Zendaya Is Mary Jane? Why Representation Matters

Before I dive deep into this topic, I want to make one thing clear. The reports of Zendaya being the new Mary Jane, as far as I know, are still rumor. Nothing is confirmed yet, but more than likely, it is true. It doesn’t make this topic any less needed, just thought I’d say that.

So that’s the news right there. African-American, black, negro, nigga, whatever word you wish to use for her, Zendaya has been cast as Mary-Jane Watson in the new Spider-Man movie. This is a big deal for a couple of reasons. The non-controversial ones first. 1) Mary Jane is in the MCU. This wasn’t talked about enough to me. Mary Jane is a fantastic character. Her love story with Peter Parker is one of the best in Marvel. We’ve gotten a solid performance from Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy in the past two movies, but I prefer MJ. I grew up with her vibrant red hair and sassy attitude on the cartoon every Saturday morning. It warms my heart to see such an awesome character in the MCU. 2) Zendaya isn’t a horrible actress. This hasn’t been talked about as much either. From what I have seen, I like her. She is charismatic, funny, and has a presence whenever she is on the screen. Everyone involved with the MCU has been for the most part, exceptional. This a Spider-Man film we’re talking about people. No doubt in my mind she’s taking it seriously and her performance will be believable.

So now, onto the big issue. Zendaya is black. Mary Jane Watson in the comics is white. So there’s the issue a lot of people have with this casting. The majority of people I interact with on Twitter are positive about it. But negativity isn’t hard to find in today’s society. Why is it a problem for some people though? I can’t speak for everyone’s opinions, but racist people generally tend to think the same way, especially when it comes to race. Mary Jane has always been white in the comics. They (the racists) will tell you that Marvel shouldn’t change the race of a character for no reason. Truth be told, I agree. But not because I don’t want to see it, that’s them. When a black character is introduced into a comic or movie, I want dialogue on who they are as a person first, but dialogue on who society sees them as is inevitable. In our society, black people in Hollywood typically are portrayed the same way. I don’t mean they act the same way, but whenever blacks are in a film, or the film is predominantly black, the main themes revolve around them being black. Don’t get what I’m saying? When’s the last time you saw a movie about someone dealing with being white? There aren’t many. White people in America don’t have a long history of injustice against them. By white people, I mean white males mainly, who is the main audience still in comics. Poor white males have suffered (and still suffer) injustices in the form of classism, but those are small compared to the amounts of injustice against minority groups in America. This gives Hollywood free range to talk about issues such as love, self-worth, bullying, heroism, and a plethora of others. I won’t go as far to say that screenwriters can’t put all of these elements into a black film, but they usually don’t want to. Too much to juggle. The main focus is to tell a story about being black. This is mainly because the black life can be summed up with a few of words by some white people. Slavery, crime, drugs, rap, slang, racism, and sports. Do those words alone personify what it means to be black? No, but in America, yeah kind of. Hollywood though doesn’t typically add any layers to black people after the fact. No emotion or character development. I can’t count the number of times where at the end of a black film the main character is in the same shitty situation they were in at the start. That’s where my problem’s on race changes come in, with comics. Michael B. Jordan was cast as Johnny Storm. Jordan is better than most young actors, black or white, but Fantastic Four didn’t have any dialogue on his relationship with Sue, who was still white. A PERFECT opportunity to talk about discrimination and prejudice since Sue was adopted. Does the entire film need to be saturated with that? No, but there was no point to changing his race, because Michael B. Jordan was fine, but the script and directing made him look average. That’s no cause for anger though. This is exactly what is happening with Zendaya.

So, I’ve established I agree race shouldn’t be changed for absolutely no reason. That’s irresponsible. But do you really think Marvel doesn’t have a valid reason for doing this though? They don’t just wake up one day, and say, “Let’s change a legendary comic character’s race!” I’m sure it was a conversation amongst everyone deeply involved with the film. Zendaya’s audition must’ve blown them away. They must have seen some scenes with her and Tom Holland that made them say, “Holy crap guys, we found our MJ!” I respect that. I’m not even sure it was a difficult decision for the people working on this project. Marvel has shown time and time again they care about diversity. 3 blacks and 3 women in Civil War, NightHawk, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Riri Williams, Sam Wilson as Cap, Miles Morales, Thor, the list goes on and on. Marvel touches on their minority status, but maintains strong character no matter what. Luke Cage comes out September 30th. Race will no doubt be a conversation throughout the show, but Luke will still be the same likeable, heroic badass we saw in Jessica Jones. Doing both is completely possible, and Marvel is destroying Hollywood’s image of blacks and women. So the idea that Marvel doesn’t have a valid reason for making her MJ is asinine.

