(Yes, I’m late to this. But this topic keeps coming up, over and over again. And I believe in the power of stories to be retold.)
Good question, Andrew Garfield. And predictably, some people have freaked the fuck out about it. (Don’t believe me? Just look at the comments if you want to come up hating humanity.) Kind of like a couple years ago, when some people suggested that it might be pretty awesome if Spiderman were black, and perhaps played by Donald Glover. And some people freaked the fuck out. To me it sure sounds the same as when some people bitched on Twitter about the Bishop of Carlisle in Richard II being played by Lucian Msamati (a black actor). The Shakespeare fandom is just a somewhat different demographic, which generally tends to have better spelling.
I don’t make any secret of the fact that I love seeing existing roles have their gender, race, and sexuality bent. (Hey, I even just talked about it in a quest blog post.)
Now let me explain why.
Stories are by necessity living things. They may be written at a particular time and about particular people, but if that was all they were, we wouldn’t keep reading them, watching them, over and over. And more important, we wouldn’t keep retelling them. We tell the same stories over and over again because there is something magical in them, some vital spark that makes them as powerful today as they were on the day they were written–or sometimes even more powerful. Even more so with legends, because they’re about how human beings relate with each other, with the world, what we think we are and who we believe we can be.
And because stories are about us and about our place in the world, we want to interact with them. We want to see ourselves in them. In fact, stories invite us to imagine ourselves in the shoes of the protagonist. That’s what gives them their power. We connect ourselves with characters who are different races, genders, sexualities, because there is still a fundamental humanity that speaks to us. Different facets of human experience are still human experience.
I get that there are characters who are quite literally defined by some aspect of their race, sexuality, or gender. Shaft would not be the black private dick that is a sex machine to all the chicks if he wasn’t black. But tell me, what fundamental part of the Bishop of Carlisle is defined by his race? What fundamental part of Peter Parker is defined by his sexuality?
What I find so upsetting about people saying Peter Parker can’t be gay, can’t be black, is that they are basically saying the experience of a gay man, of a black man is alien. That they cannot or don’t want to connect to a black man, to a gay man and find that same fundamental humanity and imagine themselves in his shoes even as we are all expected to constantly imagine ourselves as straight, white men. That only a white, straight man could possibly have that experience, that story. That only one tiny facet of the human viewpoint is valid.
That stories are static, dead things that cannot change and grow with us.
And I mourn for their imaginations.
(And you should totally go read: Why Batman Can’t Be Black.)