The news that Marvel and Sony have reached a deal to integrate Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been enthusiastically received by fans keen to see the webslinger interact with Marvel's Avengers heroes -- and to see Spider-Man characters and Marvel Universe characters mixed into the same great pot. Though Sony retains control of the Spidey franchise, a closer working relationship with Marvel may also help turn around Sony's lackluster performance on the Spider-Man movies.

But there is a downside to this new arrangement. Actor Andrew Garfield is reportedly out of the running in the lead role of Peter Parker. The Amazing Spider-Man movies had an abundance of flaws, but Garfield as Parker and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy were the two things the movies did right. Garfield looked and acted the part, both physically inhabiting the role and bringing to life the charm, vulnerability, and energy of the character. It feels like he never got to make a Spider-Man movie equal to his talents. But if he can't have the job anymore, there is one other actor we'd like to see take his place, and that's Donald Glover.

If you're not familiar with Glover's association with the role, the actor and rapper -- best known as Troy Barnes in Community, or by his rap stage name, Childish Gambino -- was the subject of an online campaign to get him an audition for the role of Peter Parker the last time it was up for grabs back in 2010. Glover, an enthusiastic Spider-Man fan, publicly endorsed the campaign, but as history and People magazine now record, the role went to Garfield instead.

While the campaign didn’t have the intended effect, it did have a consequential impact. Writer Brian Michael Bendis would later acknowledged that the idea of Glover playing Spider-Man was one of the influences on his creation of Miles Morales, the black Latino kid who replaced the late Peter Parker as Spider-Man in Marvel’s alternate reality Ultimate Universe comics. (The other significant influence is that Bendis is a father to two black daughters.)

Last year Glover got the chance to play Miles Morales in the Disney XD animated series Ultimate Spider-Man: Web Warriors. Glover's episodes aired in October last year in certain markets.

But now Marvel and Sony have the perfect opportunity to give Glover another shot at a webslinging role, playing either a grown-up live action Miles Morales, or becoming the new face of Peter Parker.

Remember, Parker was the role that fans wanted Glover to audition for, not Morales -- because Morales didn't exist until after the campaign. A black Peter Parker is still a welcome idea, and Glover, one month younger than Garfield, could believably play a post-grad version of the character. After all, we really don't need to see the high school origin story play out on the screen; the next Spider-Man movie should find him already comfortably in the role.


Jim Cheung
Jim Cheung


There is also a good argument for Glover to play a grown-up Morales, in that Morales is an originally black character, and audiences deserve to see black actors playing black heroes. In this instance that argument only goes so far, as any version of Spider-Man will be derivative of the original. But Peter Parker has now become a role like James Bond or Batman; audiences understand seeing different actors in the part. The actors put up for those parts should not be limited by skin color.

Now, there will be some angry internet commentators out there with a lot to say about this, but their comments will essentially boil down to, 'black people playing my most-favorite originally-white characters (and also other white characters) (and actually any white characters), make me uncomfortable, because this reminds me that I harbor deeply ingrained racist views about which opportunities should be afforded to people of different skin color'. I know, it's rough for those guys that other people don't want to be disadvantaged any more. If you're one of the people who thinks that way, here's the the good news; your views are outdated and you're increasingly irrelevant. (Oh, I didn't mean that it's good news for you.)

And Glover as Spider-Man -- either version -- would help speed the progression towards an understanding that race should not be a barrier to opportunity. Casting a black actor in the role would make an important statement about acceptance; it would show us that heroes rise from adversity; and it would help balance out the overwhelming whiteness of our movie superheroes.

Casting this specific black actor, who wants the role and would be amazing in it, is on paper a very easy choice unless you're hung up on the color of his skin. Spider-Man isn't a character whose identity is tied to a uniquely white cultural history. On the contrary, he's an everyman, and he wears a mask because he could be anyone. There's no requirement or expectation that Spider-Man be white. No-one in the business of creating heroes should be making excuses to exclude people based on the color of their skin.

Casting Donald Glover would no doubt look radical to many people today, but in years to come we would look back on the decision as an inevitability. This had to happen. Because this has to happen.

Realistically, I doubt it will happen this time around. Marvel and Sony will surely find another white actor to take the role, and we'll have to wait for a black Spider-Man, just as we wait for a black James Bond, a black Batman, and a black Doctor Who.

But the studios could do it. They have the power. And if they've been following their own material closely, they'll understand what comes with great power.

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