Spider-Man: What’s the Opposite of White Washing?


I was watching a special on Disney XD today, “A Fan’s Guide to Spider-Man: Homecoming” when some thoughts occurred to me.

Recently a film failed at the box office, “Ghost in the Shell” and it seemed one of the primary reasons the fan base for the long running anime turned live action feature film didn’t connect with it’s audience was that white actors were cast to play roles that should have been filled by Japanese actors, or at least Oriental in some fashion. They wanted the movie to reflect the source material. They accused the film makers of “white-washing” the characters.

I’ve also noted that when the Harry Potter series was being cast, J.K. Rowling was very insistent that Warner Bros. did not cast American actors to play British characters. To date, I’ve never seen a non-British Doctor (Doctor Who) or James Bond, either. British icons appear to be off limits.
So far, including Tom Holland, we’ve had two British actors playing iconic American characters…with American accents. Can Americans speak with a believable British accent…let’s forget Kevin Costner for a minute.


Different Times, Different Rules?
Getting away from the British actors in iconic American roles, let’s take a look at the effects of the modern trend of trying to be as diverse as possible…or inclusive as it’s being called. Now, this is generally a fine idea. The world is made up of all sorts of people, and God loves them all. But I fear there might be a double standard, or at least a curiosity. I just sit and ponder these things when I look around at some movies.

Laurence Fishburne was cast to play Perry White in “Man of Steel”. Irony of course creates comedy in the character’s name, and I didn’t really bat an eye too much at the casting because who doesn’t love Mr. Fishburne. My Superman loving friends however called foul. They want the characters they see on screen to reflect the ones they’ve loved in the comics. I can understand that. I can even relate to that.

I love Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Finally an olive skinned person to play a Greek hero…an Amazon. I thought it was great…but I see others saying otherwise. Wonder Woman is supposed to be white with blue eyes. I was actually a bit surprised anyone made that comment…but I’ve seen it. Once again, I can only figure it’s because she didn’t look like her comic book counterpart. I still think she looks like what the character should look like in the comics…but that may be just me.


Are We Going to Have a Problem Here?
When Zendaya was cast in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” I said, “Who’s Zendaya?” After seeing her on this special…I can say she’s a bit annoying, actually. What part does she play in Spider-Man’s world? Michelle, a character I can only guess is based off a post “Brand New Day” character that is the sister of one of Peter Parker’s roommates that takes over her brother’s place after…well it’s a long story. The character is completely unlikable. So far from what I’ve seen of Michelle in clips…she’s completely unlikable. So…I guess I still don’t understand what Zendaya’s doing in this movie. At least she looks like her comic counterpart.

However….

Ned Leeds, a Daily Bugle reporter, has been placed as Peter Parker’s best friend, and he’s being played by Jacob Batalon. This is a different ethnicity for Ned Leeds, and is a different character type. Liz Allen, Peter’s high school crush (same grade) has gone from blonde to mixed by the lovely miss Laura Harrier. Oh…and Liz is not a senior compared to Peter and Ned’s sophomore. Flash Thompson, football hunk and bully is now a short little Italian guy played by Tony Revolori. I guess he’s not really short…but he’s the same height as Peter, and doesn’t look like a football player. I’m not feelin’ it. Betty Brant is being played by Angourie Rice, a pretty teen girl who at least looks the right age. I believe I’ve seen her in some scenes as a friend of Liz Allen’s. She’s supposed to be a high school drop out (needed to take care of her mother) who works as J. Jonah Jameson’s secretary. She meets and marries Ned Leeds. I hope at least there is some sparks between the two in this movie. You’ll also see Bokeem Woodbine as Herman Shultz/Shocker #2. Yes, you read that right “Number Two.” He’s gotten an ethnicity alteration as well, but you don’t usually see Shocker’s face anyway…so who cares?


Who Cares Indeed
Considering the mild backlash at Wonder Woman and Perry White…well let’s face it…it was very small. I only mention it to be fair, and to “consider” it. Let’s mainly look at the box office damage done by “white washing” characters in “Ghost in the Shell”. I don’t think “Wonder Woman” is suffering in the box office. Most people seem very pleased with the movie (not everyone). So…it seems “white washing” hurts a movie but “being inclusive” doesn’t. Or will “Homecoming” be damaged by all the mixed up of ethnicity? I can say that after having visited New York and seeing how diverse it is, this film seems to reflect New York. I’m a bit mixed between wanting these characters I’ve known for decades to be accurately reflected on screen and casting that makes sense on the surface.

New York diversity looks good on screen. An Aunt May that looks closer to Peter’s Parent’s age makes sense (although I’m still shaky on thinking of Ms. Tomei as elderly) but will fans accept it? The movie going fan will not blink an eye, but what about the long time comic readers? What will their response be?

I’m really just asking questions here. I bounce between excitement for a new Spider-Man movie, and wondering if they didn’t mess around with the formula too much. Sure, skipping Uncle Ben is a good idea since we know of his influence, but if they don’t at least mention it as the reason for Spider-Man being Spider-Man and not just a kid with powers….they’ve missed the point. I’ve got more questions than the Riddler.

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