Another week, another tedious controversy around a comic book movie. A few days ago, it was announced that Zendaya (a young actress I confess to having zero knowledge of) will be playing Mary Jane Watson in the forthcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming. Cool, sounds good, you might think. Except Zendaya is black. And Mary Jane is white.
This blog won’t debate pros and cons of this casting decision, or others like it. Such a discussion requires much more time than I have to give it, and frankly, there are many more people out there who can speak with greater authority and eloquence on the subject of representation than I can. Suffice it to say that my take on Zendaya’s casting as MJ is that if she can convey the character’s unique blend of vivacity and melancholy, she’s good enough to take on the role. End of story.
Instead, this blog will touch on a subject that exists on the outskirts of such debates: the inability to let go. While racism and misogyny undoubtedly paint some of the criticism of casting decisions like this, they’re not the only things. Fans who stand in opposition can have no issue with race or gender, but can still complain that the casting is wrong, simply because it’s not what’s in the comics. It stops the adaptation being a faithful adaptation.
This is a less destructive attitude, but still a wrong-headed one. As a huge fan of certain properties, I fully understand the desire to keep things as you remember and like them. I’m a Spider-Man fan and took huge issue with certain parts of Andrew Garfield’s Amazing Spider-Man duo. The greater focus on Spider-Man’s sense of humour than his sense of responsibility simply didn’t sit right with me as it’s the latter that, in my opinion, informs the character and his choices more than the former.
So, I’m not a particularly big fan of those Spider-Man films, and because of that I don’t really talk about them or give them much heed. I saw them, I expressed my feelings about them, I moved on to something I did enjoy. Simple really, as there are plenty of things I do enjoy, and plenty of Spider-Man stories I can turn to to sate my hunger for all things Webhead (not least the three Sam Raimi takes on the character).
This has happened repeatedly over the years, and twice this year. In recent months, I’ve found myself disappointed with Captain America: Civil War and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but I just haven’t found it within myself to wage war on them. Why? Because while those films didn’t deliver what I wanted or the versions of the characters I wanted, they still delivered those things to someone. Quite a lot of someones, I’d assume.
In other words, Henry Cavill’s Superman is by no means my Superman, but there are plenty of people out there for whom his take on the Man of Steel will remain the definitive one.
And more power to those people. While it’s a natural desire for older fans to want to protect their take on the character, their take is still one of many different takes. What, for example, would the kids who grew up on Superman when the comic first started and the Man of Steel could only leap great distances think of the flying Superman the world has come to know and love? Evolution is key to keeping a character fresh and relevant. Remove that, and the character dies.
For some, that’s preferable to what they see as a significant affront to the character’s heritage. But if that’s your kind of thinking, then honestly, step outside and go talk to a kid. This summer, I’ve seen boys wearing Man of Steel-style Superman suits and girls roaming round dressed as Rey. They look like they’re having the time of their lives, just as I, and the fans who complain about changes to their beloved characters, had the time of our lives when we were children.
They are their heroes now and, as adults, we’re just playing in the kids’ sandpit. So let them build their sandcastles and have their versions of these iconic characters. See it through their eyes and accept that your version of the character is in the past. Because sometimes, if you love something – if you truly love it – you’ve got to let it go.