Spider-Man & the importance of race

Probably the most appropriate use of this image outside of marketing...ever.

Spider-Man is the greatest superhero to have ever been imagined. You might not agree, but that would make you wrong. We should not dwell on that disagreement. We should instead focus on the fact that Spider-Man and his life as Peter Parker make him such an intriguing character that Sony is willing to reboot the movie franchise despite Spider-Man 3’s more than excellent job in terms of disappointing people. Why not discard the old and move forward with the new?

Marc Bernardin, one of the more interesting contributors to the io9 blog, posted a rant about the preliminary casting for Peter Parker in the upcoming movie. He asks a great question: “In this day and age, why does Spidey have to be a white guy?” The only good response is to point out that the character has been white for the last 48 years. The only exception is Miguel O’Hara from Spider-Man 2099, who is part Mexican. Seeing as most people are not even aware that O’Hara exists (here’s to praying for his appearance in the Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions game), that is not quite enough.

Spider-Man 2099 would make for a great animated series, especially since his costume is less busy (and easier to animate) than classic Spidey's.

A good question to ask is what makes Peter Parker/Spider-Man the character he is? Here are the qualifiers for the proper 616 Spidey:

  • Nerd/genius-level intellect
  • Outsider status in high school and college
  • Down on his luck but somehow dates super attractive women
  • Perpetually broke
  • Raised by aunt and uncle in Queens, NY
  • Learned an important lesson about power and responsibility from Uncle Ben’s death
  • Aunt May is the only constant in his life
  • Worked at Daily Bugle taking photos of himself
  • Uses wits more often than fists to defeat foes
  • Cracks wise when fighting to deal with the fact that his life is always in danger
  • Wacky science fiction plots surround his life, inclusive of: a radioactive spider that gave him powers, far too many clones, an alien symbiote that wanted to be his clothes, and many of his foes are experiments gone wrong

Those are all of the necessary elements for creating a proper Peter Parker. None of those preclude him from being non-white. He does not even necessarily have to be American, but that is something I might say should stay the same. Otherwise I do not see why he cannot be a little black boy from Queens. Heck, maybe even a little Chinese boy from Queens.

I guess what I am saying is that if you have everything else right, his race should not matter. It has never been integral to his character. He is not the Wakandan prince Black Panther, the Kenyan princess’ daughter Storm, or the Nazi interned Jewish Magneto. His race never informed his character. His experiences did.

Peter Parker has always been white, but why? I imagine that if they cast a non-white teen for the role there would be an uproar. It would be unpleasant at first because people would argue the preservation of his race for no good reason and come across as potentially racist, but following that there might be some sort of open dialog. Why must our iconic heroes in America be white? What is more important, the race of the character or the lessons he teaches us through his trials and tribulations? Why must we cling to the superficial elements?

Just food for thought. I am absolutely certain the next Spider-Man will be white. Not even a mixed white. He will be monoracial. Spidey for the next decade will remain the same in all incarnations, unless Spider-Man 2099 is revisited. His being white is not a bad thing. The adamant stance people take when it comes to their childhood icons is.

In the event that a non-white is ever chosen for the role of Parker, I would hope that we could avoid the race topic altogether and get to what really matters - how much better this guy is than Tobey Maguire.

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About Gospel X

I am a major mediaphile as well as a social researcher. My ultimate belief is that the media can be used to teach children prosocial behaviors and teach adults how to access paradigms. And I think that Mega Man is an amazing example of proteanism. Add me on Google : https://plus.google.com/u/0/113795848855477334599

Posted on May 31, 2010, in comics, culture, movies, Spider-Man. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. # Down on his luck but somehow dates super attractive women# Perpetually broke# Raised by aunt and uncle in Queens, NY# Learned an important lesson about power and responsibility from Uncle Ben’s death# Aunt May is the only constant in his lifeCertainly sounds like a little black boy from Queens to me.

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