Posted on Monday, August 22nd, 2016 by Ethan Anderton
Even though director James Gunn has a comfortable home at Marvel Studios after directing Guardians of the Galaxy and the forthcoming sequel, he has no involvement with Spider-Man: Homecoming. However, Gunn takes it upon himself now and then to keep the rumor mill controlled and comic book fan rage in check.
So when a rumor recently pegged black actress Zendaya as playing the traditionally white, redhead character of Mary Jane Watson in Spider-Man: Homecoming, the sadly unsurprising anger at this casting decision prompted James Gunn to respond. Find out what James Gunn had to say about the Spider-Man Homecoming Mary Jane casting controversy after the jump.
Here’s the thoughtful response that James Gunn posted to Facebook:
“People get upset when something they consider intrinsic to a comic book character changes when adapted for a film. I get this. There are movies I dislike because I think there’s a basic misunderstanding of the story or the character when the comic is transferred to film (I still hate how in the first Batman movie the Joker was revealed as the murderer of Bruce Wayne’s parents, for instance.)
That said, I do not believe a character is the color of his or her skin. When Michael B Jordan was cast as Johnny Storm I didn’t understand the uproar. The primary characteristic of Johnny was not, to me, that he was white, or that he had blonde hair, but that he was a fiery, funny, big-mouthed braggart of a hero. I was happy that he was going to be played by one of the finest and most charming young actors out there.
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. (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.)
I got a thousand or so responses to my tweet. Most of them were positive. Some folks disagreed – they thought the character should look like what she looks like in the comics – but were thoughtful. And a handful were flat out racist.
I can’t respond to the racists – I’m not ever going to change their minds. But for the thoughtful majority of you out there:
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. 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.
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. Perhaps we can be open to the idea that, although someone may not initially match how we personally conceive a character, we can be – and often are – happily surprised.”
Gunn is 100% right in his assessment of casting comic book roles for movies and TV shows. While I don’t necessarily think that a character who is defined by iconic physical trait is inherently shallow and wrong, unless there’s a trait that is integral to that character’s personality, dynamic or place in the story, any changes in those characteristics don’t matter.
The important thing in casting roles for comic book movies is that that the talent in question stays faithful to the spirit of the character. Mary Jane Watson is a strong, playful female character with a lot of charisma and a feisty attitude. If Zendaya can pull that off successfully, then I don’t care about the color of her skin or the color of her hair.
What’s most interesting to me when these controversies break out is that it only seems to matter with certain characters. There was no uproar when Laurence Fishburne was cast as Perry White in Man of Steel or when Will Smith was cast as Deadshot in Suicide Squad. So how do some of these angry fans determine when to be frustrated by these kind of decisions? If you’re going to be angry about something that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, at least be consistent about it. Everyone just needs to chill out.Cool Posts From Around the Web: