The Internet, she is exploding... again. This time over the rumor that rising starlet of color, Zendaya, may have been cast as the popular Peter Parker love interest, Mary Jane Watson. Before I get into why this is a problem - and it's not racism - let's address the leaked information itself.
The original announcement, made by Entertainment site, The Wrap, states there are two sources close to the project who confirmed this, but does not confirm the sources' validity. So this announcement is about as reliable as blurred photo of Bigfoot. Now, the Internet has jumped all over this and most people have now taken it as fact that Zendaya's role is MJ, which has led to our problem.
Lots of people support this casting, which is understandable and good hearted, but unintentionally ill. Meanwhile, the expected racist opposition is spouting bigotry and hatred because that is all they know. Only a small minority seem to be understanding that this is just a rumor and even less people understand that this casting, if it is true, is a bad decision for different reasons.
The main argument in support of this casting is the representation of minorities in a major role in a big Hollywood movie. Yay! Finally, a girl of color to portray our feisty damsel. Another article on MoviePilot states that the comic book MJ is a product of her time and that she is white because that was how society was represented at the time, therefore a modern MJ should represent the diversity of our current world. I can see that , but if whoever is Parker's love interest in Spider-man Homecoming were created now I would agree. However, it wasn't and we just have to accept that Mary Jane is a red headed white girl created in a racist era. You can't change that without betraying the character and the established fanbase any more than you can make James Bond a tea-total pacifist or Sherlock a forgetful dunce without angering their legions of fans.
However, let's forget race for a moment and look at MJ's no. 1 defining feature: her hair. The race doesn't seem so important for the character until you consider her shiny strawberry locks. That is just how she was designed. Her red hair IS her character. She is often referred to by her hair color. It defines her as Bond's womanizing defines him. She is labelled and identified by it. If they don't give MJ red hair in this movie (if it is even MJ in this movie) it will not truly be MJ and it will upset fans who want to see a faithful rendition of her on the big screen - something not yet achieved, despite the success of Raimi's trilogy.
Let's not forget that red heads are a minority too! We all know that red headed people get picked on and bullied in school. How would they feel now if one of their heroes, someone who gave them hope that one day they could find their superhero, was taken away to pander to another minority? Terrible, is how. Now you might be tempted to argue that they can dye the actress's hair red and all is well, but giving her unnatural hair color defeats the whole point of being a role model for the ginger minority. Red headed black girls are extremely rare, more so than their white counterparts, and the actress in question is clearly not a red head, so any 'natural' dye tone will seem fake, and any obviously dyed red color gives a much different impression. Natural red hair is something to be bullied for but dyed red hair is cool and rebellious. So still the positive implication of this role model is lost. MJ must be a natural red head or it is no different than destroying this character outright, and logically, she must then be a white girl too.
Fans want an accurate depiction of their beloved character. To misappropriate a popular character and make her a black girl, blonde, brunette or anything other just to wave the flag of diversity is a betrayal to the oldest fans, it's a betrayal to the creator (I'd be pissed as hell if anyone took one of my characters and changed their race or appearance to suit other people), it's a betrayal to those who she has helped out of dark periods in their lives. Worst of all, it's a fake sentiment, pandering to a defensive, weak minded audience who jump on anything un-PC because they love being offended. It gives them an excuse to push their views on other people, which let's face it, is the true agenda.
Now you may be saying that colored people have suffered a lot more than playground bullying and they deserve the positive role model, but that is still the wrong idea. I'm not comparing levels of pain endured, I'm saying: Help everyone.
I'm all for diversity. Yes, cast Zendaya, just make her an original character or an established character she is better suited for. Someone people of color can get behind without treading on what others love already or what has saved them from despair. Plus, Marvel would have complete freedom to tailor the character to their needs and perhaps start a new franchise, rather than piggyback an old one.
New characters face difficulty to become popular, especially as a minority, perhaps, but if a character is truly well designed and what they represent is needed, they will find their audience. For an example, look at the Spider-verse now. Silk, is a new character - bitten by the same spider that gave Peter his powers, she's also a superhero. She's asian. She's popular. There's your minority representation, and no one got hurt in the process. I love Silk, and she's even going to be in 'Spider-man Homecoming', that HAS been confirmed.
Honesty and integrity really works.
Marvel has been waving the diversity flag a bit too much lately, making me question the sincerity of it. They've changed a number of characters and made them all diverse minorities. Changing heroes is sometimes acceptable, as long as it is passing on a title and not changing the very characteristics of a person, but since practically every major title has received this attention and now it's starting to affect movies, I can't help feeling they are doing it just for the recognition as diversity pioneers and not to help the minorities they try to represent.
C'mon Marvel, take your PC pandering, fake sentiments that are perpetuating the worst behaviors of our downright crappy first world society and try a little something called artistic integrity, which might actually help make the world a better place in a tiny, tiny way. Leave our beloved characters alone. Yes, they are a product of a bygone era, when society and values were different, but isn't that true of every era? Are we going to change long running characters to satisfy the whims of whiny, insecure "fans" every damn time? Leave them, and make new characters to represent our times and our values, and let history decide which characters are the best, or else how will our era be remembered? As the time when artists had no integrity.