Imagine you're sitting in a crowded movie theater in November of 2016.
You’ve just watched Captain America and Iron Man argue over whether superheroes should register with the federal government, or whether these vigilantes should be allowed to maintain their secret identities.
Cut to a tension-filled press conference where Spider-Man reveals his identity to the world. His mask comes off and there stands … a brown kid.
That’s right, true believer. Sony has lent Marvel our favorite wall-crawler for a movie (apparently for free, no less). The decision has sent ripples through the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and filmdom in general.
The deal was long-rumored, primarily because of the hack of Sony’s emails, but is still exciting. Spider-Man – Marvel’s face, heart and soul – is returning to the fold. It enables Marvel to tell a more complete, compelling story while giving Sony the much-needed expertise to re-reboot the Spidey franchise – this time without Andrew Garfield in the red and blue tights.
But the question of who will replace Garfield is very much up in the air. Will the next Peter Parker be an unknown? Someone with serious acting chops? What if the next Spider-Man isn’t Peter Parker at all? What if it’s Miles Morales, the Ultimate Universe’s Spidey?
Some quick background: In 2000, Marvel launched its Ultimate Universe, a retelling of its stories set today. Wolverine started out as an assassin. The Avengers were called The Ultimates. And while Parker started out as Spider-Man, he was eventually replaced by Morales.
Marvel’s Diversity Bid Pays Off
Miles is a beloved figure in comic-dom. He’s smart, plucky and, like Peter, has been through his share of triumphs and tragedies. In an MCU where nearly all of the heroes are white (we’ll see whether Anthony Mackie’s Falcon eventually becomes Captain America on the big screen), the retelling of Spider-Man’s origin from an African-American/Hispanic perspective would be refreshing.
While Miles is immensely popular among comic book readers, he lacks Peter Parker’s name recognition with the general public. At the end of the day, that familiarity will help to drive ticket sales – and Marvel/Sony know it. Why mess with success?
Five movies have made lots of money featuring a predominantly white cast. And I can only imagine the Internet trolls licking their virtual lips to hurl epithets at a brown kid usurping the role of their “white” hero. Why would the studios court that kind of controversy?
Still, it would be a bold choice – one that could breathe new life into a tired franchise. With its all-female Avengers team, a Muslim Captain Marvel, an African-American leader of SHIELD, Marvel is trying to depict a world that’s a bit more like the one the rest of us live in.
A brown Spider-Man would fit into that world just fine.