Tuesday, June 1, 2010

An African-American Spider-Man? I don't think so!

We know that Columbia is rebooting the "Spider-Man" movie franchise, choosing to start fresh after 3 very successful films with Tobey Maguire as the web-spinner, so already they're falling into the category of fixing things that aren't broken. There wasn't much wrong with "Spider-Man 3" 2 years ago, as opposed to Christopher Nolan being handed the reins of the "Batman" franchise at Warner Bros. to erase the stench of Joel Schumacher's desecration of the Dark Knight in the mid-90's. However, they're really pushing it if they actually "listen", if you will, to a Twitter-fueled petition to cast an African-American actor as the new Spidey.

Columbia, you'll recall, made a major casting blunder in 1999's movie remake of Wild, Wild West by casting actor-rapper Will Smith ("Hancock", "Independence Day") as James West, a role created by Robert Conrad in the 60's. Despite Smith's star power, the cinematic "West" flopped, badly.

Twitter subscribers, blissfully ignorant of the "West" debacle, or so it would seem, are pushing for comedian Donald Glover (Community). Granted, Glover is a relative unknown, as are the five candidates the studio wants to look at, and it's been demonstrated before that an unknown commodity can succeed (Christopher Reeve as Superman, 1978). One online columnist, however, has proven to be even more ignorant by asking why Spider-Man should be a white guy at all, even as the web-head approaches his 50th anniversary next year. The last thing these folks want to do is to actually give Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada any ideas.

Quesada, you see, has proven to be unafraid when it comes to courting controversy. Just a few short years ago, he green-lighted a Rawhide Kid miniseries that rebooted the long-standing Western hero as a homosexual. Like "West", it tanked, even though a new Rawhide book is due to hit the stands shortly. It was also under Quesada's watch that The Ultimates was launched, creating an alternate world where superspy Nick Fury is in fact African-American, modeled after actor Samuel L. Jackson. Recognizing this, Marvel's movie division cast Jackson as Fury for the "Iron Man" movies and 2008's "Incredible Hulk". For once, taking a risk on reimagining an established character actually worked, since Ultimates was a success on the comics shop shelves.

Converting Nick Fury from white to African-American is one thing. Doing the same thing to Peter Parker, even if it's just for a movie, is asking for trouble. It was one thing when DC experimented with a 1-shot storyline by having Lois Lane change into an African-American woman for a news story she was working on in her self-titled magazine nearly 40 years ago. They also have an African-American in the Green Lantern Corps, starting relatively around the same time (John Stewart). However, they also allowed corporate cousin Warner Bros. to cast Billy Dee Williams ("Empire Strikes Back") as Harvey Dent in 1989's "Batman", then working around that to introduce Dent's alter-ego, Two-Face (billed as Harvey Two-Face) in 1995's "Batman Forever" and played by Tommy Lee Jones. No wonder the Bat-franchise seemingly died under Schumacher's watch.

But if DC were to even suggest that an African-American be in line to be, say, Batman, or if there was a suggestion made by an ignorant marketing suit at WB, then there's trouble.

The bottom line is, you don't take an iconic hero, such as Spider-Man or Batman, and change him from a white to an African-American just because of the whims of the ignorant. Columbia needs to understand this before beginning production on a new Spider-Man movie, because otherwise, they're risking another cinematic embarassment.


Samuel Wilson said...

I tried to reply a day ago, but I keep forgetting that I have to sign in on a second screen. What I wanted to say is, first, that Wild Wild West failed not because Will Smith was black, but because the story was stupid and the film overproduced; second, that Peter Parker is a fictional character whose essential qualities have nothing to do with his whiteness; and that Hollywood has at least batted .500 casting black actresses as another "white" comics character, Catwoman. So lighten up, please, before you start to look politically incorrect.

hobbyfan said...

Ok, there's that. And "Catwoman" failed for the same exact reason (terrible plot, bad casting decision). What I'm trying to say here, Sammy, is that some things should be left well enough alone, and certain fictional characters, such as Spider-Man, fall into that category.

Samuel Wilson said...

In the era of inclusive casting, when nonwhite actors routinely play Shakespearean roles besides Othello, you'll need to explain how there can be a category of fictional roles that are not to be cast inclusively. "Just because" won't cut it, I'm afraid.

hobbyfan said...

Does the word, "icon", mean anything in this case, Sammy? I don't think, in turn, you can invoke creative license to explain away any rational decision to flip the imagery of an already established character not named James Bond.

dmarks said...

Smith was also already an established actor by the time of "Wild Wild West". Your wording implies that he was plucked from the rap world to star in this.

dmarks said...

Checking. That's 8+ movies, including some huge summer blockbusters, and a very successful sitcom.

Wild Wild West was made by Barry Sonnenfeld, who had preciously cast Smith in the huge hit "Men in Black". There's no way you can call this a casting blunder.

Smith was also cast as a character played by white actors long ago in "I AM Legend". Another big success.

I would not mind a minority reboot of Batman or Spider-man.

hobbyfan said...

Will Smith took a risk by signing on for "Wild Wild West". As you state, he was already well established as an actor, but even the best actors will make bad judgments from time to time (i.e. Dustin Hoffman in "Ishtar").

Unknown said...

Dragonball Evolution
The Last Airbender
Prince of Persia
for that can i have
1 Black Superman
1 MiddleEastern Spiderman
& 1 Japanese Batman please

hobbyfan said...

@Gun: Since you wrote, we've had:

A Hispanic Spider-Man (Miles Morales, introduced in 2012).
An Earth-2 black Superman.

And, yes, I believe there is a Japanese Batman in the comics. Well, two of three's not bad......