By Louis Otero
At this point, it shouldn’t be surprising that the internet is coming up with new and creative ways to be racist. It’s what the internet does best, next to creating waves of unfunny “Harambe” memes. Still, when I heard the term “blackwashing” for the first time, I audibly gasped. This isn’t because it is a particularly vulgar word, but because its sentiments are so misguided and asinine. While I had never encountered it myself, a quick Google search informed me that the term has been used several times to describe everything from MTV to the 2014 remake of “Annie.” Currently, the term is being used to describe the casting decisions made in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” due out next July. Specifically, the outcry has been in response to the rumor that African-American actress, Zendaya, is playing Mary Jane, a traditionally white character.
Now we have people saying “Well, I guess now we can cast a white guy as Martin Luther King Jr.” No. Not the same thing. Not even close. Nothing about Mary Jane’s character hinges on her race. Martin Luther King Jr. needs to be black for his story to make even a little bit of sense. If you take MJ’s race away she is still Mary Jane. Saying “I don’t care that she’s black, but she’s not a redhead” is a very transparent excuse. Yes, that is the only physical characteristic Mary Jane is known for, but people can dye their hair. There are pictures of Zendaya with red hair online. She looks fine. You don’t care about her hair. You care that she’s black. If you’re going to be a racist, don’t be a racist and a liar.
Casting a black actress in this role just makes sense. This movie takes place at a high school in Queens. Sure, when these characters were created it was far more likely for the student body to be primarily white. That is no longer the case. I lived in Queens for a year. I was more likely to see a unicorn in my neighborhood than another white person. This movie is doing something special and really important. The cast is a rainbow, and that is far more in line with what a high school in Queens would actually look like. Spider-Man shouldn’t even be white in this movie. Peter Parker is great, but he has been done to death and the new half Hispanic, half black Miles Morales is a much better fit for the current landscape. Aside from that, it opens up a whole new spectrum of stories for the character. In his current ongoing series, Miles has dealt with being labeled “the black Spider-Man,” his uncle being a villain, and living up to Peter’s legacy. This is something completely new, and with the oversaturation of this genre, “completely new” is necessary.
I can’t say I understand where all this anger is coming from. Putting race aside, this cast is remarkably talented. It’s also great that minority actors are getting some prominent roles. How many more superhero movies can you see with all white people? It’s boring and unrealistic. This shift is important and decades too late.