Last week, the internet was ablaze over rumors that Zendaya would be playing Mary Jane Watson in Spider-Man: Homecoming, the first film featuring Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As per usual, Twitter trolls were tripping over a classic comic book character being played by a black woman. BUT MARY JANE WAS WHITE, they yelled, completely ignorant of the point made by Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn, who explained that this era's films should reflect the diverse world they exist in.
But Twitter trolls aside, the news of Zendaya playing Mary Jane is brilliant, and serves as yet another reminder of this new Spider-Man movie's revolutionary and refreshing approach to casting. A few months back, we looked at Marvel's continued push to make their Cinematic Universe much more diverse, with the casts of the upcoming Netflix series Luke Cage and their 2018 film Black Panther being black AF, and while the Doctor Strange/Tilda Swinton situation is still being frustrating, it's good to know that 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming has a much more diverse cast, especially when it comes to names that we can recognize. It's speaks to a bigger picture where, like James Gunn pointed out, is "more reflective of our diverse present world."
Keep in mind, Tom Holland is still a white, teen male (per Sony's rules), but if the rumor about Zendaya's real role are 100% facts, that's an even bigger casting decision than Tessa Thompson playing Valkyrie in the next Thor film. It's bigger than Luke Cage and Jessica Jones doing the nasty in Jessica Jones, primarily because Cage and Jones were already an interracial couple in the comics. A young, white superhero crushing on a non-white female lead? It's momentous, and plays well into what's going on in the world today. But the cast runs even deeper than that.
In the comics, Peter Parker's world is pretty lily white. From his love interests to his frenemies, the story of Spider-Man's protagonist is white America through and through. But in this film? Flash Thompson, whose comic book counterpart is white jock who's also a huge bully in high school, is played by Tony Revolori, the Guatemalan actor who played the lead in The Grand Budapest Hotel and was recently seen in Dope as Jib. He's gone on record saying that Spider-Man: Homecoming director Jon Watts "wants to cast people who would really be in Queens right now," and that he was going to do Flash justice. Imagine a world where, instead of looking for actors who are going to be (what the studio sees as) the biggest box office draws, we get actors who can do the characters justice while properly updating them, and also build a true-to-life environment.
And it doesn't stop there. Marisa Tomei, who's shown her worth as an actress over the last three decades, turned heads as Aunt May Parker in Captain America: Civil War, and reprises that role in this new film. This is just as much course correction as it is getting an actress who could really push the character further. It's always been weird to see Aunt May depicted as old as dirt in the comics; Stephen McFeely was correct to ask why, if Aunt May was supposed to be Peter's mom's sister, would she need to be 80 years old? Even when the question isn't centered around diversity, the cast of this new Spider-Man movie is a good argument for this genre's need to look forward instead of sticking to whatever worked in the past. These films need to be about making the old fresh again, while continuing to build on their respective worlds.
Another key to making this series feel new is the new energy being added to the cast. While we're not sure who they will be playing, it's impossible not to be excited by the prospect of Donald Glover (who has his own history with the role of Spider-Man), Hannibal Buress, and Bokeem Woodbine all being cast in this piece. Buress won't likely play some overly dramatic role, or even be in the film for that long, but he's down to give a film that'll potentially have some humorous moments a perfect dose of his off-beat humor. The actors' inclusion in this movie, Woodbine's especially, speaks to the welcomed approach of prioritizing quality over everything else. Much like Brie Larson being picked to play Captain Marvel, those behind the MCU aren't just looking to cast the "right" person, they're investing in people who can add something to their characters and roles. If that means casting Woodbine to (allegedly) play a villain named Herman Schultz, let's do it.
That doesn't mean there aren't still improvements that can be made. As of now, it's unfortunately only a rumor that Spider-Man: Homecoming will be introducing the Korean-American hero Silk, which would give us a dynamic woman and satisfy the need for even more racial diversity in the superhero genre. Additionally, some would say that we're overdue on a Black Widow film, and that it's taken a long time to get TV series and films with non-white male leads like Luke Cage and Black Panther into production. #BlackPantherSOLIT is a perfect example of what happens when you include more non-white heroes and roles in these films; people want to see themselves in these movies, and will flock to the theaters if they feel like they are properly represented.
We can't continue to focus on the negative, though. Marvel's handing comic book fans a beautiful universe that continues to evolve. The hope should be that, with this evolution, they continue to build upon the casting blueprint that Spider-Man: Homecoming is laying out in front of us. As long as the films continue to reach (and exceed) the quality of the previous offerings, the addition of more women (in more powerful roles) and a rainbow of races will only add onto the growing structure that is Marvel's dominance.