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Peter T Chattaway

The Amazing Spider-Man

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Ryan H, I forget, are you married?

I am.

Suppose you came home one day and your wife were a different race than she is now. Would you consider that a "cosmetic" change?

Well, it's a kind of a ludicrous scenario, and I'm not entirely sure that it relates to an altogether quite fictional character. But yeah, it would be a cosmetic change.

The argument for keeping Peter Parker white seems to go, "It's always been that way." Well, fair enough. Far be it from me to argue with a traditionalist. But I see nothing about Parker as a character, beyond pure appearances, that has much to do with his whiteness.

Edited by Ryan H.

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Well, it's a kind of a ludicrous scenario, and I'm not entirely sure that it relates to an altogether quite fictional character. But yeah, it would be a cosmetic change.

I am now wondering if this is a response that could only be made by a white person. Would any black person say that becoming white would be a merely "cosmetic" change? (And if it is only cosmetic, then how is it the "dramatic" change that Bobbin says is necessary to establish a new franchise?)

Going a step further, I'm not sure it's not a rather gnostic response. We are our bodies as well as our souls. I have no racial preference for whiteness -- if anything, I think black skin is more desirable on several levels than white skin -- but my skin is white, and if it were black it would not be mine, because I would not be me. If Suzanne were black she would not be Suzanne.

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I am now wondering if this is a response that could only be made by a white person.

Have I ever said I'm white?

At any rate, I am. My wife, FWIW, is not. She's predominantly Mexican.

(And if it is only cosmetic, then how is it the "dramatic" change that Bobbin says is necessary to establish a new franchise?)

It isn't. But, as I've said, I support the change only in relation to actor Donald Glover, which is where this whole notion began. I see no reason to make Spidey black just to give the 2.0 franchise some new edge or any such nonsense.

Going a step further, I'm not sure it's not a rather gnostic response. We are our bodies as well as our souls. I have no racial preference for whiteness -- if anything, I think black skin is more desirable on several levels than white skin -- but my skin is white, and if it were black it would not be mine, because I would not be me. If Suzanne were black she would not be Suzanne.

Not all "gnostic" thought--no matter how much that seems to be a dirty word these days--is entirely mistaken.

But I also didn't take your illustration entirely seriously. I do believe that if I come home, and the color of my wife's skin has magically changed one color to another, then yes, a cosmetic change has occurred, much in the same way that if my wife had nose surgery while I was away on vacation, it would be a cosmetic change. If you're suggesting, of course, that she was a different race from birth, and had to endure all the cultural baggage that goes with things, well, then, yes, she'd be a different person than the person I know and love, though to what extent would depend on a great many factors.

Edited by Ryan H.

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But... but.. Even Steve Martin was "born a poor black child." :)

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Ryan H. wrote:

: But the change is cosmetic; I'm not sure the change in race would alter the nature of those relationships much at all. . . .

: If you're suggesting, of course, that she was a different race from birth, and had to endure all the cultural baggage that goes with things, well, then, yes, she'd be a different person than the person I know and love, though to what extent would depend on a great many factors.

Do you really think the filmmakers could change the race of Peter Parker and all his closest supporting characters WITHOUT bringing any "cultural baggage" into the picture?

: But, as I've said, I support the change only in relation to actor Donald Glover, which is where this whole notion began.

Actually, it seems that Glover hopped on a bandwagon that had already been started by someone else. According to MTV Splash Page:

Initiated by a post on
titled "The last thing Spider-Man should be is another white guy," the campaign kicked into high gear when a reader dropped the name of Glover, a 27-year-old black actor, in the comment section. The actor subsequently echoed the suggestion on
and encouraged fans to make it a reality. Glover even created a
as Spidey and started a Twitter hashtag for the campaign: #donald4spiderman.

That io9 article, incidentally, repeats the rather dubious claim that Captain America could have been plausibly played by Will Smith. Uh, well, no, he couldn't have been. Yes, yes, of course, the military might very well have tested its super-serum on black soldiers, too. But there is no way in hell they would have made their propaganda poster boy a black man -- not in the 1940s. It may seem silly to argue for historical plausibility in a comic-book movie, but, well, there you go.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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Do you really think the filmmakers could change the race of Peter Parker and all his closest supporting characters WITHOUT bringing any "cultural baggage" into the picture?

Given the right filmmakers, yes, I'd say so.

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This thread has reminded me of the classically bad Superman story where Lois Lane becomes black. I don't think this is anywhere near the same level of gimmicks, but the opponents seem to feel it might be a similar result.

