New Spider-Man animation is a poor attempt at racial diversity

Miles Morales became the first black Spider-Man, but was animating him a true attempt at racial diversity? | Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/user: Abijithka

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is the newest Marvel addition and a box-office smash around the globe. Earlier this month, the film received a Golden Globe for best animated picture and is projected to win the Oscar for the same category. The film is being praised for its marvelous animation and racially diverse cast, but can it really be considered diversity when a film is animated?

Historically, Hollywood has displayed white people interacting in whitewashed society. In 2017, the University of Southern California conducted a study to examine diversity in Hollywood.

They found that 12.1 percent of characters were African American, while over 70 percent of roles were comprised of white characters. Only 6.3 percent were Asian, and 6.2 percent were Hispanic. 

In 2011, the writers of the series at Marvel decided to kill off the former Spider-Man, Peter Parker. This made room for another Spider-Man to take up the mantle and resulted in the creation of the Afro-Latino teenage character named  Miles Morales.

Introduction of Miles Morales

Inspired by President Barack Obama and actor Donald Glover, writer ‎Brian Michael Bendis‎ and ‎artist Sara Pichelli decided to make the new Spider-Man black and Latino. It was a hit among comic book fans. Among those excited about the idea was Glover himself, who voiced his aspiration to portray Spider-Man in his 2012 comedy special.

Glover broke the internet when he again voiced his wish to play Peter Parker in “The Amazing Spider-Man” on Twitter. It quickly gained traction, and #Donald4Spiderman became one of the most popular hashtags.

Marvel had many formidable options for a live-action Spider-Man, but they decided to take a more cautious approach. Masking their trepidation with an expensive new state-of-the-art animation style made the finished product look like another “Black Panther” success story.

But why not introduce Miles Morales during “Spider-Man: Homecoming” when the waters were just right? It only adds to a growing concern that maybe Marvel doesn’t want a black Spider-Man and shows their lack of commitment to a mixed actor.

In 2015, emails between Marvel and Sony surfaced that outlined agreements on the portrayal of the superhero. It stated that the character must be a straight male that does not torture, murder, partake in adolescent sex nor have sex with an adolescent, use foul language or abuse alcohol and drugs.

This exchange shows the views of each company on Spider-Man’s portrayal and highlights how these views align with that of Spider-Man comics co-creator Stan Lee, who voiced his concern on changing the superhero’s ethnicity and sexual orientation.

“I wouldn’t mind, if Peter Parker had originally been black, a Latino, an Indian or anything else, that he stay that way,” Lee said in a 2015 interview with Newsarama. He also mentioned his desire for the character to remain straight.

Lee went on to mention how new superheroes are more than welcome to be gay, black or transgender, but not Spider-Man because Spider-Man is “established.”

Lee was evidently opposed to change.

This train of thought does not correlate with the current climate of the industry, however, especially given the recent success of movies with racially diverse casts.

Lessons from 2018

The entertainment industry learned a couple of important things over the course of 2018.  

They learned that racially diverse movies are insanely successful. “Black Panther” earned over $1.3 billion and is nominated for best picture at the upcoming Oscars. “Crazy Rich Asians” earned almost eight times its $30 million budget and was the most successful rom-com in over 10 years.

The success of these two films with predominately African American and Asian actors highlighted audiences’ yearning for a change.

While animated representation is still representation, it feels like a lesser form. It’s a watered-down attempt at representation.

Pixar and Disney are able to get away with this due to their history in animation. This made movies like “Coco” feel sincere and allowed the audience to connect with its message. Marvel would do well to follow suit and implement a more genuine attempt at racial diversity. 

Opinion columnist Anthony Cianciulli is a broadcast journalism senior and can be reached at [email protected].

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