Sony Pictures has made a lot of mistakes in the past year, but perhaps one of the biggest thus far is the new Spider-Man casting. This week, a relative unknown from the UK, Tom Holland, was announced as the actor set to play the iconic Peter Parker in the next installment of the constantly rebooted Spider-Man franchise. He was chosen out of a large pool of young, white, male actors that was rumored to include the likes of Nat Wolff and Asa Butterfield. And many fans aren't happy.
Earlier this month it was revealed in yet another Sony hack leak that all onscreen versions of Peter Parker and his superhero alter-ego must be white, male, and straight. The licensing agreement, signed in 2011 by Sony Pictures and Marvel, stipulated a series of mandatory character traits for Spider-Man that included basic background details like him growing up in Queens, and weirdly moralistic conditions like "does not have sex before the age of 16."
What the leak demonstrated, and what the casting confirms beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that Sony is completely out of touch. Earlier this month, Marvel announced that the half-black, half-Latino character Miles Morales will be the official Spider-Man of the Marvel universe. It's an exciting move, one that suggests that in the ever-changing comic-book landscape, there is room for diverse characters to take prominence in ways they haven't been able to in the past.
So why isn't the Marvel cinematic universe depicting this?
There's been criticism about inherent racism, misogyny, and homophobia in the MCU before -- fans have cited the lack of female characters with their own standalone movies, the dearth of black superheroes, and the complete absence of LGBT characters. These complaints are nothing new, and they've been leveled not only at Sony and Marvel but at DC/Warner Bros' cinematic universe as well.
But there's something about Peter Parker in particular that intensifies this question of diversity. In a cinematic sea of Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, he has become, over the years, one of the most lackluster onscreen heroes. Toby Maguire's portrayal in the early 2000s was electrifying because we had yet to see such an imperfect superhero on screen, in those days when comic-book movies were just finding their footing. But with the progression of Maguire's franchise, and the eventual introduction of Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker, the character felt more and more like a caricature. Perhaps that's because he has, at this point, been done to death.
What more is there to say about Peter Parker? Where else is there to go? His most common origin story in movies -- a teenager with spiderlike powers who begins fighting crime after his Uncle Ben is killed by muggers -- is classic. But to see that story told through the context of a black or Latino identity, a gay identity, even a female identity, would not only be far more compelling, it would actually be timely. And it's been proven -- diversity is no longer a liability. It gets butts in seats.
In her statement on the casting this week, Amy Pascal said that Tom Hollander is a "talented young actor capable of embodying one of the most well-known characters in the world.” Perhaps that's the crux of the issue. Spider-Man is too well known. He's predictable. Casting him in with an actor that defied all of Sony's ridiculous stipulations wouldn't be a gimmick -- it'd be actually entertaining.
The disillusion with this new Spider-Man casting isn't just about that buzzword "diversity." Beyond the hot-button issues, this casting decision is underwhelming at best, and positively boring at worst. What's unfortunate, though, is that it is unsurprising.