There’s been lots of buzz surrounding Spider-Man: Homecoming after Peter Parker helped out Team Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War. And plenty of people have been obsessing over casting announcements including Hannibal Buress, Donald Glover, and Zendaya—prominent black actors joining a film that’s in a predominantly white Marvel movie universe.
Major news broke Thursday night when the Wrap reported that Zendaya would be playing iconic redhead and Peter Parker love interest Mary Jane Watson, according to two unnamed sources close to the project. Sony and Marvel have not confirmed the news.
Kristen Dunst played Watson in the Spider-Man movies from 2002-2007 and Shailene Woodley was intended to play her in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Zendaya would be the first black Mary Jane Watson, in both Spider-Man comic book and movie history. That means Marvel would finally be taking steps to diversifying its movies and expanding the scope of well-known characters. Miles Morales, a teen of African American and Puerto Rican descent, has been Spider-Man in Marvel comics since 2011, but he has yet to be portrayed on the big screen.
While there hasn’t been official confirmation from the studios on Zendaya’s role, many have accepted the 19-year-old Disney star’s casting—for better or for worse.
Many people are stoked about a Mary Jane played by Zendaya, especially at a time when “representation matters” has been widely discussed in Hollywood.
Meanwhile, others were upset about the casting announcement. They have tried arguing that Zendaya’s simply not fit for the role or that she shouldn’t be Mary Jane because she’s not actually a redhead.
For some these seemed like veiled ways to complain that the role isn’t going to a white actress. And then there’s people out there that are just upfront about their racist attitudes.
Really? How can she be perfect when MJ is white and red haired? #MakesNoSense.— Matt Blake (@mattblake94) August 19, 2016
Zendaya shouldn't be Mary Jane in the new Spider-Man movie it won't make sense— GHOST (@OfficialBPlus) August 19, 2016
This of course, isn’t the first time that there’s been controversy about a high-profile character being portrayed by an actor with a different skin color. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child‘s black Hermione brought out the trolls. And Michael B. Jordan had to deal with racist fans while playing the Human Torch in the Fantastic Four reboot.
Meanwhile, whitewashing of characters originally written as minorities continues in Hollywood. In the upcoming Doctor Strange movie, Tilda Swinton is playing a previously Tibetan character. Several live-action anime adaptations such as Ghost in the Shell and Death Note have also turned Asian figures into roles for white actors.
These two these situations are, of course, not equivalent. When there’s a lack of prominent, diverse characters to begin with, it’s problematic that they’re being rewritten as white when there’s plenty of white characters out there. Taking some of those white characters and giving them fresh depictions in the form of actors of color gives minorities a chance to see people that look like them on the big screen.
H/T The Wrap