Personally, I'm still not sold on Peter Parker's race being such a defining aspect of his character. I'll buy his "appearance" simply because he's been depicted in pretty much the same way for so long in comics, but I can't think of a single way his "race" makes a difference.

SDG wrote...

Peter Parker has a heritage. That heritage includes Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, Forest Hills, Empire State University, Grantray-Lawrence Animation, Nicholas Hammond, John Romita Sr., various Marvel Productions series, various computer game series, Todd MacFarlane, Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire, that Universal Studios ride, the late, great "Spectacular Spider-Man" on Kids WB and Disney XD, and a Broadway musical that may or may not make it to the stage.

By and large, throughout most of this heritage I am able to accept that it is one character in all of these incarnations. A black actor might easily create a much more interesting character than Tobey Maguire (it wouldn't be hard); it would not be the same character. At all. If it were a character I cared less about, I might not mind. I do care and I do mind.

My argument is that all of these that you mention are different versions of Spider-Man(&Peter Parker) already. The Spider-Man from the comics is distinct from the live action TV shows, from the various cartoons, the movies, the Ultimate comics, the video games, etc. The beauty of character continuity like this is that it doesn't matter if in this story Peter has just met Gwen Stacey while in another version he's having a love affair and then fighting her evil clone from the 28th dimension.

I'll continue to argue that what defines Peter Parker is his humor, his intelligence, his tenacity and his never-catch-a-break luck, not the color of his skin, hair, eyes, etc. Those are the things that I think of when I think of Spider-Man. Sure, a black Spider-Man would be unrealistic(ha!) if it was set in the 60s when

Are there similar controversies about Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury? Or is that just so "awesome" that it gets a pass?

Persona wrote...

Why not just make a film about Power Man? I don't get it.

Because no one knows who Power Man is outside of comic readers. Just look at what a financial failure the straight to DVD "Wonder Woman" movie was for the reason. But I'm glad you mention it. Power Man is a great example of a character who is as much defined by his race as anything else. He dresses as an exploitation movie character for goodness sake.

SDG wrote...

Or to an Irishman posing under a French name, as it were.

I was actually referring to the other person who claimed to be Ra's Al Ghul in that movie. And no one seems to care that an Australian has made 4 movies playing a character who is inextricably tied to being Canadian. And of all the criticisms of Clash of the Titans the one I haven't heard is that Sam Worthington is not Greek enough.

I'm trying to think of dramatic race switches that have or haven't worked. The current The Last Airbender debate is one that keeps coming to mind.

This whole discussion makes me wonder if we should just make culturally specific movies, ie. a German Spider-Man for German audiences. Something like this.

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Are there similar controversies about Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury? Or is that just so "awesome" that it gets a pass?

I don't know about "controversies," but the Jackson-inspired bald black bad-ass Nick Fury in Marvel's Ultimates line is, to me, a wholly different character than the original Nick Fury, plain and simple. He's got the same name and pieces of the same job, but he's not the same guy. At all. I shrug and move on, because I'm not all that invested in Nick Fury, like I am in Peter Parker.

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My argument is that all of these that you mention are different versions of Spider-Man(&Peter Parker) already. The Spider-Man from the comics is distinct from the live action TV shows, from the various cartoons, the movies, the Ultimate comics, the video games, etc. The beauty of character continuity like this is that it doesn't matter if in this story Peter has just met Gwen Stacey while in another version he's having a love affair and then fighting her evil clone from the 28th dimension.

Yet they are also all, by and large, recognizably or acceptably the same character, the same person, just as King Arthur is recognizably the same in Mallory, Chretien and White. He is not the same in Fuqua. Narrative traditions can stretch, but there are breaking points.

I'll continue to argue that what defines Peter Parker is his humor, his intelligence, his tenacity and his never-catch-a-break luck, not the color of his skin, hair, eyes, etc. Those are the things that I think of when I think of Spider-Man.

When I think of my friends, I think of what they look like. I can imagine my fat friend losing weight; he would still be my friend. I can imagine my long-haired friend cutting his hair. I can't imagine my black friend being white, or my white friend being black. Skin deep is actually pretty deep.

Why not just make a film about Power Man? I don't get it.

Because no one knows who Power Man is outside of comic readers.

Fair enough, although they are making a Power Man movie, aren't they? Of course PM isn't as awesome as S-M. But you could do a black hero who was.

