Author Topic: WHY IS SPIDER-MAN WHITE?  (Read 8993 times)

Offline Kristopher

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WHY IS SPIDER-MAN WHITE?
« on: June 02, 2010, 06:58:51 am »
THE DEVIN'S ADVOCATE: WHY IS SPIDER-MAN WHITE?
By Devin Faraci
http://chud.com/articles/articles/23904/1/THE-DEVIN039S-ADVOCATE-WHY-IS-SPIDER-MAN-WHITE/Page1.html



Don't give me a smart-ass answer like explaining the coloration process of comic books or the heritage of Tobey Maguire's parents. The question is simple: Why is the character of Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man, a white person?

It's sort of a weird question, but it's one that gets right to the heart of how race is approached in popular entertainment, especially in the superhero genre. And the answer is that there's no reason. Peter Parker's racial heritage has no impact on his career as Spider-Man, if not for the least reason that his outfit covers every single square inch of his body - he could be Samoan, for all the people of the Marvel universe know.

White and male is the default. It's the standard setting for characters, especially in popular fiction. In fact, the more people who aren't white that you put into a comic, book or a movie, the more likely it is that the comic, book or movie will find itself getting marginalized and put into the 'urban' section of the store. The more women you put central to a comic, book or movie, the more marginalized that will also become.

White's just where it starts. It's not even conscious, I imagine. In fact I bet it's the other way around - the creation of a black or Hispanic or Asian character (in any popular fiction, but especially superhero stories) probably begins, on some level, with that character's race. And that's kind of a problem.

This issue came to a head today when comedian Don Glover started a tongue in cheek campaign on Twitter to get himself cast as Peter Parker in Sony's Spider-Man reboot. The fanboy world went predictably insane. Like, simply crazy. There were plenty of reasoned voices out there (including some who simply dislike the idea of Glover as Peter Parker because of how they feel about him, and others who were just bemused about the whole situation), but message boards and comment sections erupted with people kind of freaking out. Not over an actual bit of casting news. Not even over a legit rumor. Simply over the conceptual idea - just the idea! - that a black guy could play Peter Parker.

There have been a couple of things I found interesting about this whole mini-tempest in a teapot. One thing that's fascinating is watching the racism in the hearts of many fanboys rear its head. It's ugly, and it often shows up, along with homophobia and sexism. I think there are a lot of really progressive, smart and open minded fans of genre entertainment (which makes sense, as the best genre stuff is about seeing the world in new ways, about taking the next step as people and as a species, and about the limitless possibilities around us), but their voices often get drowned out by the regressive, ignorant haters.

Some folks have raised an important point: maybe it isn't that fanboys are racists, but rather that they're just painfully Aspergian. After all, fanboy nation sh*t a brick when the X-Men costumes were changed, and when Spider-Man got organic webshooters. These are people who don't take well to change, and whose main concern in an adaptation isn't quality or talent but fidelity - they'd rather have some wrestler in a role because he looks the part than hire an excellent actor who doesn't quite match up with the drawings. There's something to be made of that argument, and it is sad to see people so unable to step away from their obsessive interest in something to understand what an adaptation is, or how it works. But I don't think that's what's happening here.

See, it isn't that Sony has announced they're hiring Don Glover, or that some site is reporting that he's in talks. He just kind of jokingly said he'd like to do it. And they blew a gasket. Went ballistic. I've been busily deleting hate speech from the CHUD comment section all day, in fact, much of it indicating a deep anger at minorities (we're talking about the kinds of morons who rail against political correctness, or the sorts of racists who talk about special treatment or ask why not cast a white Martin Luther King, Jr. And those are usually the comments that begin 'I'm not racist but...'). All over a guy saying he'd like to play the role.

I'm glad they went nuts, though. It's always helpful to see just how far we haven't come, although we have come far enough that most racists realize they can't get away with just being racist (see: The Tea Party). But it also raises a really interesting point for the rest of us to pay attention to, a point that's right in front of our faces all the time and that most of us ignore:

White is default. That's just so important to keep in mind, because it tells you so much about who we are as a society, that we still start our characters from that position, unthinkingly. And that's not even taking into account the white-washing of ethnic characters, like the casting of Jake Gyllenhaal in Prince of Persia. That's a mishigoss for another day.

