As fans of the Marvel-verse know, biracial actress Zendaya was cast as Peter Parker’s love interest Mary Jane in the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming. The announcement led to the contempt of many fans who believe Spidey’s future wife should be played by a white actress with red hair. But do you know who isn’t outraged? Spider-Man and Mary Jane’s creator, Stan Lee.
Stan Lee told the Toronto Sun, “The colour of their skin doesn’t matter, their religion doesn’t matter. All that matters is that this the right person for the role.”
Casting against race isn’t new: White actors have been cast in non-white roles for decades. Mackenzie Davis in The Martian. Rooney Mara in Pan. Benedict Cumberbatch in Star Trek Into Darkness. The entire pantheon in Gods of Egypt. (The name for it is “whitewashing," a tradition that began on film in 1921 with Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik.)
On the side of color-blind casting, we have Idris Elba in Thor, Laurence Fishburne in Man of Steel, Michael B. Jordan in Fantastic Four, Will Smith in Suicide Squad, Noma Dumezweni as Hermione in the London play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Color-blind casting may have contributed to the wild success of the Broadway musical Hamilton. (The first example of color-blind casting in cinema was Omar Sharif in Doctor Zhivago in 1965, followed by Eartha Kitt in Batman in 1967.)
And as Lee was quoted in the Sun, “In the Daredevil movie, the Kingpin – who had been white in the comics – he was a black man playing the role, and he played it beautifully.”
Fans will have a chance to see the 19-year-old singer/dancer/actress Zendaya as MJ Watson in Spider-Man: Homecoming on July 7, 2017.