My Opinion on Zendaya as Mary Jane and Representation

Hello interweb, Nate here.  So the casting choices for Spider-man: Homecoming has became more and more clear that the main goal in said choices is to make Peter Parker’s high school as racially diverse as humanly possible in order to accurately present a modern day High School in Queens, New York City.  Because of this, an actress named Zendaya – who apparently have so far made a name for herself on the Disney Channel which I do not watch since Cartoon Network has all my favorite shows (except Miraculous Ladybug on Nick) but that’s besides the point – has been casted to play the character “Michelle” according to the Spider-man: Homecoming wikipedia page.  However apparently rumors are spreading all over the internet that the name “Michelle” is actually a cover name to hide her true character which is none other than the character Mary Jane (hence the title of this post).  Of course Zendaya is half-black and half-white – but of course since this is the internet the main priority is that she is black – and Mary Jane is 100% Caucasian so people are throwing a fit on why our white redheaded character is becoming black (wait a redheaded Caucasian becoming a black character?  This kinda sounds familiar…hmmm *cough*WallyWest*cough*).

So I really didn’t do any research in confirming or denying the credibility of Zendaya secretly playing Mary Jane but honestly that’s only partially of what I want to talk about here and even beyond that this is just a rumor so I thought I’d mainly focus in the subject of changes to specific characters with our black Mary Jane as a reference whenever necessary.  However on the subject of Mary Jane being played by a black actress, what are my opinions?  Well beyond the fact that I just happen to like redheads I really don’t care.  No seriously, I really don’t.  There’s really nothing inherently important about Mary Jane being a white redhead; and the only reason she is is because the writers wanted her to conclude the storyline where Aunt May is trying to put Peter on a blind date and Peter doesn’t want to because he’s worried Aunt May will hook him up with someone he doesn’t like only for him to find out that she’s the most attractive women he ever seen.  To achieve that, the artist basically drew Ann-Margret from Bye Bye Birdie who happens to be a white redhead herself.  So if they do follow that story line than the most important element for it is really for the actress playing her to be pretty and I’m not going to comment on that.  Honestly when it comes to changing a character’s ethnicity I care much more about it when it’s happening in the actual comics then I do when it’s happening in an adaptation.  I mean Liz Allen was Caucasian in the comics  but in the Spectacular Spider-man cartoon she was Hispanic and in Homecoming she’s being played by Laura Harrier who is black.  Also, this is confirmed casting unlike Mary Jane who is still a rumor.  So where’s the outraged over black and Hispanic Liz Allen?

Now one thing that I have been debating with myself quite recently, to the point where I have noticed a slight inconsistency on this blog (sorry about that), is whether or not diversity is really as important as people make it out to be and if so then how far do we go to achieve said diversity.  Now don’t get me wrong, as a white male I have countless characters that share my skin color and gender that I’m well represented within comics and comic book adaptations, and while I do feel like there are quite a few superheroes that are women, people of color, and sexual orientations, they’re not quite as common as those who are not.  However on the other hand, I don’t like Captain America because he is a white male I like Captain America because of what he represents.  Likewise with someone like Peter Parker, I don’t like him because he’s a white male I like him because of the idea that someone as nerdy as me could secretly be a really strong superhero capable of many feats (granted you could argue that I can relate to him more because I’m a white male but still).  And those are just characters that are similar to me on a biological level, my favorite X-Man is X-23 who is a woman and I don’t like her because she’s female I like her because of her tragic back story (seriously, read X-23: Innocence Lost) and how her character has evolved since.  My second favorite X-Men is Nightcrawler and I’m not exactly blue nor do I look like a demon.

So this does leave me torn.  On one hand I can understand why women, POC, and LGBT characters would want more representation as seeing themselves in their favorite heroes I guess makes you feel good about yourself or something, but on the other hand if you’re favorite character is your favorite character simply because they have a biological trait that you have in common with them then that seems kinda shallow to me (IE I like Superman because he’s a dude and I’m a dude).  I also understand the argument that changing established characters is more preferred to some people because making a character like Iceman gay is more well known and visible to the public than creating an original character like Wiccan and Hulkling, on the other hand having characters be established as gay from the very beginning like Wiccan and Hulking does mean that stories with LGBT representation are out there and you just need to look for them.  For LGBT characters I have made the opinion – and to an extent still hold the opinion – that you can change a character’s sexual orientation if it makes sense in the context of the story since sexual orientation isn’t exactly as public as one’s gender or ethnicity.  However at the same time, some characters just shouldn’t have their sexual orientation changed since it really makes no sense whatsoever for Peter Parker to be gay.  Even then, some people may be against a character having their sexual orientation changed if it so happens to be their favorite character.  IE I suggested once that maybe Wonder Woman could be bisexual since she lived on an island with no men until her 20’s but at the same time what if Wonder Woman is someone’s favorite character and they want her to remain straight since that’s how she has been for 70+ years?