And no one seems to care that an Australian has made 4 movies playing a character who is inextricably tied to being Canadian.

Well, that's pretty irrelevant, since Canadians and Australians can easily play one another! They didn't change Wolverine into an Aussie; he's still a Canadian, just played by an Aussie.

FWIW, I have heard people complain that Jackman was just too tall to play a character whose short height was pretty significant to his character. And, actually, I see their point.

Edited by SDG

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Personally, I'm still not sold on Peter Parker's race being such a defining aspect of his character. I'll buy his "appearance" simply because he's been depicted in pretty much the same way for so long in comics, but I can't think of a single way his "race" makes a difference.

I speak as one who supports Donald Glover, as others have stated because of Donald (I jokingly suggested on of his Community co-stars as J. Jonah Jameson) and not because I think Spidey should be shaken up in such a fashion. But I do understand and respect SDG's passion. I think it is a desire to see the character respected as they were created and became loved. This is similar to the frustrations expressed over the Last Airbender. Everything about that cartoon screams Asian culture and characters of Asian/Inuit descent...so the casting call goes out to White (or other races)?!

Are there similar controversies about Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury? Or is that just so "awesome" that it gets a pass?

Naw. It gets a pass because the Ultimate version of Fury is based on Sam Jackson. I think the discussion might have been different had Bendis made Ultimate Peter Parker black.

Persona wrote...

Why not just make a film about Power Man? I don't get it.

Because no one knows who Power Man is outside of comic readers. Just look at what a financial failure the straight to DVD "Wonder Woman" movie was for the reason. But I'm glad you mention it. Power Man is a great example of a character who is as much defined by his race as anything else. He dresses as an exploitation movie character for goodness sake.

Because Blade fared so poorly? Seriously, think about the fact that Marvel's film revival was a no tier character that people barely remembered. It was Blade that got Marvel seen as maybe a contender for movies. A Power Man movie is not out of the realm of question. He's led the Avengers. The write script? The right director? The right actor? Power Man could be a power house.

All this said... I find it unlikely that Donald will get the part. But I like him, and I want to see the guy have success. :)

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I can't imagine my black friend being white, or my white friend being black.

You only have one of each??? ;)

By the way... DC is getting hit pretty hard from the comic community or killing off non-white heroes so white characters can resume the role of the character. DC did a big "diversity" push a couple years ago... the Atom was Asian, the Blue Beetle was hispanic, Firestorm black...and so on. And not DC is slipping them off to put white guys back in the role. Their defense? We don't only have white characters! We have blue, purple and green ones. This is their actual defense that was used as recently as this past weekend at the HeroCon convention.

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Bobbin Threadbare wrote:

: I'll buy his "appearance" simply because he's been depicted in pretty much the same way for so long in comics, but I can't think of a single way his "race" makes a difference.

"Appearance" is all you really need to know, then. "Race" is more complicated because it brings with it all sorts of cultural baggage that really shouldn't be imposed on an established iconic character such as this one.

: Are there similar controversies about Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury?

As I noted, there is a precedent for that within the comic books themselves, plus Nick Fury is not an iconic character that "everybody knows". There may or may not have been a controversy when the change was introduced in the comics, I don't know, but at least we can say that the films are working within the established comic-book tradition.

: And no one seems to care that an Australian has made 4 movies playing a character who is inextricably tied to being Canadian.

Well, whether it was the Aussie or the Scotsman who was originally going to play the character, I don't think it matters much, because both Canada and Australia, like the United States, are immigrant/colonial nations that were essentially founded by the British Empire. I don't think anybody complained when Canadian actor Bruce Greenwood played Irish-American president John F. Kennedy in Thirteen Days, either (and then went on to play another American president in National Treasure 2). NATIONALITY is not the issue here; RACE is the issue, which is something rather different.

: And of all the criticisms of Clash of the Titans the one I haven't heard is that Sam Worthington is not Greek enough.

Suffice it to say that there is a LOT that could be said about the treatment of ethnicity in movies set within the Greco-Roman period, but I don't think we want to get sidetracked into that here.

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I can't imagine my black friend being white, or my white friend being black.

You only have one of each??? ;)

And what's worse, they're both hypothetical. Just like my fat friend and my long-haired friend. Yes, all my friends are thin, short-haired Asians, Indians, Middle Easterners, etc.

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Are there similar controversies about Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury? Or is that just so "awesome" that it gets a pass?

Naw. It gets a pass because the Ultimate version of Fury is based on Sam Jackson. I think the discussion might have been different had Bendis made Ultimate Peter Parker black.

