James Gunn Responds To Zendaya As Mary Jane

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Yesterday, The Wrap dropped a big scoop on Spider-Man: Homecoming involving the identity of Zendaya’s character in the film. According to the report, Zendaya is set to play Mary Jane Watson in the film, making the her the first nonwhite actress to portray the character. As per usual, whenever the casting of a traditionally white character is given to a person of color, the internet’s reaction can get pretty interesting to say the least. Examples that come to mind are Michael B. Jordan’s casting as Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four as well as Tilda Swinton’s casting as the Ancient One in Doctor Strange. 

James Gunn, director of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and the upcoming sequel Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 had his own two cents on the matter. The director shared his thoughts via his Facebook page:

For me, if a character’s primary attribute – the thing that makes them iconic – is the color of their skin, or their hair color, frankly, that character is shallow and sucks. For me, what makes MJ MJ is her alpha female playfulness, and if the actress captures that, then she’ll work. And, for the record, I think Zendaya even matches what I think of as MJ’s primary physical characteristics – she’s a tall, thin model – much more so than actresses have in the past.

Whatever the case, if we’re going to continue to make movies based on the almost all white heroes and supporting characters from the comics of the last century, we’re going to have to get used to them being more reflective of our diverse present world. Perhaps we can be open to the idea that, although someone may not initially match how we personally conceive a character, we can be – and often are – happily surprised.

Gunn also responded to a fan question on his Twitter account:

In his Facebook post, Gunn also mentions that he had read the film’s script and has met Zendaya. He neither confirmed nor denied that the actress is indeed playing Mary Jane Watson. I for one agree with Gunn’s sentiments and believe that audiences are continuing to have an open mind towards these types of casting decisions. One of the most important things that studios such as Marvel and DC should commit to is to diversify their films’ casts so it can further reflect the world around us. It’s not a matter of social justice, but rather a promotion of empathizing with another human that may look different from yourself. I am excited to see what Zendaya brings to this role when we finally see Spider-Man: Homecoming swing into theaters on July 7, 2017.

Source: James Gunn via Facebook

Noah Villaverde

Noah Villaverde

Cinema lover. Saxophone player. Coffee consumer. Chronic complainer. Oh, I also write. #TeamHeroic

  • I hope she rocks in the role and does a tremendous job. I don’t know her from anything else and that is fine with me as long as she brings it. Films have been in full colour for a long time, no sense in casting in just black and white.

    • Bruce Norris

      Somehow, I like what you said.

  • Travis Lindsay

    They change her ethnicity, outrage. They create a new character, outrage because she isn’t a part of cannon. You can never win with these small minded fanboys/girls.

    • Peter James

      >>>”Now that said, isn’t one of the reasons Luke Cage is iconic is because of his skin color? How about Black Panther? Storm?”

      Bad analogy and false equivalence.

      This is a weak argument always given in response to the question of racial identity of characters in comics.

      All the characters you mentioned above, their racial identity is tied to who they are and their characters’ place and importance in the story in a way that it isn’t for most of the white characters where the race might be changed.

      For example Luke Cage is from Harlem, and both his character origin as well as who he is as a person and tying to his stories is inextricably tied to his being a black person…. FROM Harlem along with what he represents (or represented when the character was created) for that particular part of New York.
      As for Storm and Black Panther, do I really even need to defend why both of them can’t be anything other than black?

      Storm is half-Kenyan, half-black American and who was worshiped as an African goddess of lightning as part of her back-story.
      Find a way to make that a white character in a plausible way, and then you might have an argument.

      Ditto Black Panther – the emperor of a hidden African Kingdom that’s had minimal contact with the white world.

      I mean, come on, dude.

      You could make the argument you were trying to make with a character like Sam Wilson (Falcon) or even Rhodey or even Blade; but the 3 you chose are three that almost inextricably can NOT be separated from their race as a function of who they are as individuals.

      • Travis Lindsay

        I know who they are and that’s why I picked them. The others you mentioned would be too easy. I’m not even using the whole “why not turn Power Man into a white dude” counter, and I’m not disagreeing with you. I don’t think switching races is a bad thing to certain extents. Gunn said it’s bad if skin/hair color makes a character iconic, but isn’t it a double standard to argue that being black is what makes those characters iconic? I just think his argument is a little weak.

