I loved Spider-Man: Homecaming way more than I probably should love a film that takes a huge chunk of what (little) I liked about Brian Michael Bendis’ origin story for Afro-Latino Spider-Man Miles Morales and… gives it to (a still white) Peter Parker.
The things I loved about Homecoming are simple. Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is adorable. Jacob Batalon, playing his best friend Ned (OBVIOUSLY based off of Miles Morales’ best friend Ganke) is pure and perfect. The movie gives me even more fuel for my Tony Stark hate shrine. I think we’ll be fired up and full of rage against the man in the iron suit until 2020 at least.
But most importantly… Spider-Man: Homecoming gives us little glimpses at BlackGirlExcellence with Laura Harrier’s Liz Allan and Zendaya’s Michelle Jones (MJ apparently), two of three female characters with semi-significant screentime and importance to the plot. However, the film doesn’t do enough with those two female characters to satisfy my desire to see Black girls represented onscreen.
So here are four things that I wish Spider-Man: Homecoming could’ve done differently for Michelle and Liz (whether or not they’re even remotely plausible because of time constraints or whatnot):
1. Give the girls scenes together.
Technically, Liz and MJ do have scenes together.
They’re in the same space several times throughout the film (during academic decathalon practice, gym class, the bus on the way to Nationals, the actual Homecoming dance).
However, I can’t remember them appearing onscreen at the same time or interacting with each other directly. The closest thing that I think we get is at the beginning of the film when Liz says something about Peter dropping out of the club and MJ is like “yeah, he’s dropped out of all of extracurriculars”.
They’re technically not talking to each other and they’re not shown in the same shot so… Not much of a victory.
Homecoming is a Spider-Man movie, but would it have killed them to pretend that the two Black girls in the main cast had some sort of friendship? It appears as if Liz is the totally popular nerd girl while MJ is indie and snarky and the film separates them. Liz has all the friends and is loved by everyone while MJ literally says that she has no friends at the start of the film.
Why not let these two girls be friends?
Here’s how I’d do it:
I’d keep the scene where Peter and Ned stare at Liz with heart-eyes and talking about her sweater, but instead of MJ saying the “I don’t have any friends” line, she makes a face at them and waves Liz over.
Because they’re friends. And she tells Liz that “these nerds like your outfit” because she’s terrible and Liz, with her big ole baby deer eyes, just smiles and thanks them. Maybe she references her dad picking up the sweater (which is new) on a trip out of town.
When they’re in gym, instead of having MJ separate from her other classmates and clearly like out of place because she’s reading a book or something, have her sit sort of behind Liz. Every so often, she points out something in the book and leans over so that Liz can see it.
Have Liz talk to MJ about books. It was a neat little nod to Black culture and writing in Luke Cage to have the titular character seen with a book in his hand. They do it in Homecoming too, but I think that it could’ve been used to greater effect. Have Liz hand MJ a copy of a book about like… the rise of supervillains and heroes since Iron-Man first came on the scene. Have a scene where she tells MJ and Peter all about this book she just got on Wakanda from the country’s royal publisher.
Most of these scenes would take up a couple of seconds.
But they’d give us Black girls that talk to each other about something that’s not a white guy so…
2. Liz should’ve had the chance to confront her father (maybe becoming a Spoiler-esque hero in her own right).
Spider-Man: Homecoming isn’t actually that good about giving female characters anything resembling a full character arc. They exist in relation to male characters and that’s… kind of a problem.
What I think I would’ve liked to see, and it’s absolutely impossible, would have been Liz getting to develop a taste for superheroics at the same time as Peter is figuring out what it means to be Spider-Man.
Two origin stories for the price of one.
In the… mid ninties, I think, DC introduced Stephanie Brown in the Robin series. Stephanie was the daughter of a career criminal (the Cluemaster) whose awfulness led her to want to figure out ways to thwart his crime and protect herself and her mother. She became the Spoiler to well… spoil her father’s attempts at criminal activity because she felt it was the only way to stop him.
Ray Toombs (Liz’s father and the Vulture) is a different kind of criminal from the Cluemaster and Steph and Liz aren’t similar characters, but that’s what makes a parallel so intriguing a possibility.
Liz is a literal genius, top percentage of her class and guaranteed a full ride to any school she goes to after high school. She’s planning on going to MIT. Maybe. If they make the scholarship package more appealing.
She’s smart, and observant enough to realize that there’s something not quite right about her father’s income and how sometimes he brings back gifts for her and her mother that don’t match up with where he tells them he went.
So, she starts following him and trying to put the pieces together around the same time that Peter does. Makes herself a costume for stealth. The works.
And then… we balance her arc and her superhero origin against Peter’s but leave it open ended, at the end of the film, as to what she does next. Does she stay in NY to learn about being a hero? Does she leave after her dad is arrested? Does she help in the takedown?
Look, there are so many options and it leads to Liz coming back in the sequel film…
3. More screentime.
This one’s simple:
Zendaya’s presence in Spider-Man: Homecoming was used as one of the film’s big draws. However, Zendaya only had maybe ten minutes TOTAL of screen time and much of screentime she did have was silent.
That’s not cool.
Zendaya is practically Disney royalty at this point. She’s given them two super successful series and just exudes grace and serious sweetness everywhere she goes. And she’s also wicked talented (a triple threat that should’ve been playing Mary Jane Watson, to be honest).
I get that this is a Spider-Man film and not w “Zendaya Takes Over the MCU” film, but do you know many folks took their kids to Homecoming because she was in it and treated like one of the female leads?
I know I sure as hell spent money taking two of my niecelings to see this movie because they love Zendaya and I thought she’d have a little more meat to her role than what she got.
While I didn’t know much about Laura Harrier prior to this movie, she also deserved more screentime and more plot that was about her rather than Peter.
Just because a movie is about a boy, that doesn’t mean no female character should get significant characterization and development.
4. And finally… Let Liz and MJ date!
Are there any queer women of color in the MCU so far?
(Don’t give me headcanons, folks…)
Somehow, I highly doubt that it’s been a priority for the company… But it should be.
Spider-Man: Homecoming could’ve (should’ve) shown a relationship between Liz and MJ that was absolutely and delightfully queer, showing queerness as something normal and natural. Disney/Marvel movies reach a wide audience and having two queer Black girls in a relationship with one another would’ve been some much-needed representation for queer POC.
Marvel hasn’t exactly done well when it comes to queer representation and a Liz/MJ relationship would’ve been just the thing to make fans feel represented. Of course, a queer Black woman would’ve needed to chart out the relationship and work on the script so that it’s present, flows well with the story, and doesn’t wind up being an obnoxious love triangle that leaves queer audiences dissatisfied…
Wishful thinking, I know.
Queer Black people are a minority in general, but we’re definitely a minority when it comes to representation in media. Queerness – in either Liz or MJ could mean the world to a little queer kid that doesn’t know if they belong in the world.
Think about it, Marvel. I’ll be waiting.
There you have it, four things I wish Spider-Man: Homecoming could’ve (should’ve) done differently for Liz Allan and Michelle Jones. With rumors that Gwen Stacey will show up in the next film already sparking (not that I trust them), I’m pretty sure that my favorite Black Girls Next Door probably won’t get a chance to shine, but hey…
A Stitch can dream…
(If you’ve come here because of the giveaway I’m running on Twitter for a digital copy of Spider-Man: Homecoming, use the hashtag #SpideyStitch to talk about what you wished Homecoming did better to enter the contest!)