Some Marvel fans aren’t happy about actress Zendaya as Mary Jane Watson in the next Spider-Man movie. Comic writer Dan Slott, however, has an answer for them. Thursday and Friday he spent some time explaining to all who would listen why casting a non-white actor for a previously-white role is different from casting a white actor for a previously non-white role, how characters’ identities are tied to, and separated from race, why Spider-Man’s history in particular leaves room for interpretation, and what he thinks of a hero who has to be white.
Captian White Privilege
Metro reported on some of the negative responses to Zendaya being cast as Mary Jane. Most of it is reminiscent of the time Fox News’ Megyn Kelly said the same about Santa, saying “Santa just is white. He is.” (Video below via TopRisingNews)
That was the general argument regarding Mary Jane, too.
“She’s white. She just is. She always has been Stick to the story.”
Slott, who writes for Marvel, called the argument out when Twitter users made it in response to his lauding the casting of Zendaya, pointing out that viewers are willing to overlook other matters of canon.
Viewers disagreed vehemently, tweeting back that it’s important for Mary Jane to be a redhead, that her race is essential to her character, and that changing the racial background of a character is problematic in a way that a change of storyline is not.
Not only did Slott come back against this, he also suggested that Peter Parker’s race would be equally changeable.
“There’s nothing about Peter Parker or Mary Jane that HAS to be white.”
What about other characters, fans queried. Could Luke Cage be made a white man? Could other characters of various backgrounds be made white? Wouldn’t that be fair?
No, Slott explained. Though he argued that Mary Jane and Peter do not have identities tied to race or heritage, that doesn’t mean characters’ race can’t matter — only that it doesn’t matter for those two.
He also suggested a Tumblr post that used chocolate-covered raisins as an analogy to explain why casting white characters with minority actors is different from the reverse. (In short, there are loads of white characters and a few major characters who are non-white, so changing one minority to the minority is a much bigger change, in context, than vice versa.)
Yes. A brand new character I *just* made up right now.
Captain White Privilege.
Friday afternoon, Director James Gunn refused to confirm that Zendaya is, in fact, cast as Mary Jane, saying he wouldn’t know until he got into the studio later that day, but he did express an opinion on changing races of characters.
“For me, if a character’s primary attribute — the thing that makes them iconic — is the color of their skin, or their hair color, frankly, that character is shallow and sucks. For me, what makes MJ MJ is her alpha female playfulness, and if the actress captures that, then she’ll work. And, for the record, I think Zendaya even matches what I think of as MJ’s primary physical characteristics — she’s a tall, thin model — much more so than actresses have in the past.”
Zendaya herself hasn’t openly addressed the controversy but has spoken before about how racism affects POC in acting.
Casting Zendaya as Mary Jane might not suit a few viewers, but it’s clear the people who decide how the characters are presented don’t see any problem.