Spider-Man: Homecoming isn't just bringing Spider-Man back into the Marvel Cinematic Universe — it's bringing diversity with it. Not only is a huge chunk of the movie's supporting cast not white, but Homecoming provides the MCU with the universe's first prominent women of color, Liz (Laura Harrier) and Michelle (Zendaya). Moreover, with Liz, Spider-Man: Homecoming introduces Marvel's first biracial love interest. Yes, for the first time in the entire MCU, the white hero is involved in an interracial relationship, and this could not be more important when it comes to the representation of women of color on-screen.
You see, Homecoming marks the first MCU film with two prominent female characters of color and two prominent biracial characters. This distinction might sound unimportant, but to the many biracial fans out there, it actually means a lot, because it expands diversity in the MCU beyond easily defined ethnic boxes. In big studio movies, biracial characters are rare, and tend to appear only when being biracial is a part of the story. For the most part, major films stick to easily defined ethnic categories — black, white, Asian, Latinx, etc. The fact that Homecoming has two biracial female supporting characters and doesn't make their race part of their storyline is monumental, not just for Marvel, but for Hollywood overall.
The increased diversity in Homecoming challenges how the MCU has defined race for years. With the most prominent characters of color in the MCU being mostly black men — The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Heimdall (Idris Elba), Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) — it's easy to think that the MCU is a world populated solely by white men, white women, and a few black men. Homecoming, however, flips the script, adding in a Latino bully Flash (Tony Revolori) and a Filipino best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon). And the addition of Liz and Michelle to the MCU adds the most prominent women of color to the universe thus far.
In recent years, Marvel has been inching towards more inclusion by adding small, but crucial new characters to its franchises. In Doctor Strange, a black actor, Ejiofor, played the originally white character of Mordo, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 featured two non-white actors in major onscreen roles, Zoe Saldana (Gamora) and Pom Klementieff (Mantis). These movies didn't handle diversity perfectly; Doctor Strange whitewashed the character of the Ancient One, and GotG 2's women of color both play aliens, rather than more relatable humans. Still, they were progress, and now, Homecoming marks the first time that Marvel has truly challenged the status quo when it comes to ethnic identity on-screen.
The addition of biracial characters to the MCU also forces viewers to examine how they interpret race onscreen. Major spoilers ahead. Spider-Man: Homecoming's major twist — that Adrian Toomes, aka Vulture, is actually Liz's father — gets its shock value from the fact that audiences are so unused to seeing biracial characters onscreen, that most of them won't even suspect that Toomes, played by Michael Keaton, is in any way related to Liz. Thanks to years of Hollywood consumption, viewers are trained to see onscreen diversity in its simplest form: black characters are black, white characters are white, there is no in between. I am ashamed to admit that, even as a biracial woman myself, I did not for one second wonder if perhaps Toomes could be Liz's father. This begs the question, if Liz had been played by a white actor, would I have suspected their relationship? It's an impossible question to answer, but one that all audiences must ask themselves.
Hopefully, Spider-Man: Homecoming is just the beginning and Marvel will continue to push the boundaries when it comes to diversity onscreen, so that questions like the one above won't ever need to arise.