This is Zendaya Maree Stoermer Coleman, who uses her first name alone as her stage name. She does a lot of productions for the Disney Channel, most notably for our purposes the title character in the show KC Undercover. She’s an actress, a singer with actual CDs to her name, and a dancer. Replace the last two with “supermodel” and you can see why she might have been chosen to play Mary Jane Watson (by Disney-owned Marvel) in the newest Spider-Man continuity when the Marvel flagship character finally gets to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Spider-Man: Homecoming once again sends Peter back to high school because he who controls the origin controls the power, and despite the fact that the character hasn’t been to high school since One More Day also wiped out his teaching career from continuity, some writers just want to write that story. It’s been happening since at least Ultimate Spider-Man in the comics and Spectacular Spider-Man on TV.
And of course because of her race Zendaya playing the Caucasian Mary Jane Watson has people up in arms. Look, I’ve countered the racial issue in this matter again and again and I’m tired of talking about it. There will always be that group that refuses to understand that we want the actor to look like the character they’re portraying not out of racism but because we want a proper adaptation. Especially in comics and other visual media we KNOW what the character looks like, so it only makes sense to find an actor who looks like that character. Maybe someday we’ll get a live-action Jimmy Olsen that looks like Jimmy Olsen. The best we’ve gotten is people who act like him, and even that’s rare outside of cartoons. However…
I actually think she can pull it off. Zendaya has a black father and white mother and her skin is light enough that she can get away with both or playing a character of mixed race, which she is. I’m not sure which she’ll play as MJ’s backstory, but the question is not how she’ll do in the movie, but the impact she’ll have on the comics. And I think it’s a good one.
And don’t think she won’t. When the movies went with the Ultimate design for Nick Fury Marvel not only ruined the original to use the Samuel L. Jackson model, they also ruined Dum Dum Dugan so they can bring in Agent Colson. (Why they had to ruin Dugan to bring in the fan favorite from the movies and Agents Of SHIELD I have no idea.) The Avenger line-up was altered for a time to match the movies and probably will be again when the next movie comes out.
I’ve seen a few episodes of K.C. Undercover. To me the sitcom is hit or miss depending on the episode. Some were good and some were weak. In the show Zendaya plays a teenage superspy alongside her parents (her father is played by Kadeem Hardison, last seen being interesting on A Different World), her brother, and a robot who pretends to be their sister. They work for The Organization and fight a group called The Other Side. Nice and vague.
Originally we were told she was playing a character named Michelle in Spider-Man: Homecoming but now the various news sites are reporting that she will actually be playing MJ. Now I don’t know (and I’m betting neither do most of you) if she was intended to play Michelle but behind the scenes events led to her taking the part of the currently former Mrs. Parker, which wouldn’t be the first time this has happened in Hollywood, or if reports were to hide the fact knowing how the fanbase would react and not wanting to scare her off. Consider the flack Ben Affleck got playing Batman. Or really anybody playing a live-action Batman as far back as Michael Keaton. Heck, there were people who thought Robert Downey Jr. was the wrong person to play Tony Stark. So it’s quite possible.
But how does this benefit MJ? Think about her history. She started off as party girl, bouncing from man to man until she and Peter connected after Gwen’s passing. It wasn’t until her daddy issues were resolved that she could get into a monogamous relationship with Peter
and eventually marriage curse you One More Day. And then her character growth just…stopped. The writers, who already hated a happy Peter for some dumb reason, just never advanced the character. Oh she became a star of stage and bit parts on screen, as well as a supermodel, but that was it. Her growth just…kind of stopped. Even when supervillains were a side effect of her life, even when Venom dropped in on her one time, the most character we got out of her was a supportive wife until the writers thought of how to break them up. By blaming her.
Think about what Mary Jane can do with Peter. She can help him maintain his secret identity. He can bounce ideas off of her. And remember Jackpot? We all thought that she was really MJ, and that was the gag. The writers wanted to trick us into thinking Ms. Watson became a superhero. And then she didn’t. And now she works for Tony Stark as a PR person or something. Because Tony’s had great luck with PR people he’s employed, right?
On the show, K.C. Cooper has some impressive fight moves for a character on a low-budget sitcom for teen girls. (When did the DISNEY Channel stop showing stuff with Disney characters outside of the Disney Junior block…which also has its own channel…and even then there are only two shows they pop up in, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, and the occasional cameos of Disney princesses on Sofia The First.) With a proper choreographer Zendaya could take MJ where Sarah Michelle Geller tried to take Daphne in the Scooby-Doo movies. While Sam Rami was satisfied to make MJ the love interest/rescue dummy for Spider-Man and the more recent Amazing Spider-Man films ignored her completely, going with the altered version of Gwen from Spectacular Spider-Man where she’s now a science geek (and yes, the Ultimate Universe messed MJ up the same way), there’s a good chance given Zendaya’s most recent character that MJ could finally stand on her own.
There is one more bit of evidence. Renew Your Vows spun-off from the namesake Secret Wars that created a multiversal version of Battleworld recently. In one of those worlds Peter and Mary Jane are still married, only May Parker, who became Spider-Girl in yet another reality, was replaced by another daughter, Annie. (I wonder if Peter gets a son anywhere in the multiverse, or at least doesn’t have a different name for each daughter in each dimension.) This will become a regular series and images have shown MJ and Annie (who like May also has spider-powers) in their own Spider-Costumes. So why can’t movie MJ be able to stand on her own (to a point, considering her not-husband battles enhanced hunters, guys with tentacles on his back, and superstrong psychos). I’m not saying she should get powers or become Jackpot in the Movieverse (although that would help the lack of female superheroes on the big screen) but she can be more than the romantic victim, right?
So to wrap up; not only do I not think Zendaya looks wrong for the role of Mary Jane Watson (unlike Laurence Fishburne, who neither looked nor acted the part of Perry White) but she is capable of acting the part and may even be a positive influence on the comic version if they let her. But really…
…all I’m asking for is to make her a redhead. Can you do that? Kirsten Dunst, a blonde, died her hair or wore a wig (depending on the movie) for MJ, while Emma Stone, a redhead, went blonde to play Gwen Stacy. Which makes me thing they goofed up somewhere but redhead MJ is all I want. If Zendaya can pull that off, I will happily accept her and put any faults on the writers the same way Rami goofed up on Mary Jane. Do you really think a girl who once fought dinosaurs couldn’t handle being Peter’s girlfriend?