Why Can’t Peter Parker Be Black?
io9’s Marc Bernardin makes the case for a non-white Spidey*:
Lee and Ditko created a wonderfully strong character, one full of complexity and depth, who happens to be white. In no way is Peter Parker defined by his whiteness in the same way that too many black characters are defined by their blackness. He’s defined by the people he cares for, by his career, by his identity as a New Yorker (incidentally, one of the most diverse cities in the world) — as too many good people died to prove, a man is defined by his choices, not by the color of his skin.
And don’t tell me it’s because an actor of color would hurt the box office: Not only is Spider-Man one of the most recognizable fictional characters on the planet, and managed to do just fine with Tobey “Snoozeville” Maguire playing him, whoever they cast WILL BE IN A MASK FOR HALF THE DAMNED MOVIE. AND ON THE POSTER.
Bernardin is right on target; most superheroes aren’t defined by their race or ethnicity (indeed, as he points out, the only exceptions are black heroes), and you wouldn’t lose anything by mixing up the racial background of a character. Indeed, changing the racial background of a character isn’t exactly new; in the 1970s, DC passed the Green Lantern’s power-ring to John Stewart, an African-American architect and Marine veteran. And in 2002, Marvel introduced “Ultimate” Nick Fury, a black version of their long-standing character modeled after Samuel L. Jackson. And as Bernardin points out, Marvel went even further with the limited series Truth: Red, White & Black, which told the story of Isaiah Bradley, the sole survivor of a group of black soldiers forced to act as test subjects for the super-soldier serum that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America.
You could easily pen a non-white Peter Parker that retains essence of the character while reflecting the fact that he is African-American. Black Peter Parker, for instance, might not have grown up in Forest Hills or attended Empire State University, but he would still be a struggling photographer with a good head for science, and a huge crush on Mary Jane Watson. I would welcome the director who cast a non-white Peter Parker, in lieu of another twenty-something white guy. And if there’s anything I’d worry about, it’s that screenwriters might try to add non-white “signifiers” to this hypothetical Peter Parker, with horrible results.
*If you value your sanity, don’t read the comments on Bernardin’s post.