Tom Holland’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man will make his debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2016, with a supporting role in Captain America: Civil War – a.k.a. the film that will formally kickoff Phase 3 of the MCU. The web-slinger will be getting his own solo movie in 2017, with up and coming indie filmmaker Jon Watts (Cop Car) calling the shots from a screenplay penned by the writing duo John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein (Horrible Bosses, Vacation). Thus far, though, the only additional casting that’s been reported for the film is Oscar-winner Marisa Tomei as Peter’s kindly Aunt May.
The 2017 Spider-Man movie (rumored to be titled The Spectacular Spider-Man) will explore Peter’s experiences as Spider-Man during his high school days through what has been repeatedly described as a John Hughes-style high school superhero movie (by the people working on the project), so it stand to reason that the film’s cast will include young actors in the roles of such Spider-Man franchise staples as Mary Jane Watson, Flash Thompson, and so on, in addition to Holland. One such young star has now reportedly joined the movie’s cast – namely, 19-year old pop music star Zendaya.
Deadline is reporting that Zendaya has landed a “key role” in the 2017 Spider-Man reboot, as a character who is currently being referred to as “Michelle”. However, it’s already being speculated that Zendaya – who also played a recurring role on the Disney Channel series Shake It Up! and has made one-off appearances on such TV shows as Black-ish, in addition to having appeared in Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” music video – could be playing a well-known character in the Spider-Man mythology and that “Michelle” is just a misnomer. On the other hand, it’s plausible that Zendaya will be playing a tweaked version of the Marvel Comics character Michele Gonzales, a criminal defense lawyer who was Peter Parker’s roommate at one point in the Amazing Spider-Man comics (and who had a somewhat infamous one-night stand with Spidey).
THR‘s Borys Kit is reporting that Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures (which are now sharing the Spider-Man franchise film rights) have been “looking to go heavily non-white with the SPIDER-MAN supporting cast.” Some will recall that there was a fan push for Miles Morales to be the version of Spider-Man featured in the MCU, in particular after rumors began to circulate that Marvel Studios was looking to cast a non-white actor to play the webslinger in Civil War and the 2017 movie reboot. While that ultimately didn’t happen, it would still make sense for Marvel to push for the Spider-Man reboot to feature a “heavily non-white” supporting cast, as part of the studio’s general initiative to diversify its character roster on the film side of the MCU (see also projects like Black Panther and Captain Marvel being part of the Phase 3 movie slate).
This could mean that Zendaya is playing Mary Jane Watson, Gwen Stacy, or another female character of significance to the Spider-Man franchise (see also: Felicia Hardy a.k.a. Black Cat) in the 2017 movie reboot. Peter Parker’s various love interests have all been white in the previous live-action movies featuring the web-head, so this would be one way to help better distinguish the 2017 Spider-Man film from its predecessors. It would be an appropriate move too, seeing as their race has never been a defining element for Peter Parker’s most famous love interests – something that isn’t always true for Marvel Comics characters (see the recent discussion surrounding the casting of Daniel Rand/Iron Fist). On the other hand, Mary Jane Watson is so well-known for her pale-skinned/red-haired appearance that it suggests Zendaya is more likely playing a different Spider-Man love interest – one who would cause less of a ruckus were they to be “race-swapped,” that is (see Felicia Hardy, for example).
With all that being said, it’s worth re-emphasizing: Zendaya’s role in the Spider-Man reboot is open to speculation for the time being, as she could just as well be a “tweaked” version of the Michele Gonzales character (Zendaya herself is biracial) as she could be a different version of Felicia Hardy or someone else altogether. Either way, her casting in the movie further signals that Marvel and Sony are taking steps to distinguish the latest big screen iteration of the Spider-Man movie series from its predecessors (the Sam Raimi-helmed trilogy and the Amazing Spider-Man movies), in more ways than one.
Captain America: Civil War will release on May 6, 2016, followed by Doctor Strange – November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man – July 7, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; Black Panther – February 16, 2018; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 – May 4, 2018; Ant-Man and the Wasp – July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel – March 8, 2019; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 – May 3, 2019; Inhumans – July 12, 2019; and as-yet untitled Marvel movies on May 1, July 10 and November 6, 2020.
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