Coming back to Zendaya as Mary Jane, I’m honestly way more flexible with non-white actors playing white characters simply because these are characters and if an actor can portray them well than their skin color shouldn’t be super important.  Will Smith playing the traditionally white Deadshot?  Sure, he did fine with the role!  Samuel L Jackson playing the traditionally white Nick Fury?  Dude that’s awesome!  Now to be completely honest with you, having white actors playing non-white characters I’m fine with to so long as not being white isn’t a huge part of the character.  The only problem with that is most non-white characters have the fact that they’re people of color as an important feature n their character.  Luke Cage, Black Panther, and Static Shock are all black, Blue Beetle is Mexican, Miles Morales is half-black half-Hispanic, etc.  Now this have gone into what people have called “white washing” which is seen as racist but honestly I feel like ethnicity is just becoming a bigger deal than it needs to be.  Like there was a controversy over the casting of Iron Fist as Danny Rand, who is a white dude, is being played by Finn Jones, a white dude, in the Netflix series but people argued that an Asian dude should play him because of his ties with Asian culture.  So we’re whitewashing a character who was white to begin with????  Also a follower of mine told me they weren’t going to see the new Doctor Strange movie because they made a Tibetan Monk a white woman (I think), and I’m not condoning them or anything since they can spend their money however they want and I’m not going to tell someone they’re wrong for spending their money that way, but it did make me scratch my head at just how seriously people take these castings and the ethnicity behind them.

Ultimately I just think that people are taking these things a tad too seriously.  Overall I’m just kinda tired of worrying about this so much.  Honestly the biggest worry I have with having the MCU Mary Jane black is that the comics will soon follow suite and make their Mary Jane black through some retcon.  Cause that has been happening a lot recently.  Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver aren’t mutants nor related to Magneto anymore, the X-Men are dying because of Fox and Marvel’s pencil measuring contest, etc.  And if Mary Jane does become black in the comics than…idk.  Fans will get all pissy with Marvel again.  Look guys can’t we just get along and stop making everything so PC and make every character’s biology such a big deal?  Anyways, that’s my 2 cents on the matter.  Bye.

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17 comments

  1. I have three thoughts about this whole thing:
    1. It is most likely just a rumor.
    2. The controversy is way overblown, but not by people who actually have a problem with the casting, but by those who really, really want to call everyone who isn’t thrilled of the notion a racist.
    3. Sometimes people are attached to a certain look for a character. I myself never accepted Daniel Craig as Bond (not suave enough), RDJ as Sherlock Holmes (not lanky enough), Toby McGuire as Peter Parker (not lithe enough), Jessica Alba as the Invisible Woman (honestly if you want to cast diverse, lay off the blond hair dye and the blue contacts), and I certainly never will. Just like I never will accept a blond Superman. This doesn’t mean that I feel that way about all characters out there, but there is a small percentage which just has to fulfil certain criteria. And if some people feel that the actress for Mary Jane needs to be able to pass as a natural red-head, I can understand that. It is, in general, pretty normal that fans dislike a specific casting, and if they feel that a latino Flash is mostly okay (though some commented but that the actor isn’t bulky enough), but feel attached to the MJ’s red hair, than it is not on someone else to insult them and make assumptions about them.

    Generally speaking I don’t want to see MJ before Peter enters college.

    1. 1. I think I mentioned this in the post but yeah it really is just a rumor at this point with no actual official confirmation.

      2. I’d like to think a bit more optimistic than that but I can’t deny that there are people who throw around the “racist” card more than they should. Heck, I got called a racist in a post because I said I didn’t like black Wally West.

      3. After reading over your third post I did realize that I am slightly hypocritical here. In a recent post I did complain that neither Grant Gustin nor Ezra Miller were blonds despite playing Barry Allen and I was critical of that but here the fact that Zendaya isn’t a redhead is just kind of an after thought. I do prefer my Mary Janes with red hair though and that could be seen as a big no no for a Mary Jane to NOT be a redhead.

      1. It doesn’t have to be logical…ie I am totally behind the idea of “hot Aunt May” mostly because I always felt that the design for her character was over the top and at this point, horrible outdated. Not even my grandmother used to dress the way Aunt May did in the comics. But I totally get that other people might feel attached to the look nevertheless and need some time to get used to something else.

  2. If the rumor is true then I’m definitely going to have a nice chuckle. I expect the whole PC thing to continue escalating to humorous levels as the years go by and eventually I fully expect all of the most popular superheroes to have some kind of twist. Blond Superman, African Batman, Male Wonder Woman, etc. I’m more opposed to switching orientations and parts of a character’s personality than I am to changing the skin color or gender. I’d rather have a female Clark Kent than a gay Clark Kent for example. Of course, I’d still rather have all of my favorite characters unchanged so I can keep my nostalgia goggles on. Switching characters that I don’t like (Daken, Doc Ock’s girl friend, etc) are okay with me though.

    1. Just out of curiosity, why are you more opposed to orientations than skin color or gender? I’m actually quite curious on that since I’m actually more willing for a character’s orientation to change than skin color or gender.

      Also, wasn’t Daken bisexual to begin with? And isn’t Anne Marie (who I’m assuming is the Dock Ock’s girlfriend you’re referring to) a little person from the start?