Um. Well. Maybe. But it just would have pushed back the controversy to the comic books. It's not like comic book creators can do whatever the hell they want, but filmmakers should stick to canon.

Any storyteller, in any medium, who makes either Nick Fury or Peter Parker black makes him a fundamentally different character from the original. Ultimate Nick Fury is a fundamentally different character than the original character. Ultimate Peter Parker isn't. (Not to belabor the obvious: Obviously, I'm not saying that race, or whatever similar construct you wish to stipulate, is sufficient to maintain continuity, just necessary.)

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SDG wrote:

: It's not like comic book creators can do whatever the hell they want, but filmmakers should stick to canon.

Well, comic-book creators CAN do whatever the hell they want, inasmuch as they can always write "alternate universe" stories in which, say, Superman is raised in Soviet Russia rather than Kansas. (Or, for that matter, they can invent the Justice League as a substitute for the Justice Society, and then try to explain somewhere down the road that BOTH of these entities actually existed, albeit in separate dimensions.) And if filmmakers want to base their works on those alternate universes rather than the original universes (e.g., the new Green Lantern movie is based on Hal Jordan -- and apparently a very recent version of Hal Jordan, at that -- and not on Alan Scott), then that is certainly their prerogative. Where the "canon" is ambiguous, filmmakers have to take sides.

But let's remember that this all began with an article at io9 headlined "The last thing Spider-Man should be is another white guy". This did not begin as a campaign for Donald Glover, or even as a campaign for a black actor. (The original article also floated the possibility that an Hispanic actor could play the character.) This began as an "anything but a white guy" campaign, and the question we should be asking, given that Peter Parker IS a white guy and has ALWAYS been a white guy, is WHY casting agents should be avoiding white guys when casting this movie.

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Well, comic-book creators CAN do whatever the hell they want, inasmuch as they can always write "alternate universe" stories in which, say, Superman is raised in Soviet Russia rather than Kansas. (Or, for that matter, they can invent the Justice League as a substitute for the Justice Society, and then try to explain somewhere down the road that BOTH of these entities actually existed, albeit in separate dimensions.) And if filmmakers want to base their works on those alternate universes rather than the original universes (e.g., the new Green Lantern movie is based on Hal Jordan -- and apparently a very recent version of Hal Jordan, at that -- and not on Alan Scott), then that is certainly their prerogative. Where the "canon" is ambiguous, filmmakers have to take sides.

What I mean is that comic-book creators are subject to the same fundamental narrative alternatives as moviemakers. Anyone can tell a story about a black character called Peter Parker who becomes Spider-Man, but whoever does this, it's a story about a fundamentally different character.

So I don't think that, say, Bendis has a fundamentally different kind of creative freedom to revise characters than a moviemaker (though he might have different legal rights, or enjoy some nebulous difference in audience tolerance, or something). To me, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury is pretty much the same proposition regardless whether Jackson was first cast in the role on the comic-book page or the big screen. Jackson's Fury isn't the original Fury. Ultimate Fury isn't the original Fury.

Suppose that before Ultimate Fury was introduced, a filmmaker had first cast Jackson as Fury and the comics had followed suit. I can't say I see what difference it would make. So it's not like I accept Jackson in the role because of the comic book. No sequence of events can make him be the same character. Neither version of the character is any harder to accept as a completely different Nick Fury than the other, and neither makes the other easier to accept. There's the original Fury, and the Ultimate/Jackson Fury, they're different characters, and that's the end of it.

Edited by SDG

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I guess what I find confusing about this argument is that there are times when I feel writers have written Peter Parker as a fundamentally different character, due to behaviours or character traits that I can't imagine Peter Parker having, while still keeping him as a white dude with dark hair. Race didn't have to come into it. The writers didn't understand the character. Are we still going to argument that he "just isn't the same character" in the same way we are if he's black? I think you agree with me, since you're saying that a character can be stretched to breaking point.

OTOH, I can imagine a black Peter Parker who would fundamentally have the character traits that make him Peter Parker. What specific character traits (I'm in agreement with PTC the fact that RACE is fundamentally different than NATIONALITY and is actually more constitutive to our personality than mere cosmetic appearance, which is what made the Eddie Murphy/Dave Chappelle skits where they played white guys so effective) do you feel would need to be changed if Peter's race were different? Skin colour is not a character trait, though for the sake of argument I might entertain that some character traits could be more prevalent in a certain race. I'm thinking that one could easily write about a kid from Queens, whose parents are dead and lives with his uncle and aunt, who is interested in science and a nerd, who is quick witted, etc. and basically identical to the Peter we know and love, AND is black. I'm trying to understand your argument more. Why is race a breaking point more than those other traits that have fluctuated through the history of the character?

