On Andrew Garfield, Stan Lee, And Spider-Man’s Cinematic Sexuality [Opinion]
A few weeks back, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Andrew Garfield -- who plays Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the current Amazing Spider-Man film franchise -- recounted a conversation he had with a producer, in which he wondered out loud why Spider-Man couldn't be gay or bisexual. When this quote was mentioned to Stan Lee over the weekend at Fandomfest in Louisville, Kentucky, the 90-year-old co-creator of Spider-Man made an awkward attempt at a humorous response: "I figure one sex is enough for anybody."
Here's Garfield's full quote on the topic:
I was kind of joking, but kind of not joking about MJ. And I was like, ‘What if MJ is a dude?’ Why can’t we discover that Peter is exploring his sexuality? It’s hardly even groundbreaking! … So why can’t he be gay? Why can’t he be into boys?
It's an interesting question from Garfield, a longtime Spider-Man fan. He even suggested actor Michael B. Jordan (The Wire, Fruitvale Station) could play a male version of Mary Jane. When asked about them, Lee seemed to have no knowledge of Garfield's comments, and was caught a bit off guard: “He’s becoming bisexual? Who have you been talking to? Seriously, I don’t know anything about that. And if it’s true, I’m going to make a couple of phone calls. I figure one sex is enough for anybody."
In an interview with CBR, when asked about his remarks, Garfield expanded on his position:
Listen, what I said in that Entertainment Weekly interview was a question. It was just a simple, philosophical question about sexual orientation, about prejudice. I obviously long for the time where sexual orientation, skin color, is a small thread in the fabric of a human being, and all men are created equal -- and women, sorry, women as well. To speak to the idea of me and Michael B. Jordan getting together, it was tongue in cheek, absolutely tongue in cheek. It would be illogical for me in the third movie to be like, you know what? I'm kind of attracted to guys. That's just not going to work. That's clear. It was just more a philosophical question, and what I believe about Spider-Man is that he does stand for everybody: black, white, Chinese, Malaysian, gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender. He will put himself in harm's way for anyone. He is colorblind. He's blind to sexual orientation, and that is what he has always represented to me. He represents the everyman, but he represents the underdog and those marginalized who come up against great prejudice which I, as a middle-class straight, white man, don't really understand so much. And when Stan Lee first wrote and created this character, the outcast was the computer nerd, was the science nerd, was the guy that couldn't get the girl. Those guys now run the world. So how much of an outcast is that version of Peter Parker anymore? That's my question.
So that's Garfield's question, and it's a good one. Spider-Man is the flagship character of Marvel Comics, a company that over the years has often prided itself on being comparatively progressive, and in many ways, despite some missteps, it has been. Further, Marvel has shown it realizes that the best way to make a sweeping statement about inclusion is through Spider-Man; there's a reason they killed off Peter Parker in the Ultimates Universe and replaced him with Miles Morales, a black Latino teenager. Creating a new hero for Miles simply would not have had the same kind of social (or financial) impact.
So, while I doubt Peter Parker will be announced as gay or bisexual in Amazing Spider-Man 2 or 3, or any other Spidey film in the near future, it's encouraging that someone in Garfield's position would even bring this up, let alone speak well on the topic. Even if no change comes of it, it's good when things like this happen, just like it's good when people ask why Donald Glover, who is black, can't be cast as Spider-Man. It not only promotes much needed discussions on diversity in popular media, but also brings to light some of the more intolerant aspects of fandom. Whenever these topics are broached, some of the more intolerant corners of fan culture come out:
As ugly and uncomfortable as it is to deal with these opinions, it's necessary. We need to be reminded that these people are out there, because so many of us are very quick and eager to forget, or pretend it isn't a problem. And by discussing the idea, even if only briefly, of Spider-Man being gay, Garfield -- like Glover before him -- has started an important conversation, one that hopefully won't go away any time soon.
Now, on to a more pressing question: Does Garfield seriously still think he's middle class?