How Spider-Man: No Way Home Lets Filipino Americans Shine

Warning: There are spoilers for "Spider-Man: No Way Home" throughout this article. Proceed with caution.

There are a ton of moments in "Spider-Man: No Way Home" that could cause someone to verbally express their excitement in the theater. You may be in awe of the returning stars from past films. The shock of seeing Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock in the MCU on the big screen might be a delightful surprise. Or maybe you were reduced to a puddle of tears during Aunt May's final moments at the hands of the Green Goblin.

But for myself and numerous Filipino/Filipino American fans that watched Jon Watts' epic web-slinging crossover, there was another moment that really hit us right in the feels. And it was all because of a grandmother that wanted a clean ceiling.

With A Little Help From My Friends

After Peter Parker gives Doctor Strange's box to Ned and MJ for safekeeping, the soon-to-be Midtown School of Science and Technology grads find sanctuary at Ned's grandmother's house. While sitting at the dining room table, Ned plays around with Strange's sling ring, which was taken from the former Sorcerer Supreme during his battle in the Mirror Dimension with Spider-Man. He discovers that he has a natural affinity for magic and accidentally conjures a portal, thinking that it would lead them to their friend Peter. And it does ... sort of.

That's when Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire's Spider-Men enter the fray. But before getting to the superhero part of their journey, there's a great moment where Ned's Lola (which is grandmother in Tagalog) asks Garfield's Spidey to clean the cobwebs from her ceiling. To prove to Ned and MJ that he's Spider-Man (and to be helpful to Lola), he jumps up onto the ceiling and obliges. Later, Maguire makes a mess and says, "Sorry, Lola." For the most part, as Lola (who is played by Mary Rivera) speaks in Tagalog, Ned translates for everyone. And by everyone, I mean the people in the room and the audience sitting in the theater because there are no subtitles used in this scene.

This scene happened pretty quickly and many will probably only remember it for Tobey and Andrew making their MCU multiversal entrances, but I found this scene to be incredibly meaningful. To my knowledge, no other major Hollywood movies have normalized Filipinos and their native language of Tagalog like this before. Rachel Bloom's musical CW series "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" did it recently thanks to the show's romantic male lead Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III), Father Brah (Rene Gube), and a number of Filipino guest stars including Lea Salonga, but that was on TV. It didn't have enough eyes on it to break box office records with a $253 million opening weekend like "Spider-Man: No Way Home."

Representation Is Important

Regardless of which screen you're seeing it on, this kind of representation is so important. Growing up, I very rarely saw Asians or Asian Americans in the media I consumed, let alone Filipinos, unless the show took place in a hospital or was some kind of talent competition like "American Idol" or "America's Best Dance Crew." Even in martial arts shows or movies, the Asian performers played back up to a non-Asian lead most of the time. Veteran Filipino performers like Ernie Reyes Jr., Phoebe Cates, Tia Carrere, and Dante Basco held it down for so many years to pave the way for the next generation. But in most instances, they were cast in non-Asian roles. I mean, Lou Diamond Phillips is probably best known for playing Ritchie Valens in the 1987 biopic "La Bamba" or Jaime Escalante's gangster student in "Stand and Deliver." He didn't actually get to play a Filipino character onscreen until much, much later in his career.

Even though Filipinos have been a part of American history since 1587, and part of Hollywood history since before the first studio was built, you would never know it based on the films and TV shows produced here. I believe there's even a connection between Filipinos and one of the worst Asian male stereotypes perpetuated in this country. If I remember my Filipino Sociology Class from college correctly, Filipinos would work on the railroads in or near Hollywood by day and visit the dance halls at night. Because of their sharp suits and killer dance moves, they would attract many of the white women who came with the white studio executives. Angry that these Filipino railway workers were "stealing their women," these execs and their fragile egos would put jokes about Asians in their scripts, like the ones about Asian men having small penises. (Honestly, this could be one of Hollywood's many myths and legends, but it sounds right, doesn't it?)

But fast forward to today. Aside from "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," you have a tons of projects featuring and even starring Filipinos like Dave Bautista, Hailee Steinfeld, Jo Koy, Darren Criss, Olivia Rodrigo, Manny Jacinto, Eugene Cordero, and Vanessa Hudgens. They even get to play Filipino characters! But on a more personal note, Jacob Batalon in "Spider-Man: No Way Home" is the most seen I've ever felt in a movie theater.

Maraming Salamat Po

If you look at my headshot here on the site, you can tell that I'm a husky Filipino guy. And my bio will tell you that I'm a longtime Marvel Comics fan. But it won't tell you that one of my best friends thought I was a "jalapeƱo" because he didn't know that Filipino was a nationality. It also won't tell you that I had friends who wouldn't let me be certain characters when we played pretend because I was too fat or Asian. One of those characters was Spider-Man.

So for years, I wished for an Asian Spider-Hero. We eventually got one from Marvel Comics in 2014 in the form of Cindy Moon AKA Silk, Peter Parker's Korean American classmate that was bitten by the same radioactive spider as him. But this came well after my time playing pretend on my parents' front lawn with my friends, so though I am a fan of Silk and am stoked that she exists, it didn't affect me the same way as when I fist saw Ned Leeds in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Unlike his comic book counterpart, Batalon's Leeds is a main character in MCU Spidey's story. Ned is a loyal friend that has been by Peter's side since practically the beginning. He's the guy in the chair, but he's also dating a pretty classmate on a trip through Europe. He's funny, but he's not just there for comedic relief and the jokes aren't about his weight. Plus, he's proud enough of his Filipino heritage that he's not embarrassed by his Lola speaking Tagalog in front of company and having to translate for her. Characters like this exist throughout film and television, but Ned might be the first one that's Filipino. And by portraying Ned Leeds, Jacob Batalon is showing other Filipinos out there that they fully belong in American pop culture as a main character rather than just a stereotypical supporting role.

For real, Ned helped save the multiverse. He's basically an Avenger. And if he can be, so can we.

Know Your Role

For many, this scene with Ned and his Lola is straight out of their lives. Sure, they're probably not translating for guests that are multiversal superheroes that does whatever a spider can, but you get the idea. A scene like this in one of the biggest movies of all time makes someone feel like they belong. And that isn't lost on Batalon. In an interview with CinemaBlend, he addressed his responsibility as an actor beyond just saying lines:

"This is really funny because I feel like I didn't really feel [an impact] at first. I think that I only started to feel impactful on the issue on the community after we came out with the movies and doing press and things of that nature... And then as soon as people started messaging me about being an inspiration and talking about how they're being seen and represented and heard for the first time, that meant a lot.

I think since then, I've absolutely understood that there's more to this sort of job than just being an actor. There's a sort of responsibility that you carry because again, you're sort of being the person for everyone who's not seen and heard and understood. And I think that's really important. And I've sort of learned to accept that responsibility in the way that I was kind of just doing my own thing and not really grasping the idea that other people are looking up to me in that sense. So in that way, I feel like I absolutely changed my perspective and it's been great. I'm really proud and happy to be that person for everyone else."

So yeah, because it needs to be said again and again until people really get it, representation is important. And many, many thanks to "Spider-Man: No Way Home" (and the MCU in general really) for making representation like this a reality. Not only will the little kids watching these movies appreciate it one day, but the little kid that wasn't allowed to pretend to be Spider-Man back in the '90s appreciates it too.