Bringing it all back to Spider-Man: Why is Peter Parker white? There really is no good reason, and there's pretty much no specifically 'white' experience that Peter Parker has had that is unique to honkies. A character like Black Panther kind of needs to be black - he's the king of an ancient African civilization. Luke Cage is a black guy because he's Harlem's protector (although keep in mind that neighborhood hues change over time, and in thirty years Luke Cage's blackness could be just as pointless as Peter Parker's whiteness). Of course these black characters are black because they are based in their blackness; one of the few black characters in comics whose race isn't that important is Blade (although I really feel like his origins probably come from some sickle-cell anemia stuff).

So why can't Peter Parker be black? I honestly couldn't think of a single thing that we'd have to change in the history of Spider-Man if Peter Parker was suddenly made black. I think that you could change things to reflect a more specific modern black experience, but that would be a choice. It would be an interesting choice, but it would be totally voluntary and I don't think a black Peter Parker would suddenly have to confront crack in his family to be authentically black. Believe it or not there are plenty of black people on the same economic level as Peter Parker. And there are plenty of black kids as nerdy as Peter Parker.

And Peter Parker lives in one of the most ethnically diverse places on Earth, the New York City boro of Queens. Whites are a dwindling majority, making up about 40% of the population. There are more languages spoken in Queens than anywhere else in the United States, and it's one of the most linguistically diverse areas in the world. Peter Parker being non-white in the next movie is actually less far-fetched than Peter Parker knowing only white people in the current continuity. Even when I was growing up in Queens twenty years ago it would have been impossible to know only white people, and I'm sure that hasn't changed. I know the part of Forest Hills where Peter Parker lives, and it isn't the fancy bit where Art Garfunkel has a house. There are a lot of different ethnicities in the area, and it's one of the great melting pot neighborhoods.

There's a flip side to 'Why is Spider-Man white?', and it's 'Why does Spider-Man have to be black?' He doesn't. That's the thing that people who are freaking out about a black guy wanting a crack at the role are missing. He doesn't have to be black. It just turns out that Don Glover thinks he'd be a pretty good Peter Parker, and a bunch of people agree with him. There's a lot about this actor that feels like it would work when he played Parker, with only the most superficial thing - the color of his skin - being 'off.' Setting aside all the latter day baggage, imagine if the casting of Wolverine were limited to actors of a certain height; I think that Hugh Jackman made a pretty good Logan in a couple of movies there, and his height didn't really hold him back. Peter Parker's whiteness doesn't define the character, so it shouldn't define the talent pool from which the filmmakers can choose.

As all of this bubbles away there's an image in my head that I like - it's eleven year old Donald Glover reading an Amazing Spider-Man comic and really feeling the Peter Parker character. Just totally understanding this nerdy guy who tries his best to be good but who finds circumstance conspiring against him at every turn. A young guy who can't catch a break, but who doesn't let that stop him from doing the right thing. That young Donald Glover is reading that comic and never thinking about how he's different from Peter Parker, just about how he's the same. What kind of an asshole wants to tell that kid that he can never be Spider-Man? What kind of asshole wants to tell whole generations of up and coming little black, Asian, or Hispanic nerd kids that they can watch these characters, but they can never be them?

Offline Reginald Hudlin

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Re: WHY IS SPIDER-MAN WHITE?
« Reply #1 on: June 02, 2010, 07:31:02 am »
This is a true story.  This was so long ago it happened at the premiere of UNIVERSAL SOLDIER starring Jean Claude Van Damme, so set your clocks to that period. 

At the afterparty, I see James Cameron, who at the time was working on SPIDER-MAN the movie.  I introduce myself, and pitch Chris Rock as Spider Man.  He's skinny and gangly, like the early Ditko drawings, he can do the wisecracks, and the only person more alienated than a science nerd is a black science nerd.

Cameron told me he wrote a scene where folks saw Spider Man and speculated on his identity; including what his race might be since there's no indication from the costume.  I don't know if he knew who Rock was, but I felt like tried to do the right thing.