        And you don’t need to preach to me about white being the default. As a biracial person (half-Asian at that), I know where the entertainment world places my people on the totem pole.

        • RNG

          Its not that theyre iconic because theyre black, its that theyre iconic because theyre rare. Very similar to popular female heroes.

      • Bruce Norris

        Sam and Rhodey are “black friends/sidekicks”. Van Helsing is basically Blade. Point being, no need to change anything.

    • Peter James

      And for the record, the reason people say that skin color is not iconic for white characters but it is for non-white characters, is because in our society white is the default race and social identity.

      Very few white characters in comics and literature are who they are because of their race.
      Maybe Thor – Norse god of Thunder, and a handful of others.

      The fact that most of these characters is white is a given, because that’s the baseline that society considers normal

      • Steve Steve

        No. The characters are white because they were created and written by white people, for white readers. That is perfectly reasonable. Mary Jane was white because all the girls the creators knew were white.

        Now, Queens is an incredible example of a melting pot, so it stands to reason that Mary Jane can be non-white and still encompass the same aspects that made her relevant in the original comics.

        It is only normal for white people to be white. Now that we are not an overwhelming majority white population it is no longer normal to be white.

      • John Smith

        Thor’s race is iconic… so what about Heimdall?

    • SAMURAI36

      So wait, I’m confused. Are you one of the fanboys/girls, or no?

  • Seb

    Gunn’s right, character’s appearance shouldn’t matter. It’s why he went with a purple Drax, orange Gamora and made Quill 3 foot tall, the heart of the characters are still there.

    • Peter James

      I love the fact that you actually think you made your point with that laughable attempt at both sarcasm and an argument.

      You must be so proud of yourself.

  • Kelly

    I don’t think adding a white actress as MJ endangers the diversity of the film, even though none of the diverse cast are leads.

    • SAMURAI36

      The only way that would’ve happened, is if they went with Miles Morales, instead of Peter Parker.

      Man, I woulda LOVED to see the brains melt of some of these “fans”, had they done that.

      • Chris Schroeder

        I mean honestly I want to see a Miles Morales down the road, but I want them to do it the right way and start with Peter and work up to the way the relationship is in the comics now.. Considering (barring years of experience) Miles is the stronger of the two

  • unpaidpundit

    The thing is, high schools in NYC are not that diverse. NYC public schools are quite segregated, as I pointed out in a post under the announcement of Zendaya playing Mary Jane. Secondly, Peter Parker appears to be going to a school modeled on one of New York’s schools that have competitive admissions. Kids have to take a test to get admitted, and the schools end up being disproportionately white and Asian. I am sure that none of these subtleties will be addressed in a film that seems determined to portray a multi-culti, politically correct version of reality.

    • Steve Steve

      Based on the cast, it seems that they are presenting a majority Latino and Balck student body where white students are a minority. You could be right though.

      I maintain that superhero stories are a good venue to present an idealized state of America. Though your assertions of real-life self-segregation are accurate.

    • SAMURAI36

      Very true. As someone that went to school in both Brooklyn and the Bronx. I can attest to this.

    • Jacob King

      You are basically arguing that Mary Jane shouldn’t be black because a black girl wouldn’t get accepted into a school with selective admissions – wow. I’ll assume that wasn’t your intention but it is still a rough angle to take.

      • SAMURAI36

        Uhmmm, no. He’s saying that this film will in no way be a reflection of the reality surrounding these characters.

        • Jacob King

          Um no he is saying if these characters were real, which they are not, they would look like the represtations dreamed up by white men in the early 60s. He is using his experience of going to a mostly white/Asian HS to argue that a black girl in that world breaks his suspension of disbelief in a way that a kid with radioactive spider powers doesn’t.

          • SAMURAI36

            Uhmm, no.

            He’s saying that PRESENT DAY NYC doesn’t look anything like the world they are trying to paint in this film.

            And he’s using his experience of the Public schools in the area that A) he actually goes to, and B) that the characters in the story are supposed to be going to, to point out this fact.

            It has nothing whatsoever to do with whether the characters are real. The situations said characters are in, are definitely real.

            That’s like saying, just because Kunta Kente wasn’t a real person, it’s okay to portray whites as slaves and blacks as entrepreneurs in Roots.

            There’s something to be said for accuracy, even in fiction.