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I guess what I find confusing about this argument is that there are times when I feel writers have written Peter Parker as a fundamentally different character, due to behaviours or character traits that I can't imagine Peter Parker having, while still keeping him as a white dude with dark hair. Race didn't have to come into it. The writers didn't understand the character. Are we still going to argument that he "just isn't the same character" in the same way we are if he's black? I think you agree with me, since you're saying that a character can be stretched to breaking point.

Yes, I agree. I seem to recall running into stories like that. I stopped reading during those periods.

Why is race a breaking point more than those other traits that have fluctuated through the history of the character?

I'm not saying it is. Other traits can be breaking points too. By this point I should think my position is about as clear as I can make it.

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By this point I should think my position is about as clear as I can make it.

It'd be more clear if you weren't so damn white.

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By this point I should think my position is about as clear as I can make it.

It'd be more clear if you weren't so damn white.

True, I'm about as white as anyone in my part of the country ... which, in the grand scheme of things, is somewhat but not very. At least, white Europeans tell me we're

we're all relatively black compared to them.

Of course, I'm also quite blond, and Peter Parker isn't. Whatever. I still suspect that in this country the notion that skin color is a superficiality that doesn't really matter tends to be a pretty white idea.

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io9 has a new story rumoring Jamie Bell as Spider-Man/Peter Parker.

Of course I'm furious that since Peter Parker's defining trait is being a New Yorker even talking about casting a Brit just chaffs me.

I kid. Bell was by far the best part of 'Jumper,' and I think e'd bring a nice energy to the role. Thinking about it, energy was what Macguire lacked most of the time. His Parker was a bit too sedate.

http://m.io9.com/5557497/could-jamie-bell-be-the-new-spider+man

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Bell was by far the best part of 'Jumper,' and I think e'd bring a nice energy to the role. Thinking about it, energy was what Macguire lacked most of the time. His Parker was a bit too sedate.

"e'd bring"? He doesn't drop his h's, does he? :)

As long as he doesn't sound British, he might do very nicely. Heck, if Colin Farrell can bury his knee-deep brogue in a Tennessee twang, I'll believe a man can fly, or that a Brit can climb walls and live in Queens.

Yeah, Maguire's Parker, while not flat-out wrong, is pretty bland. I'm not sure I've ever explicitly put it this way before, but it occurs to me that he comes off as pretty self-consciously a fanboy proxy. This was most glaringly a problem by the third film, by which point Peter should have developed more maturity and awareness than he exhibits. He could also have been brighter, quicker and more thoughtful, instead of just technobabble "smart."

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Yeah, Maguire's Parker, while not flat-out wrong, is pretty bland. I'm not sure I've ever explicitly put it this way before, but it occurs to me that he comes off as pretty self-consciously a fanboy proxy. This was most glaringly a problem by the third film, by which point Peter should have developed more maturity and awareness than he exhibits. He could also have been brighter, quicker and more thoughtful, instead of just technobabble "smart."

My problem with Maguire was that he never got the one essential element of Spider-Man that makes him enjoyable(to me at least). Spider-Man loves being a super hero! His life may be in the toilet most of the time and Peter Parker just can't catch a break, but he still can swing around the city and crack jokes with ridiculously dressed bad guys.

No amount of Maguire "whoo-hoo"-ing will convince me he was having a good time. He just seemed to angst ridden. The third film was, as you say, the worst offender, but he just wasn't energetic enough in the previous ones either. I mean, look at Alfred Molina's Doc Ock. He was relishing being a villain, even if he had semi-tragic reasons for being one.

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Totally, totally delayed reaction here, but I was just reminded that there is one other black-actor-playing-an-originally-white-character that we could add to the mix here -- and again, as with Kingpin and Nick Fury, the character isn't particularly well-known to the average viewer, so it arguably doesn't matter. On the other hand, the character in question is a Norse god, and therefore one might think that being, y'know, Norse would be kind of essential to the character. Thoughts, SDG?

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In this case, Branagh might get a pass because the Norse gods, and Valhalla, is given a sci-fi explanation. As far as I understand it, they're not really gods, and don't have any direct connection to the Norse people.

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