Spider-Man: Poorly Handles Diversity with Tokenism

By:  Asher Primus

Regardless of how the film handled race, it was a marvelous film nonetheless.  I was skeptical for months that Spider-Man:  Homecoming would be like the current continuation of Batman in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) with the same old villains and origins.  Tom Holland turned Peter Parker back to an innocent kid who just wants to get out of the house and date the girl of his dreams.  Peter is more accepted among his peers compared to other versions that are not connected with Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  His new school, The Bronx High School of Science, is more accepting to diversity and intellect as his crush (Liz), is on the academic decathlon with him.

Liz is a biracial girl and is the daughter of Adrian Toomes aka Vulture.  She is perceived as the popular girl who falls in love with Peter, but cannot handle his abandonment to his friends and decathlon teammates.  It seems to be a new concept in giving white superheroes black or biracial love interests as seen in CW’s The Flash and DCEU’s The Flash casted actress Kiersey Clemons as Iris West.

Despite Liz’s departure at the end of Spide-Man:  Homecoming, Zendaya’s character (Michelle) hints that she is also known as ‘MJ,’ but Michelle Jones, so it is possible that her character may or may not be Peter’s next love interest, yet it is funny to see white nerds fight over casting.  My concern with white heroes with black or mixed girlfriends is that it subliminally makes black look bad because we are late in the comic book world there is not a set archetype for black heroes.  I am aware that the Black Panther could set the tone, but even before watching the first trailer I did worry that the film would depict black women as their equals rather than vulnerable women who need saving.  Black men are not known to fight for and protect black women, due to us being the abusers in Tyler Perry movies.  On a side, I would like to remind color struck black men that mixed women are also attracted to white men as seen in Dear White People, granted this does not make them self-haters or sell-outs, but black men may lose the norm attraction to mixed if we continue to use them as trophy girlfriends/wives or easy to smash video vixens.  If the MCU Spiderman series continue to use biracial women as the love interest; white men may get the benefit of the doubt as they do not contribute to colorism and that they have already assimilated to the suburban lifestyle.

Diversity in white spaces is counterproductive because it becomes a race baiting topic that black people do not even ask for, we expect the token negro to be easygoing and a comic relief.  It hinders films when it is spammed to our faces as if I am supposed to jump for joy as some major characters are pointlessly race-swapped.  Michelle is a homely girl who has no friends, but hangs out with Peter and decathlon team.  Michelle is out of the “ideal biracial girl in films” as she is depicted as a home woman with rough hair.  She makes a lot of faces and her character is just off to even a little creepy.  Her redeeming quality moment is in relating to a black audience in her cheesy woke-ness, while in one scene she refused to go tour the Washington Monument because it was built by slaves.  We get it, but white people have bad habits in believing that black people vividly search for oppression and to spark racial conservations.  I would not be surprised if Michelle takes Spider-Man to a BLM protest in part 2.

The school itself is a problem as the audience sees a perfect world where students do not experience significant issues, maybe because it is a school for the gifted, but despite the diversity it does not relate to me.  It further entertains that whiteness should be a motivator for minorities.  I see it in kid shows and MTV as well as white suburban schools.  Where I grew up, school was not pretty or fun.  We hated pretty and fun. We ate crappy lunches, dirty classrooms and fist fights were entertainment.

Holland’s Spider-Man lacks the realism of living in New York.  I prefer Tobey McGuire’s Spider-Man because it was more relatable to young adults, especially myself.  Being an adult is not pretty as we see him struggling to get decent pay and that his genius is under appreciated.  There was no Ironman to build him up and sometimes our friends hate us for good reasons and our good deeds are either unnoticed or not wanted.

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