Does the next movie Spider-Man have to be white?

African-American Spider-Man

There is currently some speculation that the film Spider-Man shared by Sony and Marvel/ Disney is going to be depicted by an African-American actor.

One way this would happen is if they decide to introduce the Miles Morales Spider-Man, instead of having Peter Parker be Spider-Man. The best arguments I’ve seen for Miles is that there are too many MCU films with white guys as leads, and that it would be a break from the earlier films, but I don’t think that’s good enough. I like the Ultimate Spider-Man comics, but the source material is better for Peter Parker, and there’s simply a lot more of it.

Miles Morales also doesn’t have a story engine that makes sense in the first appearance of a Spider-Man to a cinematic universe. He’s a guy taking over the legacy of another hero, which doesn’t work in a Marvel Universe where Spider-Man hasn’t made an appearance yet. Things might be different after a few films with the Peter Parker Spider-Man, but that’s a different story.

Miles Morales Spider-Man and Gwen Stacy

The other possibility is that they won’t have a white Peter Parker. It is worth noting that there are two ways to get an African-American Peter Parker, each with its own arguments. One is to limit the role to young black men. The other is to allow young black men to audition, along with young white men. And young Hispanic men. And young Asian men.

There’s some pushback to the idea, with fans claiming that there’s no reason for the change, although that’s obviously incorrect. These would serve numerous purposes. It could allow for a good performance. It adds diversity to the MCU, and to the tops of the box office charts. It reflects demographic changes in New York City.

There are also arguments for limiting the role to young white male actors. One issue is that certain scenes might have negative connotations that wouldn’t exist with a white Peter Parker (IE- Is J Jonah Jameson being a racist by ripping him off? Why is Flash Thompson pissed that he’s talking to Liz Allen? Is his academic scholarship affirmative action?)

The main argument for Peter Parker to be played by a white guy is that some fans want to see the character in the film match the way the character in the comics looks. They’ll prize this kind of fidelity, as is evident in many discussions about potential casting, where relatively obscure actors and celebrities are often suggested for roles just because of physical similarities to the comic book character. It’s not a position I hold but I can understand it. I do think capturing the spirit of the character is more important than capturing the likeness.

Visually, the thing that matters the most is that he’s non-threatening. He’s a bit generic-looking (neither short nor tall, neither chubby nor fat, etc.) This works in two ways: It’s easier for readers to imagine themselves as him. And it means that the people around him will often underestimate him. This doesn’t require a white actor.

milesmorales-0-peter-parker-or-miles-morales-as-spider-man-why-not-both

Some wonder where the line will be drawn. Why should casting be limited to young men with relatively low BMIs? If race isn’t important, why does age or physical fitness matter? There is a serious answer to this smartass question. Certain aspects of the character are necessary for particular narratives. Age is relevant, because the actor is supposed to match age-specific settings for the character in the film, be it High School, College or wherever he works. It matters that Peter Parker’s in shape, because if Spider-Man doesn’t look fit, the film will appear to have a different tone. Gender matters because it informs relationships with Peter’s contemporaries. It’s not clear that race is relevant.

The Sam Raimi Spider-Man films, and the Marc Webb Amazing Spider-Man series would not have been radically different if the lead were an awkward black guy instead of an awkward white guy. Sony might have gone with a different Uncle Ben (James Earl Jones rather than Cliff Robertson, Morgan Freeman rather than Martin Sheen) and the parents would have been played by different actors, but as Aunt May isn’t even a blood relative, they don’t have to change a thing there.

There are some questions about why it would be okay to have a black Peter Parker, but not a Shaft played by Bradley Cooper. There’s a serious answer to this one as well. Race is unambiguously relevant to the background of certain characters. Bruce Wayne is old money. Captain America was the face of America at a time of legal segregation. Black Panther is the king of a mysterious African nation. Shaft is a private detective in mostly urban settings. Black Widow is Russian.

There are more roles for white male actors than African-American, Hispanic and Asian actors, so expanding casting to possibly include minorities helps combat institutional problems, whereas the reverse isn’t true if a studio is thinking about Clive Owen as Robbie Robertson. When Donald Glover launched a campaign to be Spider-Man in the Marc Webb relaunch, Stan Lee was in favor of it, so the co-creator of the character doesn’t think Spider-Man has to be white. I do think Peter’s race is more of a bug than a feature. Stan Lee would probably not have been able to depict a young black lead in the 1960s. But this doesn’t make Peter’s race a defining part of his character. Peter’s religious and political views have rarely been relevant to the comics or any of the various adaptations, so it doesn’t seem like an important part of the character. It seems to be the same way with race.

