Sunday, February 22, 2015

Heroes Come in All Shades and Sizes

I've recently been observing an interesting debate/war of words going on over at Twitter. It seems ever since Marvel & Sony did the deal to bring Spider-Man into the Marvel cinematic universe, there has been a small but vocal reaction to the possibility of Peter Parker being recast as a black character (even though this hasn't even been decided... as far as I am aware). Dan Slott (one of the writers), is currently engaging these voices head-on.

Now those of you nerdy enough to be in the know, will be aware that in Marvel's Ultimate universe, there is already a black/hispanic Spider-Man called Miles Morales... and that the Nick Fury of that universe is also black (as indeed he is, in the Marvel cinematic universe), despite the fact that in the mainstream comic universe... he is white.

The future ethnic heritage of Spider-Man has recently been a matter of debate on Twitter

This is where I stand on the topic:
  1. If the Spider-Man of the Marvel cinematic universe is a rebooted character then he can be of any ethnicity, it really doesn't matter... it's a fresh start and if we are honest, there is nothing, not one thing that says that Peter Parker is defined by ethnicity.
  2. If there were any new universe versions of Spidey... they could be any ethnicity whatsoever... new universe, new rules.
  3. If something happened in the main universe whereby the writers "did a Psylocke" or another plot along the lines of Superior Spider-Man, whereby Peter and his powers ended up in the body of somebody from another ethnic group... again, no problem... as long as the narrative gives a reasonable explanation for how the transfer happened.
I think the real reason that people are getting their webshooters in a twist is because they relate to Peter Parker as a fictional character.  They know what its like to be the nerdy kid in class who was picked on or looked over... and they fantasize about having the powers and responsibilities of Peter's heroic alter ego. All of this is fine... but we need to remember that our own relationship with a fictional character doesn't give us exclusive ownership of that character.

An important step in human maturity is developing the ability to decentralise our existence and understand that we are not the heart of the universe... and that other people have the right to appreciate the same things as us and relate to them in exactly the same way we do. This isn't something that is just restricted to the realms of fiction either. People might be quick to point out that  in the West, artistic and cinematic representation of Jesus Christ has largely been restricted to that of a white Caucasian... usually with flowing locks and blue eyes; this is despite the fact he was racially Semitic in origin. However the truth is far more kaleidoscopic and wonderfully complex than that.  If you take the time to explore other cultures where Christianity is present, you will see that Jesus is actually manifested in the dominant ethnicity of the country/region in question... and not just our own.

Rather than see different representation as a threat, isn't it better to use it to develop the commonality and empathy we share with these people and see past the superficial differences?

And ultimately in the final analysis... isn't what draws us to fictional characters like Spider-Man or real people like Jesus, the values, ethics and personality they exhibit... rather than the colour of their skin or shape of their body?

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