Adding a new perspective to the traditionally white-dominated genre of mainstream superheroes, the Oscar award-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse came on the scene in December 2018. Featuring a culturally fluid, multiracial and multiethnic teenager named Miles Morales — who finds himself bitten by a radioactive spider, and then, begins training with Spideys of other worlds to fulfill the role of Spider-Man in his universe — this film follows him, as he navigates his change to a new charter school and his newly formed Spidey senses.
The only Spider-Man we’ve seen with two parents, let alone multiracial ones, Morales demonstrates his cultural fluidity by speaking to his Puerto Rican mother in Spanish and his African-American father in English throughout the movie. It plays out like any other superhero film with the exception that Miles Morales, an Afro-Latino, is one of the few existing mainstream superheroes of color, alongside Black Panther, Black Lightning, Luke Cage, and Storm.
Growing up in the melting pot that is Brooklyn, New York, Morales is no stranger to the quick thinking, code-switching and secret-keeping present in every superhero’s repertoire. And being a cross-cultural kid, he’s been socialized to learn skills unique to those who straddle different multiracial and multiethnic lines, and he struggles through the same questions of belonging and connection as other cross-cultural kids do. In his case, though, it’s exacerbated by becoming a superhero. Even so, when the responsibility of being Spider-Man is thrust upon him, Morales embraces it and uses his ability to balance different cultural worlds to his advantage.
This on-screen representation of CCKs has also made the character of Miles Morales a role model for people of color in the United States. Beyond the U.S., in countries with less racial stratification, this movie still applies, portraying not only an American POC, but also depicting different versions of Spider-Man that exist across different universes and different nationalities. Though, in my opinion, these supporting roles were Eurocentric and missed the mark on accuracy, they were a step in the right direction toward worldwide inclusivity.
A Culturally Fluid Cast
Diverse representation on- and off-screen is extremely important, and in no other movie is it more apparent than Into the Spider-Verse. Miles Morales is played by Shameik Moore, who, as a child of Jamaican immigrants, also holds a culturally fluid identity. Other cross-cultural actors in this film, include Miles’s dad played by Brian Tyree Henry (African American and a military brat), Miss Calleros played by Natalie Morales (Cuban-American and member of the LGBTQ+ community), and Peni Parker played by Kimiko Glenn (Japanese American), among others.
An actor doesn’t necessarily have to hold these identities to be given a role that explores them, but if the goal is inclusion through diverse representation, employing people who identify with the characters they’re supposed to play should be standard. Allowing actors to draw from their own learned experiences allows for the characters to more accurately portrayed. The writers Rodney Rothman and Phil Lord did a fantastic job of incorporating culturally fluid identities into the film, which not only helped further the story, but also the sense of belonging culturally fluid people can gain from watching it.
What Sets Into the Spider-Verse Apart
With a $90 million dollar production budget, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse pales in comparison to the $375.5 million dollars it raked in from the box office. It did extremely well for what was Sony’s first animated feature film in the Spider-Man franchise.
What really sets this film apart from the rest of the Spider-Man movies is the groundbreaking art style that was chosen for its animation, which captured the visual language of comic books and translated it into a seamless, moving picture that is completely unique.
Not only did Miles Morales become a multifaceted, multicultural example of Spider-Man, he set the stage for what we can only hope to be the future of superhero movies — one that includes diverse representations of superheroes that come from places other than the United States. The visual representation of diversity combined with the new jaw-dropping artistic style makes Into the Spider-Verse the most inclusive in franchise history and is a great example of how to tell other origin stories and succeed while doing so.
We can’t wait to see what the sequel will bring.