Spider-Man says he's black

There are some concerns that Marvel would be unable to change this element of the character in future iterations. I don’t think there would be an expectation that all subsequent versions of Peter Parker be black. We’ve had two white guys playing Peter Parker across five films, so a new casting wouldn’t define the character for audiences the way John Stewart might have defined Green Lantern for fans of the Justice League animinated series.

There is some concern that a black Peter Parker might make it less likely that we’ll see Miles Morales in the films, but this seems to be putting the cart before the horse. It’s possible that the films won’t get to the point where the character is introduced, so I don’t know how much they should worry about that. And a young half-hispanic/ half-African American kid can be influenced by a black superhero just as much as a white superhero.

There is a counterpoint that we do generally make the assumption that whiteness is neutral even though it isn’t. So by that standard, a black Peter Parker would not be the same guy we have in the comics. On the other hand, people interested in more diverse casting suggest that it could allow for more meat to the story. My concern is that there may come a point where the meat results in a character that is fundamantally different. I get an argument that it can be an interesting way to highlight social problems, but it might also make it easier to dismiss the implications of events in a story (A suspicious security guard is just an example of the Parker luck, therefore this scene suggests that racism is exaggerated.)

That said, the Peter Parker of the comics has changed from a guy who grew up in the 1950s to a millennial, so that’s probably a bigger difference than whether Peter Parker is a white guy born in the 1990s or a black guy born in the 1990s. Two hour films also do not need to address these issues.

There’s a final argument that we should just create new iconic characters with greater diversity, rather than allow changes in existing characters. Writers and artists don’t choose in advance which characters take off, and many of the older characters benefitted from filling needs generations ago when the old lead characters were always white and generally male. Spider-Man was a teenage hero who wasn’t a sidekick at a time that was unique, and that’s a major reason he’s popular 50+ years later. That’s not particularly fair.

As a dorky brown-haired white guy from Forest Hills, I did see Peter Parker as being a lot like me. But that doesn’t seem like a good reason to prevent others from having that experience, especially if the guy who looks more like them gives a better audition than the guy who looks more like me.

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When Mark Millar Pitched A Shocker Mini-Series

Mark Millar Wanted To Write A Shocker Mini-Series

There was an interesting tidbit in Mark Millar’s interview with the Let’s Talk Comics podcast. When Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palimotti were launching the Marvel Knights books, Millar pitched a mini-series with B-list Spider-Man villain Shocker.

I pitched them a Shocker mini-series. This is what I mean, I was really struggling. I was trying to come up with something, and I knew that the Fantastic Four was taken. I knew that Spider-Man was taken. I had a feeling that nobody was working on a Shocker mini-series. I sent in a six month series, and it was a rehash of something that had been rejected by DC called The Secret Society of Supervillains. I just had this idea for a villain book that eventually I did as a creator-owned book called Wanted.

Joe knew who I was, and was always looking for something for me, but couldn’t quite find it. One of the things I liked about Marvel, and they’re kind of up front about it, is that they want people who are going to move books. DC was run at that time as the Roman empire, where they granted favors. It didn’t matter if the book was selling whereas Joe, I liked Joe immediately, Joe said “I’m not sure you could really sell a Shocker book. You know, your name isn’t big enough and the character isn’t big enough.”

Millar eventually got to work with Quesada on Ultimate X-Men and The Ultimates. Shocker did not appear in his twelve issue run of Marvel Knights Spider-Man. It is interesting to consider what this could have done to the reputation of the perennial Spider-Man punching bag. Perhaps it would have flopped, sending Millar’s career in a different direction. It could also have been forgotten, kinda like Millar’s earlier Skrull Kill Krew mini-series. Or maybe Sony would be announcing a Shocker movie.

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The Political Positions of Obama

This was one of my favorite fivethirtyeight entries, an assessment of the political positons of President-Elect Barack Obama.

nate

The chart was surprisingly hard to find, as it’s no longer included in the fivethirtyeight archive.

A subsequent piece comparing Obama to Democrats in Congress was interesting.

By contrast, there has been no consistent pattern among Democratic presidents. Mr. Obama, according to the system, rates as being slightly more conservative than Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy, but slightly more liberal than Lyndon B. Johnson, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman — although all of the scores among Democratic presidents are close and generally within the system’s margin of sampling error.

Another finding is that the Democratic presidents, including Mr. Obama, have often adopted a different strategy than Republicans. Whereas Democratic presidents usually have scores fairly close (but just slightly to the left of) the median Democratic member of Congress, Republican presidents — with the very clear exception of Eisenhower — articulate legislative positions that are equivalent to those held by one of the most conservative members of their party.

I would disagree, largely because the center has shifted so much, some of FDR, Truman and LBJ’s views would be considered abhorrent.

Another interesting post was one which suggested Michelle Bachmann had a 12 percent chance of winning the Republican party’s nomination in 2012.