          • Jacob King

            To make your argument you would have to prove that their are no African American girls at selective schools in Queens. This is beyond dumb. Even if it were true it would not be incorrect to portray a fictional black girl attending a fictional High School in the hyper real world of a Disney Marvel movie.

            Also no situation Peter Parker has ever been in could reasonably be described as definitely real.

            If your objection is that MJ should not be black because it is unrealistic that is stupid – lots of girls are black. If your objection is MJ shouldn’t be portrayed by a black actress because she has always been drawn white then that’s your opinion and I disagree.

            It is nothing like your ridiculous Roots example. I am not going to explain why because I believe you know why.

          • SAMURAI36

            To make your argument you would have to prove that their are no African American girls at selective schools in Queens. This is beyond dumb.

            Yes, it would indeed be dumb, if that was in fact what I’d stated. Of course there are black students in Queens County. This is just an attempt on your part to deflect what was actually stated.

            So once again, I ask the question: do you know how NYC public schools are set up? Or NYC neighborhoods? Yes or no?

            Even if it were true it would not be incorrect to portray a fictional black girl attending a fictional High School in the hyper real world of a Disney Marvel movie.

            LMAO, WTF is a “hyper real world? Pretty sure you made that nonsense up.

            Also no situation Peter Parker has ever been in could reasonably be described as definitely real.

            As opposed to “hyper real”? I like how you appointed yourself to dictate what’s “real”.

            So, Queens NY is not “real” (“hyper” or otherwise)?

            If your objection is that MJ should not be black because it is unrealistic that is stupid – lots of girls are black. If your objection is MJ shouldn’t be portrayed by a black actress because she has always been drawn white then that’s your opinion and I disagree.

            I like how you attempt to reduce my argument to terms you can straw-man against. Good thing it’s neither point.

            Oh, and “lots of girls are Black” is the most nonsensical thing I’ve read on this site, in the past 20 minutes.

            It is nothing like your ridiculous Roots example. I am not going to explain why because I believe you know why.

            What I “know”, is that I get that you missed the point of the example, and that’s completely okay.

  • Steve Steve

    There’s a backhanded shot at Kirsten Dunst in there… Yikes.

  • Wolverine

    So, Why not have a white guy play Black Panther?..It appears to me that You pc warriors are full of s hit and hypocrisy.Well regardless, I don’t give a f uck about another Spiderman and Mary Jane movie.Seriously, How many times we have to pay to watch the same s hit?…Nah, Not happening.

    • Bruce Norris

      They already have that…TARZAN & Doc Savage. Any more questions?!

    • Jewie

      There are certain characters where their race is a part of their character. Black Panther is one. A character like Magneto would likely remain white because of his Jewish heritage. Other characters don’t have that reliance on a specific race/ethnicity and so they can be cast blindly. Whoever is best for the character should get the role. Not the person who looks most like the traditional depiction. Appearance is skin deep. Character is what matters.

      • John Smith

        If character is what matter, then you’ve proved his point, and casting a Thai tranny as Black Panther shouldn’t make you bat an eye.

        But you’re still missing an important point. They can write any and every aspect of everything in their movies however they see fit.
        Here is a backstory for a white Black Panther that I just came up:
        Descendant of colonists is forced to protect the country (which is majority black) his ancestors colonized to make up for their trespassing on sacred ground. Boom done.

        If you can’t figure out how to make any character any ethnicity, you have no imagination.

        • SAMURAI36

          Which would be fine, IF that’s the story they went with. But you’re clearly smart enough to know that it’s not. Not only that, but they aren’t even creative enough to create a different back story.They’d just slip a white guy into the role, without even so much as acknowledging the elephant in the room.

          And what is it with white people and their whole “SJW” rants? Not only does it come off as dickish, but it only serves to prove what everybody else is saying about white folks.

          • John Smith

            The entire point of your comment was to call “them” racist. Thanks, you can go away now and let the adults talk.

          • SAMURAI36

            Thanx for a$$-uming what the point of my comment was.

            It’s been my experience, when people do that, along with running from discussions, then they are far from being “adults”.

            Try harder, troll.

          • John Smith

            “They’d just slip a white guy into the role, without even so much as acknowledging the elephant in the room.”
            No assumption on my part. You added nothing of note and called the producers and writers racist.

