Miles Morales Is The New Spider-Man: Diversity Matters
Marvel Comics just announced that the youthful, more recently created African-American and Puerto Rican character, Miles Morales, will be the one true Spider-Man. To simplify, rather than simply being “a” Spider-Man in some sort of alternate reality, Miles Morales will be “THE” Spider-Man in the cannon Marvel Universe going forward. From now on, I’m just going to call Miles Morales “Spider-Man,” and Peter Parker, “White Spider-Man.” I’ve been doing that for years because it pleases me, but it’s nice to have it feel so official.
Henceforth, I shall also refer to the characters previously known as “Black Captain America” and “Lady Thor” as simply “Thor” and “Captain America” whilst referring to their predecessors as “White Captain America” and “He-Thor.”
Despite it making perfect sense in the ongoing macro epic story that is “The Marvel Universe,” this Spider-Man shift is a big news in our actual world for a number of reasons. It is unclear what this change could mean for Spider-Man on the big screen which is in desperate need of new ideas after a decade of lackluster movies by Sony Pictures. We know the Sony hack leaked a licensing agreement in effect since 2011 that laid out several mandatory guidelines for Spider-Man, most notably that the titular character must be a Caucasian, heterosexual Peter Parker.
At first, it seemed odd that a company as diversity-minded as Marvel would hamstring the creative process of Spider-Man on the big screen, but then I remembered that Sony financed the film Aloha in which the third whitest actress in the United States, Emma Stone, played a woman who was a quarter Hawaiian and a quarter Chinese with the surname “Ng.” I wouldn’t let these jokers play fast and loose with my creation either.
Yesterday, Marvel revealed that their long Spider-Man auditioning process had finally come to a close with 19-year-old British actor Tom Holland cast to play White Spider-Man/Peter Parker in Marvel’s upcoming films. While I’m not one who gets too into casting, I have to say he is a pretty perfect Peter Parker. Just look at that guy; brown hair, good looking but not too good looking, and practically bite sized at 5’6” 130 lbs, and the guy is the right kind of athletic. His Instagram feed may as well be his audition for the men’s Olympic parkour team. (There should totally be Olympic parkour.)
For now at least, we will keep seeing the living embodiment of collegiate Peter Parker on the big screen, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be a spot for Miles Morales in the Marvel Cinematic Universe some time soon. Imagine how nuts the crowd would get with an after-credits scene of a young black kid in the wrong place at the wrong time moments before encountering a forgotten radioactive spider?
Why This Matters
This is where stories come from: comics, novels, and sometimes terrible board games (what up Battleship!). To anyone wanting to make original films, you may as well cut your teeth in somewhere else. Hollywood is extremely risk averse. Movies are expensive propositions, and it is far too easy to get things wrong which is why so few of them are Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s when movies go wrong that people’s money gets messed up. To see what happens those that mess up people’s money, I recommend Ice Cube’s instructional film Friday. Since Hollywood has lots of money and precious little time, it is much easier to use properties with existing fan bases and lots of preexisting content to draw from. Currently, only 25% of major film releases are original stories.
In the case of comic book superheroes, generally every story that makes it to the big screen is an adaptation or amalgamation of a bunch of stuff that happened in the comics. They used to use older stuff like origin stories and golden age tales, but as more and more of these films get made, the more ideas we see from comics written only 5 or so years previous like Captain America: The Winter Soldier. As savvy as Marvel is, they have already been laying seeds for future film plots inside their comic book universes for the past several years. In addition to Miles Morales, popular newer characters are getting pushed to the forefront like Ms. Marvel and Nova (Sam Alexander) as well as resurging classic characters such as Black Panther and Doctor Strange will continue to enjoy greater relevance and attention from top creators.
Finally, representation is important. In a world where we are increasingly reminded just how much our differences matter, seeing people that look like you or come from where you come from can help raise your own notion of what you are capable of. Knowing that you can not only be a villain, martyr, or object of desire, but also superhero, a leader, or person worth saving is so often understated until you hear a child say with awe, “You mean I can do that?” Yes imaginary child, you can make art and write comics. You can be a megalomaniac in a European castle and you can save the world. Nobody bats an eye at the the black child with the white superhero toy or clothing, but how many times have you seen the white child with a black superhero toy? An Asian superhero? A gay superhero? A female superhero other than Wonder Woman? Can you even name any queer or trans superheroes or superheroes of color? What we see affects us. What we don’t see affects us even more. It even more acutely affects those newer to life who can very easily grow up believing heroism is one color and violence is another.
Comics are obviously not for just kids anymore; even the Wall Street Journal reports on them now. However, it’s not like it’s just children who could benefit from putting better, more inclusive things in their brains. Miles Morales becoming THE Spider-Man in the larger, canonical Marvel Universe is an indication that diversity matters. For the cynical, diversity matters at least so far as to ignore it is to mess with people’s money. As long the stories are good, then we do the world a favor with every issue we buy.