In 2016 Actor Zendaya was cast as “Michelle Jones” for Marvel’s Spider-man Homecoming. Fans of Spider-Man quickly speculated that Michelle Jones was a false name used to hide that Zendaya would actually be playing the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of Mary Jane Watson. This was denied by producers of the film, proclaiming that Zendaya was in fact playing an original character and not a love interest to Peter Parker at all. When Homecoming was released many fans were upset to learn that Zendaya played only a minor role in the film,but were shocked to find out at the end of the film Zendayas “Original Character” Michelle, refers to herself as “MJ” a popular nick name for Mary Jane in the comics. In the films sequel Zendaya is exclusively referred to as MJ for the entirety of the film and is made into Peter Parkers love interest despite not having any set up for the two characters romance in the previous film. In a recent interview in Variety Zendaya went on record saying that Marvel wanted to reinvent the character of Mary Jane Watson, confirming that her character was intended to be a version of Mary Jane all along. My main question about this entire matter is,why the “Michelle” false name at all? Marvel Studios version of Spider-man is a far cry from the comic version but he’s still Peter Parker, not an entirely new character made for the film, but in the case of MJ her characterization and name are different from her comic book counterpart. I cant help but feel that Marvel Studios and their parent company Disney may have feared potential backlash for making Mary Jane Watson a woman of color.
It wouldn’t be the first time Disney has been accused of unusual treatment towards their stars who are people of color. During the promotional run for Star Wars the Force Awakens fans took notice that Actor John Boyega had been minimized or flat out removed on posters for the films international release. Many believed Disney feared loss of revenue in countries that were “intolerant” of people of color or just a lead actor that was a black man.
Two other example of the companies strange handling of characters that are portrayed by people of color,and two that are related to the Spider-man universe as well,is the MCU Flash Thompson and Liz Allan. Flash is portrayed by Tony Revolori who is of Guatemalan descent. In this iteration of the character, gone are his troubled and abusive household, along with his sports background, instead Flash is a pampered, yet seemingly neglected rich child. Liz Allan, played by Laura Ruth Harrier, a Black woman, becomes Liz Toomes (for some reason) and The Vultures daughter. I was always under the assumption that the purpose of changing the ethnicity of Spider-mans supporting cast was to show that no matter the color or creed of the actor portraying them, they could still bring to life the same characterization the characters had in the Source material, having them strikingly different because of their ethnic background is almost a slap in the face of the entire idea. It’s not like Marvel hasn’t done this with success in the past. In Marvels Daredevil series on Netflix, Ben Urich is portrayed by Vondie Curtis-Hall, a Black man, although Urich has always been portrayed as a Caucasian man, Vondie gives one of the most accurate performances seen in the comic show medium ever. Him being black takes nothing away from the character,neither does it change the story, Surely this same method could’ve worked for Spider-mans supporting cast, perhaps most of all with Zendaya.
Zendaya as Mary Jane Watson works perfectly, she has the acting chops to pull off MJ’s charming and flirtatious demeanor, she’s an actual Model, she’s downright gorgeous, and she looks great with red hair. And if treading over old territory previously shown in other Spider-man films is a worry for Marvel Studios/Disney, they could simply have adapted the Ultimate Marvel Universe incarnation of Mary Jane. This version of MJ is Peters best friend and eventual girlfriend, and is the first to learn he is Spider-Man. This MJ is also much more of a social outcast similar to Peter, something Zendayas Michelle Jones has in common. The MCU could’ve still brought something never seen before on screen with Mary Jane Watson,whilst remaining comic accurate and giving Zendaya a larger role in Spider-Man Homecoming. In all honesty Zendaya could’ve portrayed the classic MJ and STILL brought something new to the table. The Raimi films version of MJ barely scratches the surface of the characters depth seen over 60 years in the comics. There was never any reason to make Zendayas MJ, “Michelle Jones,” at least not any good one.
What do you think? Are you satisfied with Zendaya being “Michelle Jones”? Or does it feel like more of a slight to Zendaya and a disrespect to the Mary Jane Watson Character? Let us know in the comments and as always thank you for reading!