Mary Jane Watson: The New and Improved.

Is Zendaya Coleman’s casting in “Spiderman: Homecoming” turning the page on racially equal casting in Hollywood?


When Disney Channel star, Zendaya was cast as a key role in the upcoming film “Spiderman: Homecoming”, comic book and movie lovers everywhere flooded social media sites. Fans made their own assumptions about Zendaya’s involvement in the film. These assumptions immediately speculating that her role as “Michelle” (a character who does not exist in the comics or previous films, and certainly not as a key role) was just a cover-up for her part as Mary Jane Watson.  Despite the lack of confirmation from Sony and Marvel, people still had a lot to say.

In the past, Mary Jane Watson has always been portrayed by young white actresses. This most likely had to do with her  comic book character being a white red-head. For many, Zendaya’s mixed roots were a game changer, one they aren’t ready to accept, while others believe she fits the role like Cinderella’s glass slipper.

But where does all the hate come from?

In a society that claims to have progressed in terms of gender and racial equality, people are so quick to criticize that very same equality when it manifests into a real thing. Hollywood has encouraged much of the backlash with their own misrepresentations of race. After decades of miscast roles, cringe-worthy black face and blatant disregard for casting characters of color accurately, we should be well on our way to fixing the problem. I hate to break it to you, but that isn’t the case.

Just take a look at some of the films released in more recent years, where characters of color were cast with white actors and actresses.

Remember “Exodus: Gods and Kings” (2014)? That movie ignited the passionate anger of people worldwide for using white actors for the two lead roles, both of which were colored-characters. Not to mention a number slew of slaves and extras whom were also misrepresented racially. However, the hype didn’t last long, and the movie was still a box office hit. Go figure.

There are other (countless) portrayals of this type of ignorance in Hollywood, and the trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon: “Prince of Persia: Sands of Time” (2010), “Pan” (2015), “Gods of Egypt” (2016). All of these films involve characters of color, the majority of which are represented by white actors and actresses. Not to mention, the highly anticipated 2010 film produced by M. Night Shyamalan, “Avatar: The Last Airbender”, an adaption of a television series that revolves almost entirely around a cast of Asian and Native American characters. The actors who played them in the film? They were all white. Oh, except the villains, they were graciously allowed to keep their racial identity.

Hollywood isn’t the only problem, though. Sure, its incessant habit to repeat past mistakes and then beg for forgiveness until we’ve all forgotten and moved on is a large part of the problem. But in the same breath, the audience also plays a huge part in reinforcing this repetitive process of inequality. Actors and actresses should be cast for appropriately based on the characters of color.

Or so one would think…

…and one would be wrong.

Take “The Hunger Games” trilogy. That took the world by storm when it was released back in 2008. Four years later, when the first of four film adaptations were released, fans across the world directed their attention to the wrong racial misinterpretation. The argument was that Rue, a young female character, should not have been played by, Amandla Stenberg, a colored-actress, despite the fact that the author, Suzanne Collins, made it quite clear in her description of Rue that the young girl was both “dark skinned and dark-eyed.”

The physical proof didn’t stop fans from unleashing hell on the poor, undeserving actress who was perfect for the part. Even worse, the main character Katniss’s physical description suggested that she, too, wasn’t white. Yet, when the blonde haired and blue-eyed, Jennifer Lawrence, took up the lead role, the indiscretion went unnoticed.

So, for the sake of breaking this racially unbalanced foundation that Hollywood has created, maybe we should start being genuine when we say “may the best actress or actor win” and stop using it as a justification when it suits our cause. Because, if you can sit through Angelina Jolie playing Mariane Pearl, a character who is of Afro-Chinese-Cuban descent, or Lawrence Olivier with blackface as Othello, then the gorgeous Zendaya Coleman playing a comic book favorite should be a breath of fresh air.

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