Changing a character’s race for no reason is weird no doubt. I believe Marvel has a reason. We’ve established that. We also know how poorly Hollywood does at portraying black characters (Killer Croc asked for BET in Suicide Squad. One of the laziest, pathetic jokes I’ve ever heard.) So why is this in fact a big deal, besides the racists crying injustice? Why does representation matter? It’s a simple question. It is the reason people get excited when things like this happen. Representation is the reason more people besides white males are reading comics. The black population in America currently stands around 45 million. Hispanics are growing as well. This country has powerful people of all races everywhere. Minority boys and girls everywhere have idols they look up to. Children are impressionable. We love to have heroes in our lives. It helps us makes sense of the world around us. The problem with some of these idols however is they are walking stereotypes. I don’t judge any person for the life they choose to live, or they life they are forced to live, but these idols are put on a pedestal by the media. Black children around the country don’t know who Dr. Boyce Watkins or Ta-Niehisi Coates are. Asian boys don’t see Pablo Torre when they turn on the television. Viola Davis doesn’t have 47 million twitter followers. Instead, rappers like Young Thug and women like Kim Kardashian are shown to minorities. ABC even goes as far to name a show Black-ish. Athletes are big in the black community as well. Rappers and athletes. That’s all they see. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather a young black child look up to T’Challa rather than Lil’ Wayne. Representation in comics gives minorities heroes to look up to. And when I mean representation, I don’t mean the “here you go” diversity. Here’s the perfect example of that. Cyborg was on the Teen Titans television show. His comedy with Beast Boy on the show was unforgettable. John Stewart was the Green Lantern in the DCAU. John Stewart is black. He’s a strong character with multiple layers. When Geoff Johns took control of the Justice League before the New 52 launch, he brought back Hal Jordan as the main Green Lantern. That’s fine. Hal is legendary. His presence only enhances the Justice League. Here’s where white people, especially ones in power, completely misunderstand the concept of diversity. If you’re going to make something white, hell, just white it up! Because a movie with all whites aren’t usually called white movies. They’re just called movies. It’s the norm right now. No one bats an eye at these movies. They are getting boring no doubt, but don’t hand us a black guy and think it covers our needs. Because the black intellectuals out there clearly know when they’re being messed with. So DC decided to bump Cyborg from the Teen Titans and make him a founding member of the Justice League. At first glance, you might think that’s great. But the essence of who Cyborg was on the television show completely dissolved. He is serious now, and all they focus on is how he’s a machine who thinks he’s a man. LAME. To fit their quota, DC deconstructed a cool character and gave us a guy who mainly teleports the league. Not only that, but he never really does anything in the comics either, when it comes to fighting or life-saving. That type of representation is a slap in the face to everyone who truly yearns for it. “Here you go,” diversity sets us back. It maintains stereotypes usually, and hinders minority children’s thought. I talked earlier about Marvel and their continuing efforts for diversity. All three black characters in Civil War don’t go through any character development involving their race. As I said before a balance is achievable, or you can go full on social conscious trip. But characters like Falcon definitely encourage children. Falcon is a loyal man. His commitment to his country runs deep. Deeper than his identity as a black man. If a young child sees Sam Wilson, they might get the idea that they can be a hero too. They realize Sam was in the Army, then bam! The United States gains a black recruit who was influenced by Falcon. It’s possible, it’s the main reason I got into superheroes. Storm was one of the first black superheroes I remember. When you see someone who is like you in a prominent position, you believe you can achieve the same thing. Zendaya will do this and more for little black girls going to see a Spider-Man film for the very first time. White males need to realize that these movies are still for kids. There are more minority children now then there were when these men were kids. Marvel understands that. DC, I’m not so sure. They still dominate sales, so they don’t care, but Marvel will continue to dominate the movie scene with moves like this.


Social media gives a voice to everyone, no matter how poor or rich. If you have a phone or can physically get to a computer, your voice can be heard. Doctor Martin Luther King said that blacks and whites destiny as a country is intertwined. We are linked together whether we like it or not. 55 years ago, during the civil rights movement, injustices weren’t always reported. Blacks organized the protests in certain towns they knew would cause a reaction. They went to towns where the police chief felt that  water hoses and attack dogs were a logical response to peaceful protestors. This caused national news coverage, which led to some of the famous images we see now from the horrific time. It was genius. Now, things are a bit more independent. Injustices are being broadcast everywhere now. Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, LaQuan Macdonald, Paul O’Neal, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, etc. These names may have been forgotten during the 60’s. Social media brings people together. It brings awareness to every type of issue no matter how important the media thinks it is. This is a double edged sword of course (I’m referring to the Ellen situation with the picture. Real racism can make a man or woman go crazy, lose their sanity. What Ellen posted was a joke. I could maybe understand if someone said it was classist, but not racist) but people will no longer be silent. This new age has inspired people to create. Whether it’s superheroes or action movies. Minority writers who never thought they’d have a chance to have their voice heard, like myself, have a chance with social media and technology. My point is that white males across America need to grow up. This is only going to increase. Comics isn’t something that is reserved for one type of people. Racist people seem to have forgotten the simple rule of sharing. DC and Marvel STILL need to do better overall though. I want a brand new hero, new name, new origin, new everything. Make him black and make him the center of a crazy Marvel story. Civil War III anyone? More originality is definitely needed, but I’d be foolish to not notice the improvements our society has made. Comics are only going to continue to get more popular with these movies. Young writers will continue to tell their own unique stories that represent our country’s growing diversity. White people can either look outside and accept this isn’t 1933 anymore, or they will get left in the dust, breathing in the fumes of bigotry and racism. Zendaya is Mary Jane Watson ladies and gentlemen. Let that sink in. Peace, Love, and Comics!!

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