My view is that if Ms. Bachmann’s polling settles into the mid-teens, she will have elevated herself from being a wild card to being a legitimate contender for the Republican nomination. In fact, there is probably some upside in the numbers: her name recognition is not yet universal (62 percent of Republicans could identify her in the most recent round of Gallup polls), and as it grows, she may gain support from low-information voters who had previously expressed a preference for well-known politicians like Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich.

Of course, her candidacy has its issues. One is that she is a member of the House of Representatives, and members of the House don’t have a very good track record in primary campaigns. I don’t think this is a major drawback. My analysis suggests that while governors perform better than members of Congress there is little difference between how senators and members of the House perform, relative to their polling. And Ms. Bachmann has essentially been a nationalized figure for several years; she is the leader of the Tea Party Caucus, and her re-election campaigns have drawn tens of millions of dollars in contributions, tantamount to what a Senate or gubernatorial candidate would normally receive.

The more significant barrier is that Republicans might be worried about her chances in a general election. Ms. Bachmann’s voting record, according to the objective system DW-Nominate, is roughly as far from the middle of the electorate as George McGovern’s was in 1972 — and her red-meat rhetoric does nothing to disguise those positions. If Ms. Bachmann won Iowa, there would be an effort to rally around some more moderate alternative, most likely the candidate who wins New Hampshire.

Ah, hindsight.

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Spider-Man Image Dump Jr.

Some more Spider-Man images I found. XKCD shows why Spider-Man shouldn’t be too accurate.

XKCD Spider-Man

 

Jack Kirby demonstrated that he can draw a cool Spidey.

Kirby

As did Robert Hough.

Robert Hough

 

JH Williams III focused on wallcrawling.

Williams Spider-Man

John Cassady emphasized the webswinging.

John Cassady's Spider-Man

Let’s finish with a Steve Ditko wide panel.

Amazing Spider-Man 11 Expected

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John Romita Sr Spider-Man Image Gallery

To presumably no one’s surprise, I’ve come across interesting Spider-Man images by John Romita Sr. Many of these are probably from Brian Michael Bendis’s tumblr. Let’s start with Romita’s cover for the Spider-Man rock album.

RockReflections01

 

Then there’s a Sandman commission.

Romita Sandman

And a splash page with his most famous creation: Mary Jane Watson.

Romita

And an obscure cover to commemorate the spider-marriage.

Romita Marvel Age MJ

Some bad guys.

Romita artist edition

And a collaboration with his son.

Romitas

One of my favorite images from his Amazing Spider-Man run comes from issue 62 with a surprisingly scared Green Goblin.

John Romita Sr;s scared Green Goblin

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Can Mitt Romney Run Again?

Mitt Romney looking at his portrait.

There’s some chatter about Mitt Romney for President again. He ‘s a man who wanted to be President, and he has had a terrific year. The Netflix documentary, various media appearances and the flap about statements regarding his black grandson have humanized him. The mess in Russia makes his hawkishness look prescient, and polls show that he’d win in a landslide against Obama if the election were held today. Investigations have hobbled prominent Governors planning to run for the office. And candidates for statewide office are eager to campaign with Romney, and to emphasize his endorsement.

Elite donors still like him. The biggest surprise may have been the encouragement from a Democrat, former Montana governor Brian Schweit­zer, who told reporters, “He would be a giant in a field of midgets.” It is a bit unusual for a potential Democratic candidate to attend a conference for a prominent Republican, and compliment him. Before Republicans consider the electoral strengths of a Romney/ Schweitzer unity ticket, it is worth noting other motives for Schweitzer’s actions. Since Romney seems unlikely to run, he could have just been laying the seeds for criticism of the Republican field. Republicans might say nice things about Joe Biden for the same reason. But it was an unusual quote.

While Romney made some obvious mistakes in 2012, it’s not clear that he was a bad candidate. He overperformed most Republican candidates for statewide office, and lost narrowly in the popular vote (the difference between him and Obama was less than 1/25th of the vote) in a political environment that favored Obama. The economy was improving, Obama’s response to Hurricane Sandy was well-received, Osama Bin Laden was still dead and Americans have a tendency to support incumbents. The nominee in 2016 will run under historically more favorable circumstances, and Romney would have less of a learning curve than anyone else.

There are some significant negatives. He’s not exactly a fresh face, and a few months older than Hillary Clinton, so he wouldn’t be able to beat her the way Obama did in ’08. All of his political campaigns have meant that there are a lot of public statements to scrutinize and attack.

If Romney still wants to be president, this would be his last shot. It wouldn’t make sense for Romney to wait until 2020. It’s a few months before the 2016 primary is officially underway, and Romney’s considered such a strong contender because of a series of lucky breaks unlikely to repeat in a different environment. The field is fractured. Establishment frontrunners include a guy under investigation, and George W Bush’s little brother. He would have the advantage of name recognition, in addition to dedicated support in the business community and among Mormons. Plus, he would have an existing campaign infrastructure.

