Casting speculation for Marvel and Sony’s upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming has been pretty hot and heavy since Comic-Con (and before), but now it looks like we have confirmation of a major comics character joining the movie: Reportedly, Zendaya will play Mary Jane Watson.
According to The Wrap, who cite “individuals with knowledge of the project,” the Disney Channel star will play the key character in the Spider-Man mythos when it hits theaters next year. Previous reports suggested Zendaya’s character would be named Michelle, but it’s possible those were a smokescreen to hide the true identity of the character (see also: Marion Cotillard in The Dark Knight Rises).
Traditionally, Mary Jane is a longtime love interest for Peter Parker in Spider-Man comics. They were pretty much together from 1973 until Marvel split up their marriage in 2007. Still, her presence in the canon, such as it is, looms large, as she still pops up as a primary love interest in most interpretations of the character in other media. It’s unknown how much of that role Zendaya’s portrayal will fulfill in Homecoming, though earlier reports have suggested that classmate Laura Harrier’s Liz Allen will be the main subject of Peter’s affection in the movie.
If true, Zendaya’s casting as Mary Jane is a sorely-needed step forward for diversity in Marvel Cinematic Universe. Like so many comic book characters created in the Silver Age, most of Spider-Man’s supporting cast is white, and Mary Jane is no exception – so it’s exciting to see Marvel and Sony aren’t so slavish in their adherence to the source material that they’re against casting a woman of color in the role. There was a subset of fans disappointed when white-guy Tom Holland was cast as Peter, largely because of the lack of racial diversity in the MCU (and because we already have a great Spidey of color in Miles Morales). Despite that, Homecoming has proven itself a little more committed to reflecting the actual racial makeup of Queens with the supporting cast. That’s something that’s sorely needed in a mega-franchise that is still largely made up of straight white dudes.