Why Change Is Coming and That’s OK: A Conversation Between Fans About Diversity

Written by: Flicks and Pieces & girl_dreaming.

Back in 2010, breaking news in the comic book franchise world was that Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man was getting a reboot, despite the last installment coming only three years before.

The Interwebs were abuzz, and along with many others came a campaign to place Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino / of Community fame) as our new Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.


And while we’ve come to know and love Andrew Garfield’s take on the iconic character, the response among fans when Glover appeared on a tongue-in-cheek episode of Community in Spidey gear varied widely – from outpourings of delight to overtly racist derision.

Likewise, Jason Momoa’s casting and upcoming cameo as everyone’s favorite JL character, Aquaman, gave rise to a long-running discussion this past year with friends, co-workers, and now *co-bloggers* about diversity in the comic book/superhero movie genre. And with the release of official images for Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, etc – a conversation between we the fans is long overdue.

Jason Momoa as Aquaman.
Jason Momoa as Aquaman.

Diversity. It sounds so college-orientation-cliche. Here’s girl_dreaming’s take on it, as a fan who happens to work in The Biz:

The increasing minorities of the world are hungry for a superhero that looks Ike them. That can be a role model to their kids, and an example of an intelligent, strong, successful human being to the rest of the world. That can serve as an entry-point into non-Western cultures, and can shine a light on wider social/economic/environmental/ political problems that aren’t as sexy when it’s not in IMAX.

This is near and dear to my heart because it’s one of my goals as a filmmaker and storyteller. The total viewing audience of your average Hollywood summer release is undeniably bigger than the most lauded documentary. These movies are created to be popular and easily understood across cultural and linguistic boundaries – making them an incredibly powerful vehicle for messages, morals, and yes, propaganda.

For myself at Flicks and Pieces, the increasing diversity we’ve seen in summer action flicks (*see: Fast & Furious franchise, Star Trek, The Losers, The Matrix, etc…*) in the past fifteen years or so is a step in the right direction, and Warner Brother’s efforts to find a female director for Wonder Woman leaves me hopeful. But is the box office conquering superhero movie genre doing its part for cause? Is the X-Men franchise, for example, leading the way in diversity as it does so often in comic form?

To revert back to Spider-Man – in the same span of time, there’s been two different versions of the character on the big screen. Both were hugely successful at first, but each subsequent film was less and less popular with the fans. What can we say is responsible for the failures that led to Sony offing one of their most lucrative properties back to the Marvel umbrella in a bid to restore its credibility? Was it the storylines? Too much studio intervention? A lack of franchise stewardship? …Casting?

Personally, I enjoyed Tobey Maguire. He was the perfect Peter Parker, but not a great Spider-Man. As for Andrew Garfield, his Spidey was excellent, but his Peter Parker felt all wrong.

I’m ready for a different voice.

This is ultimately what our discussion of diversity is about. For both of us, the argument is not that the “look” of a character (especially the iconic ones like Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man) is unimportant, but rather that said image is not what makes the character who s/he is. Yes, there are certain costumes, props, and stylistic features like hair or eye color – but what builds a character has everything to do with their backstory, personality, and the way they interact with the universe; and nothing to do with race, gender, or the color of their skin.

The Aquaman from the comics looked like this:

Golden Age Aquaman.
Golden Age Aquaman.

And then this:

Silver Age Aquaman.
Silver Age Aquaman.

And then this:

New 52 Aquaman.
New 52 Aquaman.

But, rather than cementing one “look”, don’t these updates prove the opposite? Change happens, and that’s OK.

No, Momoa does not have blonde hair and light eyes, and his skin is more caramel than California-tan. He does not look like the Aquamen we’ve seen before. But the way this character looked in the 50’s is different than the way he looked in the 90’s, and will be different for the kid whose first interaction with Aquaman will be Jason Momoa’s Aquaman movie.

The same is true for all the superheroes through the ages. Regardless of how they’re drawn or who plays them, it is the characters themselves that remain the same. It’s why they’ve stayed with us, in the zeitgeist, throughout the decades. Nick Fury kicks a whole truckload of ass whether he’s white or black. As does Captain America, Green Lantern; and let’s not forget Heimdall.

Perhaps Donald Glover’s Spider-Man was everything we fans didn’t even know we were missing.

We issue this challenge to the directors, producers, and executives all the way up there: cast based on merit and performance, and not on looks. Maybe we can avoid the fan turnaround that often seems so volatile and unpredictable.

We recognize the power you wield as decision makers, and the intense pressure that must go into every one, as well as the very valid desire to take the path of least resistance. But, like someone’s Aunt said that one time, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

We’re waiting.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. teachezwell says:

    Great thoughts on diversity. When those early comics were published, there was not a chance that a black character could star as a hero. Women out of the kitchen were few and far between. I’m not sure there were any non-white cartoon characters at all. The 50’s were still years of lynchings in the south, after all. As our country becomes gray and brown, film companies will have to provide opportunities for diversity or go under.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Luke Kent says:

    Comics have come on in leaps and bounds for diversity since the “golden age”, but the movies have been incredibly slow to catch up – especially considering the frequency at which they’re released. I think that there just has to be a wider array of voices from different cultures and backgrounds in terms of the characters and the filmmakers themselves – that’s how progress is made!


  3. Y3W_TR33 says:

    The thing that’s amusing is how oftentimes the counter to established franchises having diverse characters is the old complaint, “Man, why do THESE PEOPLE have to be shoved into our franchise? Why can’t they just make their own work instead of shoving different things down our throats?” And it’s like…really? Is the existence of Miles Morales more of a shove down one’s throat than, say, the entirety of the Clone Saga? Is Jason Momoa being Aquaman more of a harsh shove down one’s throat than the time Aquaman had a hook hand in a misguided attempt to be more, “badass” like every other comic was during the 1990’s?

    I mean, give me a break. Even if Donald Glover as Spider Man sucked, there is no way, I mean NO WAY, it could’ve been any worse than The Amazing Spider Man 2. If anything, even if Donald Glover’s Spidey was little more than a cynical “diversity quota” like people often counter when ANY established franchise tries something different, it would probably have more thematic weight on that basis ALONE than The Amazing Spider Man 2 has in it’s entire 2 hours.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Luke Kent says:

      Really nicely put – I totally agree, change is a good thing, and in the case of The Amazing Spider-Man I don’t really understand why a certain segment were against Glover so much – did we really need exactly the same film we’d seen just a few years previous? Whether he had been Parker or Morales, at least it would have changed things up, and could have opened the door for further change in the genre. It looks like Asa Butterfield will be Spidey this time around, so as one reader pointed out it brings a little age diversity to the genre at least!


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