The racial identity of the new Spider-Man has created the expected storm in a tea cup, providing an excuse for racists to vent their fear and hate. The USA Today article headed Half-black, half-Hispanic Spider-Man revealed has drawn over 700 comments, many of them rather reactionary in nature.
Meanwhile, the LA Times story that has named Laurence Fishburne as the new Perry White, in Zack Snyder‘s upcoming Superman movie Man of Steel, has yet to draw a single comment, of any kind. Not one.
So even though passions run high, and there are those who will normally take any excuse to lambast “political correctness gone mad”, nobody has yet bothered to take a crack here. Why?
Well, some of it must be down to the differences between USA Today and The LA Times, perhaps more significantly the LA Times Hero Complex column where the news appeared. It’s tempting to make some pretty big assumptions about the respective readerships on the basis of this discrepancy.
And then there’s the small issue of White being a supporting character, and not a costumed Superhero. I’m sure there’s. Strong bond between the wish-fulfilment aspects if Spider-Man’s character and the angry reaction. Maybe racists don’t care that newspaper editors are black – the liberal media and all that. Maybe they only care when presented with “heroes” outside of their own, or at least preferred, ethic definition.
What’s more, I suspect that Perry White might be being perceived as something of an antagonist, and there’s a long history of black villains. Indeed, it might even be seen as preferable in some quarters that the bad guys come in black.
And Perry White is, to some extent, the “chief” character. Think back over those Arnold-era action thrillers that you saw on VHS and you’ll conjure up memories of countless black police chiefs. Clearly an accepted type, however they came around (I suspect they have their roots in Shaft, if you’ll pardon the expression). Just how these characters are read and what a bigoted viewer makes of them is a longer discussion for another time, but Fishburne seems a pretty good match for what those characters provided.
If I remember correctly, Beyonce was a contender for Lois Lane when McG was thinking about his Superman movie. I’m not going to go campaigning for a black Lois – though I’m sure as hell not averse to the notion – and would, personally, far rather somebody create a new black heroine, rather than annexing decades of white representation and consigning, most likely, their “other” rendition to the footnotes.
Indeed, I’d rather we were talking about successful characters that were always black, from the day they were first conceived, and not these late-hour racial reinventions. This would at least mean that there were some black characters as entrenched and accepted as the big, white heroes. Perhaps the new Spider-Man, being a new character, could be the beginnings of such a character.
At the same time, I see the value in being “colourblind” and not tying any character to any racial background any more than you would their class, a certain period in history, a speech idiom or whatever else. These factors are all fair game, I’d say, when a character moves from creator to creator, let alone medium to medium.
If the casting of Fishburne is in any way a statement, then I’m all for that too. Statements are exactly what I want from Snyder and his collaborators. If everything about their film is some kind of starement, then great. All I worry about is how deftly put these statements are, and that they come as a function of storytelling, characterisation and the interrogation of themes an ideas. I don’t want any of it, of course, to feel like hectoring or lecturing.
And despite the protestations of the USA Today comment mob, giving a character a black ethnicity is neither.
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