Your Toddler Will Never Know Spider-Man Was White
Miles Morales breathed new life into the stale Peter Parker coming-of-age story. Children who look like him can now strongly identify
“You’ll believe a man can fly,” promised the movie poster. Back when Richard Pryor was the funniest black man in America and “Le Freak” by Chic topped the pop chart, a Loews theater stood at the center of the Parkchester projects in the Bronx. With my eighth birthday fast approaching, my parents made a wintertime date night out of Superman: The Movie, starring the late Christopher Reeves as the big blue boy scout. Adults giggled when Supes used X-ray vision to tell Lois Lane her panties were pink; whatever else he was seeing never dawned on me.
Up past bedtime, I flew down the snow-lined block afterward, adrenalized over the first real superhero blockbuster. I’d never felt more like Superman in my young life, with senses on high alert and gas-guzzling cars gunning out the parking lot, kicking up grey wet slush. That’s when my mother said five words, a beam of green kryptonite from her lips. “Be careful. You’re not Superman.” No paraphrase necessary; when your heart sinks that far and that fast, you remember it exactly.
Now, imagine the opposite of that feeling. Almost 40 years to the day after Superman dropped, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse put Afro-Latino teenager Miles Morales in the Spidey suit and sent a new message to black and brown youth: You, too, are Spider-Man.
Like everyone who once raised me, I get excited whenever there are heroes and sheroes of color to expose my sons to, even in the aftermath — especially in the aftermath — of Barack Obama’s terms as the first black president.
We ’70s babies are only one generation removed from the black folks who rang each other’s landlines whenever other African Americans appeared on the small screen. Diahann Carroll on Julia, Bill Cosby on I Spy, Motown acts on The Ed Sullivan Show or…