Why should a rebooted Spider-Man be another white guy?
That was the question io9's Marc Bernardin asked last week, prompting one reader to suggest the very funny and very talented Donald Glover. Glover jumped at the suggestion, saying he'd simply love the chance to audition for the role of Peter Parker. He began actively campaigning for the chance, and Spidey fans (encouraged by several movie sites) have taken up the call. The #donald4spiderman Twitter hashtag has taken over a lot of timelines, and was ranking high on the United States' trending topics. There's now a Facebook campaign, which proved to be successful in getting Betty White to host Saturday Night Live ... so what's to say it won't work for Glover, right?
The enthusiasm for Glover is awesome and encouraging. He should be given the chance to audition, and I'm willing to bet he'd nail it. He's everything Peter Parker should be -- good looking, charming, and funny. One thing Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire never captured was Parker's humor. Spider-Man never backs down from mocking other superheroes or his supervillains. Even in bloody situations that no Avenger can crack a joke in, Spider-Man will find a way to mock Harry Osbourne's hair. Glover is the perfect man to strike the balance between humor and action. At the very least, he should be given the chance to try out. What have the final five candidates got that he hasn't? We can't even answer that fully, as Spidey fans have absolutely no idea what Alden Ehrenreich or Frank Dillane can bring to the table other than their looks.
But for some Spidey fans, those looks are enough. The way Spider-Man looks is more important than the way he can act -- because Peter Parker is a white guy. Always has been, always should be.
Despite the overwhelming enthusiasm for Glover, there's still a large and vocal segment of fans who feel it's not racist to remark on Spidey's historical whiteness. Casting a black Spider-Man is too problematic, they say, because where does that leave Mary Jane or Gwen Stacy? Wouldn't they have to be black, too? Isn't interracial romance too controversial? It would be cool, but "they" would never accept it.
Who is "they", anyway? The average moviegoer, I suppose. The ones who supposedly won't see anything, but who generally line up quite happily if it's well marketed. "They" weren't supposed to dig any of these superheroes movies, but they have. You're already asking "them" to accept a rebooted Spider-Man, so why not make a real statement while you're rebooting it?
And that statement should be that Spider-Man doesn't have to be a white guy. There's absolutely nothing in Parker's background that says he must be one particular race or color. His origin story is utterly nonspecific, so that every reader can identify with him -- insofar as we ever really can identify with a kid who has been bitten by a radioactive spider. Those who argue that he loses that average quality the moment his race is swapped out are woefully short-sighted. For decades of comic books and genre flicks, we've left every race no choice but to identify with white heroes and heroines. African-American, Asian-American, and Latino kids have continued to buy comic books and line up for superhero movies, able and willing to enjoy the stories of Batman, Superman, or Spider-Man as the mythic figures they are. They've done so, despite the cold implication that they couldn't really "be" Batman, Superman, or Spider-Man. So isn't it time to turn the tables? Isn't it time to ask white audiences to identify with an African-American, Asian-American, or Latino hero? To see the heroic qualities that we claim are universal, human ones in someone who isn't white?
Yes, it is. It's long past time. If superheroes are truly the mythology of the modern world, and if heroism is innate in all of us -- and I believe this is what comic books have been saying, despite the limited color palettes they've used on their heroes or heroines -- then we need to show that onscreen. Idris Elba as Heimdall was a good start. Spider-Man would be an ideal follow-up because there's no one more likable, more all-American, more average than Peter Parker.
As the oft-quoted Spidey catchphrase goes, with great power comes great responsibility. Superhero movies are powerful. They have the responsibility to show that heroism comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors. They haven't done this, except when the characters are already set, such as Blade or James "Rhodey" Rhodes. Why not make a reboot actually mean something on the cultural and cinematic radar?
Sony, call Donald Glover. I hear he's available to audition.