Ask any person, regardless of age, race, gender or socio-economic status what color is Spider-Man and they will tell you that he is red and blue. On a rare occasion, someone who saw Spider-Man 3 or who read Spider-Man comics in the late 80′s may act smart and suggest that he is black and white.
Nobody will tell you that his skin color is black, white or brown.
Trust me. To most of the world Spider-Man is merely red and blue. Case closed.
That is the beauty of Spider-Man and most superheroes. People do not relate to them by the color of their skin. They relate to the color of their costume. Spidey especially, as Stan Lee once speculated, because his costume covers his entire body.
This is most easily observed by watching kids in playgrounds all across the country roleplaying as their favorite superhero. Or by watching adults wear the swag of their favorite characters. They don’t make character choices based on race but they do based on their favorite costume and its color along with the uniqueness of the character’s super power.
Just ask who their favorite Ninja Turtle or Power Ranger is and hear a staccato of colors blurted out. Red, blue, orange and purple for the turtles and red, green, blue, black, white, pink and yellow for the rangers.
Superheroes are characters that fulfill our fantasies and we all can equally imagine having their powers, abilities, attributes, costumes and adventures.
Who has never dreamt of flying like Superman? Did it really matter what race, gender or build you have? I doubt it.
So why do people get all bugged out when it is suggested that a black actor might play Spider-Man in a film? We haven’t seen enough white actors play the role?
We forget that films are merely adaptations of the comics and while we can hope that they stay as true as possible to the source material we know that is rarely the case. We all have very personal interpretations of the source material and would probably make our film completely different.
The only truly authentic version of Spidey as “he was meant to be” can still be found in a copy of some edition of the stories created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. If you need a fix of the original, go pick it up but you may be surprised how different it is from the many other incarnations of the character that we have all been exposed to since 1962.
Spider-Man has changed with the times, the market and our culture.
It is time that we realize that we live in a multicultural society. If we imagine that our superheroes are some new type of mythology, then we have to expect that they will be a reflection of the diverse society we live in. A reflection of our cumulative imagination. We should all be able to imagine ourselves as the character no matter what color we are.
Unfortunately, the choice to change a character’s race has more to do with marketing than creativity. If it didn’t we would see a much more diverse selection of directors and producers. I would love to see a Spider-Man story told from the perspective of an non-white director that truly reflected their personal experience of the character. I would love to know what’s different about the way a black, Hispanic or Asian child in an urban setting imagines Spider-Man compared to how I imagined him as a white kid in the suburbs.
I bet we might be surprised to discover that Spider-Man will still be an amazing red and blue no matter who wears the suit.