      Also, I so hope we don’t see Blond Superman, African Batman, Male Wonder Woman, etc. Also a male Wonder Woman doesn’t even make sense on a PC level.

      1. For the Wonder Woman part, I’m expecting our society to get so PC that people will start complaining the other way. Eventually, they’ll want to have some kind of counter so some female characters will switch their gender to appease these vocal fans. It’ll be a never ending circle at that point.

        For Dock Ock’s girlfriend, I just meant that I wouldn’t mind if they switched her character up. Like, she’s suddenly a very fit/punk high schooler who goes around beating people up and then becomes a superhero. Since Daken is already bi, I wouldn’t mind if they switch him to full gay, straight, or suddenly he just doesn’t have romantic desires for anyone.

        I feel like switching orientation changes the personality a lot more than the other aspects. If a character turns from white to black, the author will usually just add more slang or subtle vocalism changes. If a character changes gender from a guy to a girl, he’ll typically win fights easier and get a ton of hype from supporting characters. If a girl turns into a guy, she’ll probably be mocked and parodied. If a character turns from straight to gay, then it’s more of a big deal. Suddenly every conversation with another guy/girl becomes incredibly suspect because you wonder if there is something behind the speech. The classic friendship speeches that I enjoy a lot can’t also be listened too innocently anymore because the guy could be flirting or what not. I’m still shaking my head at the Iceman moment considering what a flirt he was back in the day.

        Also, skin color changes typically aren’t permanent. While it happened to Nick Fury, it was revealed that it was just an alternate version. That kind of twist usually happens when gender and skin color are involved.

      2. Ah that makes sense. Yeah in my opinion Iceman was horribly done. Not necessarily because of his womanizing personality but mainly because I red through Bendis’s entire All-New X-Men run and it literally came out of nowhere. It was basically like him saying “By the way everyone: Iceman’s gay!” with no build up or explanation whatsoever. If you were to do something like change a character’s orientation than you need some build up or explanation so it doesn’t just come out of left field. However I do understand that that might change previous interractions a bit. Like now all of Iceman’s previous relationships just come off as him lying about findinf them attractive. Although that does unfortunately happen in real life it could make the character come off as a jerk if not done properly.

        Also, I don’t want Daken gay or straight. He’s a cool bi character. I’m like 3 issues into his Dark Wolverine story and I’m loving it.

      3. Plus, the original authors of Iceman definitely created him as straight. This new twist literally came out of nowhere and they just changed a character to make him more PC. As a result, I just like to think of All-New-X-Men as not canon.

        Ah, cool. I never liked Daken myself, but I’m glad you’re enjoying the run.

      4. Right, there are other characters that would’ve been better if they decided to do that. Like Magyk being gay is more believable then Iceman.
        Also I find it funny that I like Daken and X-23 but not Wolverine.

      5. Wolverine’s probably gotten too much exposure by this point. I like him a lot because of the cartoon and the classic comics, but his character has been watered down a lot in his various titles over the years and modern comics. X-23’s always been awesome though. I’ve never read a comic where she was bad.

  3. To be honest, when I heard the rumors that Zendaya was going to play Mary Jane Watson I was a little sad. Not at all about a black woman playing Mary Jane, I think that Zendaya will do an excellent job playing the role and that is what casting and acting should all be about. The reason why I was a little sad about the news was because we’ve already seen Mary Jane on screen. I wanted a different female co-star role and I think Zendaya could have fulfilled many other strong female roles perfectly. I do understand that Mary Jane and Spider-man are like two peas in a pod, but still I wanted to see some of the other Spider-man women. I would especially like to see some characters from the Spider-man mini series Learning to Crawl as it has Vulture as a villain which Homecoming also has. More importantly I would want to see how it is played out in the comic that Peter could have some nerd friends but his acts as Spider-man get in the way, diving deeper into Peter’s outsider-ness. Shunned by the cool kids and outed by the nerds. Yet at the same time, I don’t want that sad story to happen to Tom Holland Spider-man because I like him too much and I couldn’t want to see him socially suffer like that. So I’m torn.

    Either way I’m excited to see another Zendaya role, I know that whoever she plays she will be spectacular and amazing (Spidey pun)!

    1. Zendaya could’ve played Liz Allen and that could’ve been the love interest. After all, Liz Allen was Hispanic in the Spectacular Spider-man cartoon so she could be black here (and technically she is black here but you get my point).

      1. My only beef with changing character ethnicity is with Flash Thomson. Flash is suppose to be an all American guy who is a big, tall, muscular football player. Tony Revolori does not look like that to me. I have not seen him in anything but he does not look like the role of Flash, especially as Flash is suppose to be a very physical guy so his physical characteristics are important. I just do not see Peter being afraid of him. I will withhold any more judgement until I see the trailer and the movie though.

  4. To be honest I don’t care about the casting as long the actress is good. Plus she can dye her hair you know. If they change the way Mary Jane looks in the comics to reflect the movie than I will have a problem. You change things for the adaptation but don’t touch the source material.

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