their roles.
If anything, Marvel is simply finally leveling the playing field, casting more people of color and allowing for ethnic representation in pop culture. It has taken initiative to cast more diverse actors in this film: most of the characters are people of color. While the rumors of Zendaya portraying MJ Watson are, well, rumors, I’m elated to see an official new representation being brought to classic characters such as Liz Allan and Flash Thompson, who are also being portrayed by people of color. Spider-Man lives in Queens, NY, and it only makes sense for a place as diverse as the Big Apple to be represented by diverse actors, too.
Racism in Hollywood is prevalent in many film and television productions. In fact, during the 2016 Oscars award show, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite trended, for all of the nominated actors where white. This showcases the racism in the film industry, something that desperately needs to be fixed. It’s important for there to be racial representation in the Hollywood industry, just as it’s important for a little girl to be able to ecstatically point at an actress like Zendaya and say “She looks like me!”
The fact of the matter is that while MJ Watson’s hair and skin color are a part of her features, they do not control her personality. Even if Zendaya isn’t cast as MJ, it is disgusting many people bombard her with racist comments and hate.
Even Stan Lee, former president and chairman of Marvel, agrees. “The color of their skin doesn’t matter, their religion doesn’t matter, all that matters is that this is the right person for the role,” stated Lee.
Director Jon Watts has officially stated that Zendaya’s character is Michelle. It is not likely that she will be playing Mary Jane, but it’s ludicrous that she had to endure such racist hate in the first place. This doesn’t only apply to the incoming Spider-Man franchise; actors of color don’t deserve to be judged by the color of their skin, but by their merit.