Earlier this year, audiences got their first taste of the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of Spider-Man, as played by Tom Holland. Since his debut in Captain America: Civil War, those interested in seeing more from him would be happy to know that Spider-Man: Homecoming is coming out in less than a year from right now. With production currently underway in Atlanta, it has been smooth sailing for the movie in building excitement for the future of the character and the new world that the Marvel/Sony deal has allowed to be remade.
Yesterday, at the time of writing this, a new report came out that Zendaya will actually be playing Mary Jane in the movie, and not a character named Michelle as initially reported. Instantly, the world braced for the potential backlash that could ensue upon changing the look of the character; and now another member of the Marvel family has decided to speak out against those that disapprove of the decision.
James Gunn, the director of Guardians of the Galaxy and the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, took to his Facebook page to respond to the many inquiries thrown his way in the wake of the Zendaya/Mary Jane report. Gunn has always been active on social media and used the platform given to him to defend this casting decision, assuming it is, in fact, accurate:
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.
The reaction to the casting has so far been a hot topic online that everyone is eager to let their two cents be heard. There are those that are okay with the casting, as long as Zendaya is able to embody the character in her performance, but then there are also people that feel it is not okay for Marvel and Sony to change the look of such a storied character. Gunn is definitively on the first of those two sides, with him welcoming the idea of a non-white MJ.
It could be easy to see someone so involved with the MCU like Gunn addressing the rumor make it seem like the report is in fact true, but that is not the case. He states that he did not know who Zendaya is playing at the time of him writing that post, but that he would probably find out when he visited Marvel in the near future. No matter what side of the fence your opinion lies on, remember that this is just a rumor at this point and could be proven to not be true. The only thing that should matter when it comes to Zendaya in Spider-Man: Homecoming should be how she plays Mary Jane, not what she looks like while doing so.
Doctor Strange opens November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man: Homecoming– July 7, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; Black Panther – February 16, 2018; Avengers: Infinity War – May 4, 2018; Ant-Man and the Wasp – July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel– March 8, 2019; Untitled Avengers – May 3, 2019; and as-yet untitled Marvel movies on July 12, 2019, and on May 1, July 10, and November 6 in 2020.
Source: James Gunn