Why can’t Spi­der-Man be a black man?


A new batch of doc­u­ments re­leased by Wik­iLeaks ex­poses the agree­ment be­tween Marvel and Sony Pic­tures on manda­tory traits for the Spi­der-Man char­ac­ter, in­clud­ing the re­quire­ment for him to be “Cau­casian and het­ero­sex­ual.”

With Hol­ly­wood trapped in a web of its own mak­ing, so­cial media has rightly crawled in to feast.

Let’s be clear: Film­mak­ers have a right to make their char­ac­ters any color they want.

Cre­at­ing a Cau­casian Spi­der-Man doesn’t make one racist, but mak­ing his “white­ness” manda­tory, as if the plot is some­how hinged on his skin color, is quite dis­turb­ing.

The rea­son for that is some­thing I can safely il­lus­trate with a per­sonal ex­am­ple.

I’ve been an im­pas­sioned writer and sto­ry­teller as far as my mem­ory serves me, and in all my ear­li­est sto­ries and un­pub­lished short nov­els, I re­call al­most ex­clu­sively us­ing white char­ac­ters.

One might ask why a 12-yearold Pindi boy, born and raised in a dis­tinctly Pun­jabi house­hold, miles away from the near­est “Kevin” or “Jane,” would rely so heav­ily on white char­ac­ters liv­ing in pre­dom­i­nantly white coun­tries.

The an­swer is ob­vi­ous.

The chil­dren of Pak­istani up­per­mid­dle class and elite fam­i­lies are drip-fed Amer­i­can movies, car­toons, and im­agery of white su­per­heroes.

The in­flux of Ja­panese anime is barely half a gen­er­a­tion old, which much more of­ten than not, is re­liant on stereo­typ­i­cal por­tray­als of Ja­panese peo­ple for the in­ter­est and amuse­ment of mostly Western au­di­ences.

While the gen­er­ous in­fu­sion of Western arts into global media has helped nor­mal­ize white peo­ple for peo­ple of color in most parts of the world, the in­verse has not hap­pened.

Peo­ple nearly ev­ery­where would be shocked if I ad­mit­ted that I don’t know what “Christ­mas” is, but a white Amer­i­can would be easily ex­cused for not know­ing “Eid” and what it rep­re­sents.

From an early age, I had sub­mit­ted to a Euro­cen­tric, het­eronor­ma­tive view of the world, re­al­iz­ing that to op­ti­mize my chances of global suc­cess, my pro­tag­o­nists would have to con­form to the same char­ac­ter traits made manda­tory by Hol­ly­wood: white, prefer­ably male, and liv­ing in a pre­dom­i­nantly white city.

Char­ac­ters of other eth­nic­i­ties, “ex­otic” ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tions, “odd” gen­der types, or “ques­tion­able” sex­ual ori­en­ta­tions, would serve as in­ter­est­ing side-sto­ries at best.

Many Spi­der-Man fans have scoffed at my in­dig­na­tion, cit­ing “au­then­tic­ity” as the rea­son for why Spi­der-Man must re­main white and straight.

Af­ter all, how ridicu­lous would it be if some­one re­made “Blade” with the Day­walker be­ing played by a white ac­tor?

“Au­then­tic­ity” buffs are per­haps not aware that al­most ev­ery char­ac­ter de­tail and plot el­e­ment in the Spi­der-man fran­chise has evolved re­mark­ably from how it was orig­i­nally por­trayed in the comic book.

A white boy get­ting bit by a ra­dioac­tive spi­der = ‘The Amaz­ing SpiderMan’.

A brown, Pak­istani boy get­ting bit by a ra­dioac­tive spi­der = A child­hood ru­ined.

Do­ing the op­po­site, as in the case of a white Day­walker, would count as cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion.

It would mean white­wash­ing the pre­cious few su­per­heroes of color that we ac­tu­ally have, which would fur­ther alien­ate peo­ple of color.

While I’m cer­tainly not propos­ing a forced re­make of our beloved su­per­hero char­ac­ters, I won’t pre­tend that comics and movies have no in­flu­ence on the way we see the world.

Or that they have no power to change our per­cep­tion to­ward peo­ple who weren’t born with the pop­u­lar, Hol­ly­wood-ap­proved traits.

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