Andrew Garfield Says A Hero Isn't Defined by Gender, Race or Sexuality: Will Hollywood Take Note?
Being a role model in Hollywood is a tricky business. Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man has not been perfect in this capacity. When you consider everything Andrew Garfield publicly wants for the future of the Spider-Man franchise? He's running circles around most — and certainly around a lot of the other people involved in the behind-the-scenes of the modern superhero boom.
There was a bit of an outcry when Andrew Garfield was first cast as Spider-Man in 2010. There'd been talk of Donald Glover as a candidate for the role, after all, and both actors received the brunt of the respective sides in a long-brewing diversity battle in superhero fandom. Garfield and Glover showed a public comraderie in the face of the controversy, but there's no getting rid of the pressure for diversity in blockbusters these days, especially those involving superhero.
There's good reason for this, of course. And part of what's made Garfield a solid face for the franchise — despite fitting so comfortably into the demographic that's dominated superhero flicks so exhaustively — is that he has a deep understand of what he and the Amazing-Spider Man movies aren't providing the public. In fact, Garfield seems as eager for a diversifying of Spider-Man as the rest of us are.
The most recent evidence of this comes from an interview with Comic Book Resources, in which Garfield talks about the possibility of Miles Morales — the first Black Hispanic Spider-Man in the comics — being Peter Parker's successor in the Amazing Spider-Man movies (emphasis ours):
I have given that thought. I think one of the amazing things about Spider-Man is that you don’t see skin color when he’s in the suit. You don’t see any religious beliefs. You don’t see any denominations. Everyone can project themselves into that suit. It’s incredibly powerful in that way. So of course I think it’s important that the openness, the casting, in terms of who could be Spider-Man, could be absolutely anyone. A hero is a hero, whether you’re a man, woman, gay, lesbian, straight, black, white or red all over — it doesn’t matter.
And he expanded on the importance of that kind of passing of the torch:
Miles Morales was a huge moment in this character’s comic book life. And I do believe that we can do that. It’s something I’m really interested in figuring out; an eloquent way of coexisting, or passing on the torch. I don’t have an answer, but I think it’s actually a really important move. I think it’s a really beautiful and important move.
This is hardly the first time he's explored the possibilities of stretching Spider-Man to be more inclusive. The comments that perhaps drew the most attention came in a 2013 interview with Entertainment Weekly, in which Garfield expressed his interest in seeing Spider-Man explore his sexuality:
I was like, ‘What if MJ is a dude?’ Why can’t we discover that Peter is exploring his sexuality? It’s hardly even groundbreaking!…So why can’t he be gay? Why can’t he be into boys?' [...] I’ve been obsessed with Michael B. Jordan since The Wire. He’s so charismatic and talented. It’d be even better—we’d have interracial bisexuality!
The interview understandably picked up a lot of interest (especially since the interview made it clear that Garfield had broached the topic — and the actor he had in mind — to director Marc Webb), so Garfield followed it up with clarifying comments at San Diego Comic-Con. This clarification didn't completely sweep his wishes for the character under the rug, though — they just further philosophized them:
To speak to the idea of me and Michael B. Jordan getting together, it was tongue in cheek, absolutely tongue in cheek. It would be illogical for me in the third movie to be like, you know what? I'm kind of attracted to guys. That's just not going to work. That's clear. It was just more a philosophical question, and what I believe about Spider-Man is that he does stand for everybody [...] that is what he has always represented to me. He represents the everyman, but he represents the underdog and those marginalized who come up against great prejudice which I, as a middle-class straight, white man, don't really understand so much. And when Stan Lee first wrote and created this character, the outcast was the computer nerd, was the science nerd, was the guy that couldn't get the girl. Those guys now run the world. So how much of an outcast is that version of Peter Parker anymore? That's my question.
He also highlighted the impact the inclusion of that kind of storyline could have:
Just [Spider-Man's] love for the underdog, protecting those that need protection. There's not, in terms of teenagers nowadays, there's more and more horror stories that you hear about young, gay men and women not feeling accepted by society, attempting suicide, committing suicide in some cases, and who else is there to stand up for more importantly than them, you know? Equally to everyone else, but we're all the same is my point.
These are the kinds of comments that shouldn't be radical but are — at least coming from the white face of a superhero franchise. We hear these things all the time from fans and critical analyses, but to hear it from the current face of the series is something different. He's basically begging Sony and/or Marvel to give the world a Spider-Man that in the case of racial diversity he can't provide, and in the case of sexuality they seem unwilling to go for. Garfield seems pretty aware of the privileges that got him the gig — instead of, say, Glover — in a way that most stars rarely acknowledge.
How Andrew Garfield's talking about Spider-Man is really how the entire comic book adaptation business should be talking about their superheroes: With undoubtable affection, but a strong wish for more. Heroes are reflections of what we need, after all — and there's a lot more we need than we're currently getting.