I just watched the new Spiderman movie, and I loved it. For one thing, unlike the past films, the plot of Spider-Man: Homecoming centers on Peter Parker’s actual development into what a hero should be—complete with his failures, struggles, and actual character development beyond a romance. (What? That’s possible?) In all honesty, though, that’s really only the least of my reasons for enjoying the movie as much as I did. What really struck me about the film was the incredibly diverse cast of characters and the actors assigned to play them.
But before I get started on all that—why does it matter so much? Part of what makes stories in general so compelling is their relatability. When we can identify ourselves in a character on-screen, we feel all the more deeply with them and root all the more passionately for them. More than that, we learn from them. When we find ourselves in the characters, what they do can serve to inspire us to be heroes, to be better than the demons that drive them…and that is why representation is so important.
So many of the stories told nowadays center on the straight, white, healthy man. (Don’t believe me? Check out this Q and A on gender representation) Where are the tales for us? The women, the queer, the disabled, the people of color? How can we find our own selves in a culture that is not our own?
We can’t, and so the world suffers; we remain distanced from the stories they tell, and the world at large learns nothing of us other than exaggerated stereotypes. Marvel’s newest addition to its cinematic universe is helping to change that.
The cast of Spider-Man: Homecoming
Spider-Man: Homecoming has shattered so many boundaries through its casting decisions alone. For example, for Flash Thompson, rather than casting the white jock type of persona normally portrayed in the comics, the studio chose to cast Tony Revolori, an actor of Guatemalan descent. The character has also been reinvented as well. Instead of being no more than a brute, MCU’s Flash is, like Peter Parker, an intellectual (he’s actually part of the decathlon team). He uses his money and influence to embarrass Peter, a form of bullying more common nowadays than physical shoving around.
Another case in point: Liz, Peter’s love interest in the film, and Michelle, one of his other decathlon teammates, are of mixed race. I think it’s especially amazing that not only are they not white-washing the love interest, but they’re actively showing Liz’s heritage—her Caucasian father opens the door, her African-American mother bustles in to take pictures…these are things very few big industries showcase because, somehow, there are people that still find mixed race coupled offensive. Personality-wise, Liz heads the decathlon team and genuinely cares for all the members. She even reads a few coaching books and listens to TED talks to ensure she can help their group do the best they can during the competition. Michelle, on the other hand, keeps mostly to herself. She’s snarky, observant, and has a unique perspective on things. She isn’t much of a main player in the story, but trust me, she’s an awesome character.
Oh, and for those of you not yet aware, Peter’s best friend Ned is Filipino-American. It blew my mind when I saw this. Why? Because even though OFWs are pretty common, especially in America, we rarely have any presence in mainstream media other than occasional mentions. If you’re wondering what Ned is like: he’s a geek into Star Wars and building Lego models. He also helps Peter later on by being his “guy in the chair” (the one who sit back at HQ and updates the hero on locations, directions, etc. through computers and the like).
So why am I giving you a run-down of these characters? They’re just like any other person. That’s just it—they’re ordinary people. They’re complex, each with interests, with styles and personalities, and their skin color is just another attribute. Too often, minorities get relegated to stereotypical roles, the same regurgitated cardboard template, as if all of us of one race were identical. Spider-Man: Homecoming revokes that ideal. No matter our race, our gender, our interests…we can be anything. We can be bullies, DJs, sporty, and members of the decathlon team, like Flash. We can be quirky, cool, and geniuses, like Michelle. We can be beautiful, kind, intelligent, and dedicated leaders, like Liz. We can be nerds, geeks, and still be a hero in our own right, like Ned.
Thank you, Marvel Studios, for giving children of color a definite way to see themselves in your movie. Thank you for giving girls a sign that girls can kick ass at science, no matter what people say. Thank you, because your representation is more important than you know, and because—one day, if you keep doing what you’re doing, if more big names follow suit…maybe articles like mine won’t be necessary.