/Film has Amazing Spider-Man producer Avi Arad talking about the inevitability of more diverse superhero settings in cinema, which is interesting from a guy who recently turned down the idea of a Miles Morales-based Spider-Man movie flat.
To be fair, Amazing Spider-Man 2 cast Jamie Foxx in the role of Electro, a character who has always been white in the comics, and Arad’s upcoming Fantastic Four reboot will feature the Storms as a multi-racial family. But I’m not entirely certain how to feel about his statement, coming, as it does, so close to a response that completely shuts down the idea of a brown kid as Spider-Man and then dances around the actual reasons why with some lame excuses about being “true” to Peter Parker. The arguments for diversity in superhero film are as well established as the preconceptions that keep it from happening. Take the word of Brian Michael Bendis, creator of Miles Morales:
I don’t make a lot of appearances anymore, but I took my kids to a comics convention recently and this little African-American boy came up to me in his homemade Miles Morales Spider-Man costume, which are not available to purchase. You have to make them yourself. It was just about the cutest thing I’d ever seen in my life… Hopefully, whoever’s in charge of movie and media rights will realize that they’re sitting on a goldmine and that they should pursue it as quickly as possible. I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t. We made Miles because we wanted to make Miles, but once you make Miles, you realize it was kind of an obligation to make Miles. Y’know? It was the right thing to do.
The reason why studios are hesitant to cast women and people of color in the lead of superhero films is because of a highly pervasive notion that a general audience cannot relate to characters who are women and people of color, despite loads of hard evidence to the contrary. That’s the real reason why a production would be hesitant to cast Miles Morales in the lead of a Spider-Man movie. Arad doesn’t need to gloss over it by talking about how having two Spider-Mans would be a terrible writing decision. It’d only be as terrible as the writers wanted to make it. For heaven’s sake, we all know the story of a sidekick.
But lets look at what Arad said:
I think, one, we do have diversity, finally. Because when comics were written, late ’50s, early ’60s, the comic book universe, or for that matter the country, they didn’t know there were anybody but white people here. [Laughs] And they’re all white. We had a couple of black characters, which was in the Daily Bugle. The editor-in-chief is a black man. And we have some great stories between him and his son because the son is dealing with not knowing where he belongs, really. But I think we are finally becoming more of one world, and you’re going to see more and more diversity in the selection of characters. That will be — it’s about the actor, it’s about the audition. It’s not about saying, ‘Well, in the comic he was white, so he cannot be…’ You know, Nick Fury was white… It’s all going to change. I think sometimes we consciously look at it. We would love to have a superhero, we would love Marvel to create a superhero — We can create villains, but we’d love to have a Chinese superhero with something that is really interesting and how they got here, and what is their issue, and so on. But it’s coming. And it’s inevitable. It’s really inevitable. But it didn’t come naturally to comics in the days that no one was aware that there were actually other countries and other people.
I mean, there are any number small things here: Nick Fury is not a particularly strong example of racebending towards diversity, as he was black in the comics, in the same very popular alternate continuity as Miles Morales, in fact. The Fury of the Marvel Ultimate Universe was deliberately based on Samuel L. Jackson years before any whisper of Iron Man was happening, and there’s no way of knowing whether the character still would have reached movies as a black man without that direct connection to a well known actor with real cameo potential. A Chinese Marvel superhero? That’s oddly specific… why not Latino, Black, Pacific Islander or Native American (except, of course, that China is a swiftly growing market for American superhero films)? But yeah, it’s too bad that the best known Marvel superhero of Chinese descent, Jubilee, is unavailable for Sony to use due to her association with the X-Men (in whose seven movies she has yet to appear despite her longstanding relationship with their flagship protagonist, Wolverine).
I think the thing that actually bothers me about Arad’s statement is that saying that diversity in films “inevitable,” and that it’s all going to change soon or eventually glosses over all the agency he has to make those changes now. We fans, standing on the sidelines, telling Hollywood that the continued whitewashing of characters of color and lukewarm statements about female-led superhero movies will not stand; we know that diversity is “inevitable” and that the situation is changing. But if the producer of Marvel’s second longest lived film franchise has to wait for change instead of creating it, where are we expecting that change to come from? From a portal to a magical other dimension? For scientists to discover it in the Large Hadron Collider? For Stan Lee to come down from the mountain top carrying stone tablets that say “Thou shalt not for the five millionth time make up a plot reason for a cerebral villain of color to be played by a white British guy.” and “For the love of Me, put some more women in the new Star Wars.”
If you find that mountain, let me and Ari Arad know. We could really get something going here.