Offline Hypestyle

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Re: WHY IS SPIDER-MAN WHITE?
« Reply #2 on: June 02, 2010, 08:31:25 am »
Kudos to Mr. Reggie for the pitch!
I saw Donald Glover on the Tonight Show yesterday; I was waiting for this to come up, but it didn't..  ;)... I also remember Chris Rock commenting on this years ago as the first Spidey movie was finally getting under way under Sam Raimi.. (on a side note, I think someone also mentioned him as Jimmy olsen in the superman reboot..).. I wish I had Chris' exact quote..
« Last Edit: June 02, 2010, 08:39:13 am by Hypestyle »
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Offline Vic Vega

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Re: WHY IS SPIDER-MAN WHITE?
« Reply #3 on: June 02, 2010, 09:23:20 am »
White fanboy have had 40+ years of a fantasy entertainment that catered to thier world view. Non-whites have also had to live with the white default and many are no doubt used to it.

For example, an East Indian Fanboy might be EVEN MORE pissed off than a white fan if they made Spider Man Black. 

The idea of rooting for Blacks in any arena outide of sports or music is probably pretty novel for them.


Offline Afro Samurai

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Re: WHY IS SPIDER-MAN WHITE?
« Reply #4 on: June 02, 2010, 10:27:51 am »
Good damn article........LMAO@all the racist posts under the link to that article.

White nerds are one of the most racist type of ppl ever. sh*t, they actually care more for mutants then black ppl (which is so stupid).

God, I am having flashback of Afro Samurai not being a real anime & too "american."

LOL, but once Spidery go black he might not ever go back........sh*t just look at Nick Fury & Kingpin.....
INTERRACIAL RELATIONSHIPS IS A SIN!!!!!! YOU'LL DIE QUICKER AND ALSO BURN IN HELL. THOSE ARE THE FACTS, BITCHES!!!!!!!!!

Offline Kristopher

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Re: WHY IS SPIDER-MAN WHITE?
« Reply #5 on: June 02, 2010, 10:52:06 am »
Good damn article........LMAO@all the racist posts under the link to that article.

White nerds are one of the most racist type of ppl ever.
MAYBE NOT, Sir!
The article points out that they maybe "painfully Aspergian".

DAMN! :D :D :D

Offline Battle

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Re: WHY IS SPIDER-MAN WHITE?
« Reply #6 on: June 02, 2010, 12:14:06 pm »
At the afterparty, I see James Cameron, who at the time was working on SPIDER-MAN the movie.  I introduce myself, and pitch Chris Rock as Spider Man.  He's skinny and gangly, like the early Ditko drawings, he can do the wisecracks, and the only person more alienated than a science nerd is a black science nerd.




Damn, Mr. Hudlin, you were pitchin' ideas like that?    That's hardcore! ;D



Quote
This is a true story.  This was so long ago it happened at the premiere of UNIVERSAL SOLDIER starring Jean Claude Van Damme, so set your clocks to that period.



I think I  remember this time...   Was this when Canon Films was still in business?   ...because I remember when MARVEL was somewhat involved with that film company to make a Spider-Man movie which got canned.

But then, Terminator 2 managed to get released.

Offline Hypestyle

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Re: WHY IS SPIDER-MAN WHITE?
« Reply #7 on: June 02, 2010, 12:42:15 pm »
I can remember reading about a Spidey film "in development" as far back as 1988, in the old Comics Scene magazine (published by the same folks behind Starlog); I used to swear by that, before Wizard came out and it fell by the wayside..  I believe a guy named Albert Pyun was one of the directors attached early on (who ended up doing that 1990 straight-to-cable Captain America).. some preliminary promotional photos were shown, a guy in a standard cosplay Spidey outfit..  Just pulling from memory, I recall one script-draft review referenced Uncle Ben being rather foul-mouthed, a non-comics villain as the antagonist (a co-accident creates Spidey and he); Spidey killing crooks...
...circa '99, I remember somehow getting hold of a copy of the Cameron treatment, then revamping it myself for mostly my own amusement..
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Offline Battle

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Re: WHY IS SPIDER-MAN WHITE?
« Reply #8 on: June 02, 2010, 12:46:53 pm »
I can remember reading about a Spidey film "in development" as far back as 1988, in the old Comics Scene magazine (published by the same folks behind Starlog);



Yep.


This was that time I was talkin' about, Hype.      Everybody was 'hyped' about that announcement.

