The Sony leak has provided us with a host of information, from Channing Tatum’s hilarious ‘hahahahaha’ email to the fact that Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams were paid considerably less than their male co-stars, and now contracts between Marvel and Sony have revealed that Peter Parker has to be white, straight, and a non-smoker?
Gawker first reported on the leaked documents, with many interesting questions arising: Why all the conservative restrictions on Spider-Man? Why does Peter have to be white and straight? Why is his backstory so rigid and is this why the movies became so stale? Because they had to adhere to the same guidelines?
The contract which was signed in 2011, was put through one month before Miles Morales, a black-Latino alter ego of Spider-Man, was revealed in the comics. Miles Morales is voiced in the cartoon, Ultimate Spider-Man, by rapper/actor Donald Glover, who started a campaign before the reboot to become the new Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the Sony films. It’s now obvious why that didn’t happen.
It makes sense that when Marvel was selling the rights to their intellectual property, especially a hero as popular as Spider-Man they would put stipulations on the character that would not alter too dramatically the way he is portrayed in the comics unless they are planning to change things in the comics first.
It’s very difficult to justify their reasonings behind not allowing Peter to be non-white or gay but the problem that lies in the fact that Spider-Man is the most popular superhero is that any large change to his canon will result in a backlash from fans, especially if it was not done in the comics first. A perfect example of this was the casting of an African-American actor (teh extremely talented Michael B. Jordan) as Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four reboot caused so much backlash from hardcore Marvel fans who felt as if the casting was not true to the comic, even though it was a welcome change to most fans. Although for the character of Johnny Storm, Marvel must not have stipulated that he needs to be Caucasian, so they left it open for the character to be altered and modified.
As the apocalypse of superhero movies continues, more and more characters are moving away from what they were synonymous with in the comics, the world is changing and the characters have to learn to adapt.
Another rendering might be that the restrictions are Marvel’s way of differentiating Peter Parker/Spider-Man from other superheroes, because we know that there are heroes that kill, heroes that torture (Daredevil showed us that), heroes that smoke and abuse alcohol, but Marvel wanted to firmly make sure that Spider-Man does not subscribe to this kind of behavior. This is especially true when one considers that in the movie versions he is usually a teenager and to allow a teenager, especially one that so many young children look up to, to partake in behavior like underage sex, drinking, smoking and torturing or killing might cause an uproar by fans, and prevent the character from being marketed to children.
The Hollywood Reporter has suggested that when considering the clauses to the contract it seems as if Marvel is trying to protect their intellectual property and making sure that Sony would always be one step behind them in the way that their characters are portrayed – Peter Parker is white, straight and PG13 because that is how he has been portrayed in the comics thus far. Sony would be able to make Peter Parker a different race or homosexual or a rebel but only once the comics have done it first, so that Marvel would get the main publicity around it – such as when a female version of Thor was announced, or when a black superhero, The Falcon, picked up the mantle of Captain America.
It’s easy to find the faults in the contract, we are constantly feeling the brunt of the lack of diversity in mainstream movies and a lot of the audience would love it if a character that was as beloved as Spider-Man was portrayed by someone other than a white, straight male; but the intricacies behind the contracts, and the sharing of intellectual property is so complex that it is difficult to assign straight reasonings as to why they have set these particular restrictions. Until Sony or Marvel comments on them, we can only hope that they are just simply trying to keep the character true to his comic origins.