If the election were held today, Romney would beat Obama.

There are arguments that the political environment typically doesn’t favor General Election losers, although that is mainly due to the small sample set. The reasons that Gerald Ford, Walter Mondale and Bob Dole didn’t run for president again don’t apply to Mitt Romney. Looking at losers of presidential elections; Papa Bush, Ford and Carter were incumbent Presidents who lost. Dole and McCain were in their early 70s when nominated. Mondale, Mcgovern and Dukakis suffered more embarrassing losses.

That leaves Humphrey, Kerry and Gore. Gore didn’t want to run in 2004, even though he polled rather well. Humphrey came relatively close in 1972, losing to a candidate who ran a savvy campaign and had stronger appeal to the base.

Kerry’s biggest problem was the 2008 primary field. For a party that values diversity, he would have been the third choice, at best, in a group that included a young African American Senator and a female Senator with 100% name recognition and a popular husband. 2008 ended up being a long hard-fought primary, although that was between figures Democrats generally liked with similar policy positions. The 2016 Republican primary is likely to be more divided, which leaves more openings.

Kerry was also blamed for losing to George W Bush. Republicans hate Obama as much as Democrats hated Bush eight years ago, and there will be a section of the party that blames Romney for Obama’s reelection. However, Republicans do seem to have more respect for Obama’s political talent than Democrats had for Bush.

Romney might hope for similarities to Ronald Reagan, a former coastal Governor who won the presidency in his third go-around at age 69, fourteen years after first being elected to statewide office.

During the 2012 campaign, there were some comparisons between Romney and Dewey, a Northeastern Governor who ran a safe campaign against a troubled incumbent President and lost. His record of three presidential campaigns does not set an impressive precedent for Romney. Dewey ran for the Republican nomination in 1936, and lost. He then ran for the nomination in 1940 as a northeastern Governor, and won the nomination but lost the general. He sought the nomination again in 1944, and once again lost the general.

A third scenario is Al Smith, a northeastern governor who sought the nomination in 1924 and lost. He won the nomination four years later and lost the general. And he sought the nomination again in 1932 and lost in the effort. Romney would rather be Reagan than Dewey or Smith.

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Bryan Cranston’s Strategy

Bryan Cranston's diverse roles.

Yesterday, I came across a profile of Bryan Cranston in The New Yorker. And I thought this part was pretty cool, detailing the strategy he used to get the most out of seemingly thankless roles.

As he was often the last person cast on a show or film, his strategy was to play the opposite of what the ensemble already had. Drama is conflict, after all. When he auditioned for the father on “Malcolm in the Middle,” the Fox sitcom about a crew of unruly brothers, he knew that the boys’ mother was bombastic, fearless, and insightful, so he played the father as gentle, timid, and obtuse. “It was a genius way to make an underwritten part work,” Linwood Boomer, the show’s creator, says. “By the third episode, we realized we had to do a lot more writing for the guy.”

Now that he’s better known, he has a new formula for picking roles.

In his trailer, Cranston told me that when he trumpeted a few recent offers to his wife the skeptical tilt of her head made him realize that he’d been indiscriminate. He wanted to carve out time to pursue a deal he’d made with Sony Television to produce his own shows, and also wanted to pick roles that forced him to stretch. “You never want to repeat yourself,” he told me. “Otherwise, it’s just”—he named a well-known actor—“doing his thing.” He leaped to his feet, raised an imaginary pistol, and shouted, “Get down! Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam!,” followed by “Because right now you’re safest with me!” and “He’s my son!” He shrugged. “You can write the dialogue before you see the film.”

So he’d constructed a grid in blue ballpoint: the Cranston Project Assessment Scale. On the left were rankings from Very Good to Poor, and across the top, in decreasing order of importance, were Story, Script, Role, Director, and Cast. A very good story was worth ten points, a very good cast only two. Story and script count the most, he said, because “an actor can only raise the level of bad writing by a grade. C writing, and I don’t care if you’re Meryl Streep—you can only raise it to a B.” After factoring in bonus points (high salary = +1; significant time away from family = –3), he’d pass on a project that scored less than 16 points, consider one from 16 to 20, accept one from 21 to 25, and accept with alacrity one from 26 to 32. “ ‘Argo’ was a twenty-eight,” he explained, showing his addition. “Ben was a three as a director—he was ‘good’—and now he’s a four, ‘Argo’ says. ‘Godzilla’ was a twenty, on the high end of ‘consider.’ I was dubious, but when I read the script I was surprised—you care about these people, and you’ve got Godzilla.”

The article was written just before the final episodes of Breaking Bad were aired, so it does contain some spoilers.

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