            Seems odd that you assume I’m white, then claim to dislike assumptions. But you’re not being racist when you make that statement about “whites”, right? Because you’re black and therefore can’t be racist, right?

          • SAMURAI36

            Actually, pretty sure that speaks to how lazy I see Marvel creators to be, not (necessarily) any racist intent on their parts.

            Especially when I specifically stated:

            Not only that, but they aren’t even creative enough to create a different back story.

            Which was, you know… The statement directly before the one you plucked, and tried to take out of context?

            So, you’re not only stupid, but you’re illiterate as well. Got it.

            Care to try again?

          • John Smith

            “I love how you just told on yourself.”
            I reply in the same manner you do:
            More assumptions, try harder you troll.

            Making a character white when the source material has a non-white character isn’t lazy, and that wasn’t what you meant, and you know it. Perhaps I should just do what you’re trying to do, and walk back my statement and say I was being flip and sarcastic…

            Take your hypocrisy and stick it.

          • SAMURAI36

            Yeah, just what I thought. You made a dumb comment, when you jumped the gun and didn’t read everything that was said, and now you’re doubling down on your stupidity.

            I said nothing about racism. Didn’t even imply it. But that was the first thing you wanted to run to, because I’m willing to bet that you’ve been called a racist more than a few times in your retarded life.

            Try harder, racist.

          • John Smith

            “I said nothing about racism”
            Right, when you said elephant in the room, you were talking about Babar as opposed to the specific replacement of a non-white character with a non-white background with a white actor.

            I pegged you right from the start, perhaps if you insult me one more time or make another blanket statement about “all the stuff people say about whites” you’ll be less of a waste.

          • SAMURAI36

            Right, when you said elephant in the room, you were talking about Babar as opposed to the specific replacement of a non-white character with a non-white background with a white actor.

            LOL, more doubling down, I see.

            “Elephant in the room” = the fact that there’s a white guy in the story, without there being any real (i.e., CREATIVE) backstory as to why that’s the case.

            A white guy as the king of Africa needs some explaining. ALOT, actually. I thought you were smart enough to recognize that, but it’s clear that you’re not.

            In fact, that’s part of the problem with Tarzan, and why it fails as a narrative. First, there are more jungles in South America, and Asia (“Jungle” is actually a Hindi word), than there are in Africa. Always have been. So there goes that whole “Lord of the Jungle” nonsense.

            Next, notice how you rarely see any Africans in the Tarzan story. But he’s the “Lord” who controls animals? No Pygmies, no Bushmen, etc?

            I could go on, but I’m pretty sure you won’t grasp what I’m saying.

            I pegged you right from the start, perhaps if you insult me one more time or make another blanket statement about “all the stuff people say about whites” you’ll be less of a waste.

            LMAO, you’ve been sitting on that white guilt for awhile, huh? Looking for someone to take that out on. Well, I’m your Huckleberry, if you want.

          • SAMURAI36

            Plus, you’re the one throwing terms around like “white guilt” and “SJW”, but you’re the first one to use the “R” word, when no one even implied as much.

            I love how you just told on yourself.

          • SAMURAI36

            S’matter, Mr. “SJW” Man? You give up already? And just when I just got started thumping on you.

            I swear, idiots these days are made of weak sauce.

        • Jewie

          I’m not saying I couldn’t. I’m saying that some characters are written and their race plays a factor like Black Panther which is why he should be black. The fact that you have to change his backstory is my whole point. You don’t have to change anything about Spider-mans story to make him a different race.

          • John Smith

            You don’t even have to change Black Panther’s story to make him white, just make his completely fictional tribe something akin to Kablye, Berber, or any of the white to fair skinned African tribes.

            The only reason people think Black Panther race matters is because there aren’t that many well established black superheroes, so the ones that are black stand out. Luke Cage’s race only mattered, past tense, because his backstory says he is from Harlem which USED to be synonymous with “black”, but the area has gone through a massive shift in its racial make up.

            The problem is that the characters have backstories that people would stereotype as black, Africa and Harlem, and here I was thinking that breaking stereotypes was part of the point…

    • SAMURAI36

      Because, a white guy isn’t in the middle of Africa. It amazes me, how folks totally miss the argument. There’s a reason why BP is Black.

  • Axxell

    I’m more concerned with her acting skills, TBH.