Thursday night (August 18), comic book movies fans were abuzz with the news that the upcoming “Spider-Man Homecoming” had already found its Mary Jane Watson in the form of Zendaya, according to sources at The Wrap. And yeah, a lot of people are excited:
It's not just the CW, either. As the website Nerds of Color satirically pointed out last year, even Little Orphan Annie — who, remember, was originally the titular protagonist of her own newspaper comic strip — was recently cast as a Black girl, Quvenzhané Wallis.
Interestingly, the ethnic backgrounds of many of these characters have also fluctuated in the comics as well. When the entire DC Comics universe rebooted in 2011, Wally West was re-envisioned as a Black teenager (there are now two Wally Wests, which is a whole thing); the Earth-2 version of Hawk Girl is Latina and goes by Kendra Munoz-Saunders; and the recent comic “Superman: American Alien” also depicts Jimmy Olsen as black, although the series exists outside of canon and was published after “Supergirl” began.
Which is part of what makes Zendaya’s potential casting as Mary Jane so especially powerful, by the way — she’s never been portrayed as Black before, and given that comics often change to fit their movie adaptations after they become successful, it opens up the opportunity for more diversity within the pages of “Spider-Man” comics.
Unfortunately, some who aren’t keen on seeing any changes made to the status quo are already claiming this trend is proof bias against gingers in comics. Seriously, ask me to tell you the story about the time I saw a commenter seriously argue that casting Mechad Brooks in “Supergirl” was disrespectful of Jimmy Olsen’s Irish heritage. That actually happened.
But when you think about it, comics have actually been over-representing the redheaded population for decades, specifically with regards to female love interests. In reality, only 2 to 6% of the United States population are natural-born redheads. Compare that to the 13.5% of Americans who are Black — to say nothing of the people who are both Black and naturally redheaded.
As comic adaptations commit to diversifying their line-up without creating new characters, then this is kind of casting going to keep happening — so you might as well get used to it. After all, why should only white gingers get to see themselves as desirable or heroic in superhero stories?
Face it, tiger. It's 2016. Time for an update.