Marvel has announced that Zendaya Coleman will be playing Mary Jane Watson in the new Spider-Man reboot. Fans are elated about the movie but not about Mary Jane. The famed redhead has not been on the big screen since Kirsten Dunst portrayed her in 2007. Shailene Woodley was cast to play Watson for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 but her scene was cut to keep the focus on Gwen Stacey. Stan Lee, who co-created Mary Jane, agrees with the decision to cast Coleman stating, “If she is as good of an actress as I hear she is, I think it’ll be absolutely wonderful.” Instead of fans being happy about seeing Spider-Man, who the movie is about, they are more concerned about Mary Jane and running to Twitter to express their frustration. One fan tweeted, “Sorry, but MJ is a white redhead. Why can’t we just keep characters the same?” Rumors have circulated that white actresses like Jennifer Lawrence or Chloe Moretz may be considered for the role of Mulan, a Chinese woman who saves all of China. That hasn’t received nearly as much backlash. Fans don’t bat an eyelash at whitewashing, a practice that deliberately discriminates against people of color. This is an attempt to also make characters of color seem more “white” to appear to the white mass white masses. Instead they lash out at actors of color playing characters who were originally white. These choices give actors a chance they never would have received otherwise.
In a perfect world, no one would be worried about a character’s race, gender, etc. the audience would be more attentive to whether or not the actors did their role justice. This is what we should be doing right now. White actors playing characters who are non-white wouldn’t be such big deal in a perfect world, because everyone would be well represented and have an equal opportunity unless the character was based off of a historical figure. It wouldn’t make sense for a black man to play John F. Kennedy, and the same goes a white man playing Malcolm X. Otherwise, I believe that anyone should have the fair chance to play any character as long as they provide a strong performance. But we don’t live in a utopia. Minorities are underrepresented, that’s something no one can deny.
Back in 2015, Michael B. Jordan played Human Torch in the Fantastic Four reboot. Fans were furious claiming he couldn’t play this character, but they wouldn’t say it was because he was black. Earlier this year when Gal Gadot was announced as Wonder Woman, fans were quick to say that she was too thin, even though they swooned over Lynda Carter — who has a very similar physique. No one made a peep about Gadot being Israeli, but all the actresses people suggested in her place were white. Many claimed that is part of the “white genocide”, a hashtag that has made rounds on Twitter. One tweet claims “‘Assimilation’, ‘Diversity’ & ‘Multiculturalism’ are ALL just code words for #WhiteGenocide…’” and is followed by a picture that reads “United Nations Population Replacement” with pictures of minorities in Sweden, Scotland, Germany, and England.
Let’s not forget that Scarlett Johansson has been cast to play Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost In The Shell next year who is a Japanese character. It’s extremely puzzling since it was made clear that this character was never meant to be white. It’s almost as if Hollywood thinks that they can switch out Asians with white people and we won’t notice at all. It’s extremely frustrating because whitewashing takes away so many opportunities from actors of color.
Interracial couples are not new, so is it really that farfetched to think Peter Parker could have a black girlfriend? Hollywood is in dire need of diversity in general and representation really does matter. We’ve seen videos of little girls crying tears of joy when they receive a doll that has a prosthetic leg just like their own. These “little” things make a huge impact. It makes people feel included and like they have a chance, when directors decide to make bold casting decisions like this. Our cast should be a reflection of our communities. It doesn’t help when the only portrayals of minorities are side characters that we rarely hear from or portray stereotypes.
Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie spoke about representation. Adichie claimed she would read British novels as a child about characters who drank ginger beer and played in the snow — neither of which she had experienced. It wasn’t until later on in her life when she realized that “girls with skin the color of chocolate, whose kinky hair could not form ponytails, could also exist in literature.” It opened her mind to the fact that there was more to world. Having Coleman as Mary Jane would not only be historical, but it would show so many people that black women can be the leading lady. Don’t always have to twerk or have big butts to get noticed. It’s a step in the right direction to prove no matter what race, gender, or orientation that they have a fighting chance of being shown. Hollywood and closed minded fans need to welcome progressive casting choices with open arms.