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With the recent news about Zendaya playing Mary Jane Watson in the latest SpiderMan movie, racists have once again emerged from their keyboards and computer screens to bash her and black people in general who play fictional white characters. There’s a misunderstanding why a black girl like Zendaya can play Mary Jane Watson, but white people can’t play characters who are people of color. It really all goes down to representation and the whitewashing of our images.
For years, there has been a lack of positive, and accurate representation of people of color in books, movies, television shows, and even in religious depictions. For example: Images of God and His Angels are often white. Jesus is even whitewashed and it should be known by now that Jesus was not at all white.
A lot of television depictions of native Americans are either white/lighter skin, or their culture is portrayed as “savage”. Or maybe they’re just sexualized and married off to a European. Either way it’s not good representation. I have to stop here and say that representation is not only about seeing someone that looks like you, but also reflects your people well. What are you representing? Making a cartoon about a cannibalistic African people is not “representation” it’s racist. Making a film about a stereotypical Native American isnt representation.
In the tombs of Egypt there are clearly black people on those walls. However in movies like Gods of Egypt, the cast is mainly white. If “color doesn’t matter” why go out of your way to change it? Historically, a white ancient Egyptian pharaoh isn’t accurate.
So why isn’t a white Egyptian ok but a black Mary Jane Watson is? Because some characters are tied to their race and some aren’t. By “tied to their race” I mean that their identity is crucial and you need to pay attention to their race to get an accurate depiction. When you’re dealing with actual historical and cultural people, you are wise to portray them in their image and likeness. You want to reflect the actual people you’re playing. Mary Jane is less tied to her race than the ancient Egyptian gods and pharaohs. You’re dealing with history, not a marvel comic. Zendaya can easily dye her hair or throw on a wig to be a “redhead”.
Remember when Emma Stone played a Pacific Islander girl in Aloha ? Her character Allison Ng was part chinese and part Hawaiian. Last time I checked, Emma Stone is white. Why not get a Hawaiian actress? Why erase a vital identity by grabbing the most “ethnic looking white person” you could possible find?
How about when Pan was out and Rooney Mara played Tiger Lilly, an indigenous girl? White people didn’t get why it was offensive, but again, the image of native Americans is usually whitewashed. The character is tied to her race and culture. If you’re going to portray an indigenous girl, get an indigenous actress. They exist.You’re erasing an important identity by just throwing a white girl to play a role where there is culturally, no connection whatsoever. Why aren’t People of color good enough to play their own people? Just. Get. An. Indigenous. Actress.
When white people play anyone who is supposed to be black or any race that isn’t white, it’s usually deemed inconsiderate and racist. Why? White people don’t NEED representation. They are already represented well, especially in America. They aren’t dehumanized through movies, they aren’t “black-washed” in history textbooks either. Their “culture” isn’t erased and made to be invisible. In short, they won’t miss anything. Wipe your eyes. It’s ok.
Let Zendaya play MJ Watson in peace. It won’t harm white people in any way, except maybe their feelings.
(Follow Nzinga Muhammad on Twitter @QueenNzinga13)