The changing of races and genders in superhero films is something new that Hollywood has been recently experimenting with in greater numbers. While many dedicated comic book fans get upset when their childhood hero is portrayed differently onscreen, the changing of the role opens up opportunities to many other diverse actors.
This may, however, still be a touchy subject, as the industry has been accused of whitewashing roles (like The Ancient One in “Doctor Strange,” for a recent example), but it also stirs up controversy when it’s the other way around.
This week, rumors surfaced that the upcoming “Spider-Man: Homecoming” film had cast Zendaya to play the role of Mary Jane Watson — a character that is traditionally portrayed as white. Now, the singer and actress herself is half black and half white, but that didn’t stop people online from criticizing the news.
Her role hasn’t been confirmed by the studios, though “Guardians of the Galaxy” helmer James Gunn weighed in on the controversy and fired back at critics who were upset by the news.
“I do not believe a character is the color of his or her skin,” Gunn stated in a lengthy Facebook post. “Yesterday, a rumor broke out that the character of Mary Jane was being played by a young black woman, Zendaya, and all hell broke out on the Internet (again). I tweeted that if people find themselves complaining about Mary Jane’s ethnicity they have lives that are too good.”
The filmmaker did note that he was speaking hypothetically about Zendaya since he does not know which role she will play.
“For those of you who think this means I’m confirming that Zendaya IS playing MJ, realize that although I’ve read the Spidey script, and I’ve met the actress in question, I have no idea what her role is. There’s a good chance someone told me at one time or another, but, if so, I can’t remember. I’m going to find out when I go into Marvel this afternoon, but I feel free to speak until that time because it’s about the concept about a black woman playing Mary Jane, not the actuality or hypothesis of it,” he wrote.
“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,” he continued. “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.”
He added that he might not be able to change people’s minds, but changing the race of characters is important so that it can reflect our current society.
“Whatever the case, if we’re going to continue to make movies based on the almost all white heroes and supporting characters from the comics of the last century, we’re going to have to get used to them being more reflective of our diverse present world,” he wrote.
Read his full post below: