Ever since singer/actress Zendaya was cast for the upcoming Spider-Man reboot for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Spider-Man: Homecoming for a “key role,” there has been some speculation as to who she was going to be. Originally her character’s name was “Michelle” which obviously was a red herring. Fan speculated that she possibly could be Liz Allen, a racially recast Felicia Hardy (AKA Black Cat), or even a completely original character created for the upcoming film. Recently it was confirmed that the actress was to be Mary Jane Watson, Peter Parker’s long-time love interest for the film. Traditionally Mary Jane was a white character and has been portrayed by so in the many incarnations of Spider-Man on film. First by Kirsten Dunst in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films, and also by Shailene Woodley in the Marc Webb Spider-Man films, although she was cut from The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Needless to say, many fans online were not happy with the ethnicity changes for a character who has historically be white since 1965. With the many changes in diversity in both the comics and in the Marvel films, some fans have been quite vocal expressing their disappointment in Zendaya being Mary Jane.
There have been others who have supported the change. Both Dan Slott (the writer for the current Amazing Spider-Man comic book) and Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn have expressed support for the change and pushed back against criticism and the racial implication surrounding the possible casting. How about Stan Lee? After all, he is the one who actually created the character? Many Jane is pretty much his creation. What would he think of such a drastic change for one of his iconic characters? Lee recently weighed in on the possible casting of Zendaya as Mary Jane.
“If she is as good an actress as I hear she is, I think she’ll be absolutely wonderful. The color of their skin doesn’t matter, their religion doesn’t matter, all that matters is that this is the right person for the role.”
This seems somewhat hypocritical of Stan Lee who just a few months ago in the revelation of the Sony e-mail hack detailed that Sony and Marvel agreeing that Spider-Man would remain a straight white male. Lee then was saying something completely different in regards to homosexual superheroes.
“There’s no reason not to. The only thing I don’t like doing is changing the characters we already have. For example, I’d like Spider-Man to stay as he is, but I have no problem creating a superhero who’s homosexual.”
So in some cases, he doesn’t want to change the characters based at least in this example by sexuality. Possibly because sometimes sexuality can define a character and race cannot, sometimes. In regards to Zendaya, she has the approval of Stan Lee. If she is able to capture the essence of the character, in his mind it should not matter. Like many Marvel characters, her character traits are not tied to her ethnicity and can pretty much be color blind unlike some characters like Luke Cage, T’challa, or Kamala Khan, who are defined by their ethnicity in the comics. Many of the now iconic Marvel characters were created during the 1960s where American culture was much more ethnocentric towards one racial viewpoint and that’s how they were represented at the time. In this case, from Stan Lee himself, Marvel’s push to make their characters more representative of contemporary American culture shouldn’t matter as long as the essence of the characters remains.