Quick Rundown: there was kind of a joke twitter campaign to have Community’s Donald Glover play Spiderman in the upcoming reboot. The issue? Donald Glover looks like this:
and Peter Parker, up until this point, has been drawn to look pretty much like this:
Cue nerds FLIPPING THEIR SHIT.
I love this whole thing so much. It’s kind of great see people, mopping the proverbial sweat off their brow, trying to defend their covert racism by insisting that their issue is that the character wouldn’t be followed “faithfully” if he was black.
Hey, racists: IT’S A TOTALLY ARBITRARY LINE. What is being “faithful” to the character? What defines Spiderman? Is it him wearing glasses? Is it him having an aunt named May? Is it him wearing the same exact silly vest that Steve Ditko drew on him back in the 60s? It is him talking about how much he loves Aunt May’s wheatcakes?
The fact of the matter is, there are all sorts of things done to update or revise or reinterpret a character, issue to issue, year to year, and maybe 90% of them go unobjected to because they are all seen as honoring the core sensibility of what we perceive “Spiderman” to be. The character of Spiderman/Peter Parker is not EXACTLY the same character that appeared in Amazing Fantasy 15, for better or for worse. Things change, big things. He got married. He got unmarried. He AGED.
Why aren’t we up in arms that he’s being played by ANYONE, not say animated, or even just left alone as a comic? Sure this is not a dramatic leap (you can argue that comics are a representational media and meant to represent reality in some way), but baggage may have shifted during the flight.
And every comic fan who cares enough about the character to have opinions about his interpretation at some point draws a line in the sand and says, “These are things I think are important about Spiderman. Change them, and I don’t consider it, at heart, Spiderman.”
I’m not trying to get people back down. I just want them to admit that their understanding of the character is that Spiderman MUST BE WHITE and that this is what makes them uncomfortable about the whole Donald Glover thing. It is because a black man would play a character they feel MUST BE WHITE.
Donald Glover said a great thing about the whole incident. I’m paraphrasing, but it was along the lines of, “Spiderman’s a kid growing up poor, in Queens, no parents, taken care of by a sickly aunt, an’t he’s supposed to be WHITE? That’s kind of ridiculous.” He’s 100% right. All of those things (to this humble fanboy) ARE the essence of the character, and NONE of them are white exclusive.
What he touches on, in fact, is more interesting: whether we like it or not, all of those things are actually more believable as part of the BLACK experience (at least from a modern perspective). As a former NYC native, I can attest to the fact that Queens has changed quite a bit since Stan Lee’s day (if it was ever that way at all, and not just the product of media whitewashing) and seeing a black (or latino, or korean) take on the character is, frankly, more believable from a modern perspective.
Then again, this is all assuming that the consensus is that him being young, poor, in Queens, no parents, taken care of by a sickly aunt are what defines him. Maybe they aren’t. Maybe it’s just about a kid slinging webs. Maybe it’s the costume. Maybe it’s the storyline “Kraven’s Last Hunt.”
The point i’m making is that IT’S ALL SO INCREDIBLY ARBITRARY. We can argue until judgment day, but it’s all subjective. And that subjectivity, if leading you to a conclusion that, indeed, SPIDERMAN MUST BE WHITE (because so-and-so drew him that way, because he’s “always” been white) that is, indisputably, a RACIST and arbitrary assertion. So yeah. Enjoy that.