Offline KIP LEWIS

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Re: WHY IS SPIDER-MAN WHITE?
« Reply #9 on: June 02, 2010, 05:04:19 pm »
<<And the answer is that there's no reason. Peter Parker's racial heritage has no impact on his career as Spider-Man, >>

Over the years on this board I've learned some things.  On Smallville, Pete Ross was made Black, rather than white and some posters here complained that Ross was an unrealistic character.  The actor liked playing a "color-blind" character, but posters here said the Black experience is not the White experience. 

But now, when it runs the opposite, you say there is nothing essentially white about Peter?  That making him Black doesn't change anything?

Which is it?  Are color-blind characters good or bad? 

By the way, Cage's story could very easily be adapted to a white man falsely imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit.  Or make him Jewish and he can have to suffer under the batoon of a racist guard.   

Or Black Panther?  We could put Wakanda in South America and make the nation a rival to the Azteks and Incans. And yes, there are Black Panthers in South America. 

Offline Kristopher

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Re: WHY IS SPIDER-MAN WHITE?
« Reply #10 on: June 02, 2010, 07:09:09 pm »
By the way, Cage's story could very easily be adapted to a white man falsely imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit.  Or make him Jewish and he can have to suffer under the batoon of a racist guard.   
Quote
Of course these black characters are black because they are based in their blackness
No one is talking about the STORY, it's the CHARACTER, that's the topic. There is nothing so unique about the Peter Parker CHARACTER(his day-to-day experiences, his location, his education, social class, school etc.)  that says he has to be/needs to be white, is there? A black Parker would not change the dynamics of the character, a White hero/protector of the mean Harlem streets would. A white guy couldn't be the Cage character.

Offline KIP LEWIS

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Re: WHY IS SPIDER-MAN WHITE?
« Reply #11 on: June 02, 2010, 07:44:11 pm »
<<No one is talking about the STORY, it's the CHARACTER, that's the topic. There is nothing so unique about the Peter Parker CHARACTER(his day-to-day experiences, his location, his education, social class, school etc.)  that says he has to be/needs to be white, is there? A black Parker would not change the dynamics of the character, a White hero/protector of the mean Harlem streets would. A white guy couldn't be the Cage character.>>.

So, you don't make him protector of Harlem.  And Cage hasn't been the protector of Harlem since long before Bendis added him to the New Avengers.  He wasn't the protector of Harlem when he was in Power Man/Iron Fist title.  Being the protector of Harlem isn't the core of Cage; being the working man hero is. So, the white Cage works in Hell's Kitchen defending everyone just like Daredevil.  (Actually, I am not saying he'd be the same character, I'm saying if you can assume you can switch race one way without changing the character at all, then it means you can change any race.)

But again. I point back to the Pete Ross character; it was said on this board that the Black Experience is not the same as the white experience so "color-blind" characters are not realistic.  Making Peter Parker Black should entail him adopt aspects of the Black Experience, that a white Peter did not experience.

Personally, I think being Black would change the dynamics of Spider-man, himself.  Since his costume is ripped constantly; since he shows his lower face to quite a few people including reporters, the world would know he is Black.  So then the question of his "outlaw" status would shift to being one about race rather than a newsman's hatred of Masks.  It would change the nature of Spider-man. 

Offline Reginald Hudlin

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Re: WHY IS SPIDER-MAN WHITE?
« Reply #12 on: June 02, 2010, 09:20:39 pm »
The identity of most black characters turn on race.  So them being another ethnicity makes for dramatic changes in who they are. 

Sometimes making a character black undermines who the character is - like James T. West in WILD WILD WEST or The Kingpin in DAREDEVIL. 

But making Spider-Man black changes almost nothing about who he is.  And what changes there are ENHANCE the core characteristics of the character, not undermine it.

Offline JRCarter

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Re: WHY IS SPIDER-MAN WHITE?
« Reply #13 on: June 02, 2010, 10:53:54 pm »
Rather than worrying about Spider-Man being Black, how about we get some of the Black superheroes we do have on the screen already? Long damn past overdue for Black Panther and Luke Cage movies!

Offline isaiah_bradley

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Re: WHY IS SPIDER-MAN WHITE?
« Reply #14 on: June 02, 2010, 11:28:23 pm »
Rather than worrying about Spider-Man being Black, how about we get some of the Black superheroes we do have on the screen already? Long damn past overdue for Black Panther and Luke Cage movies!

i totally agree with you. i could careless what color spiderman is white. im not a fan of the spidey comics. but i do like the movies and the cartoons.