While Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn doesn't know for sure that Zendaya will play Mary Jane Watson in Spider-Man: Homecoming, he took to Facebook earlier today to defend the casting against angry fans who took to social media last night after numerous reports claimed she would be Peter's longtime love interest.
"For me, if a character's primary attribute -- the thing that makes them iconic -- is the color of their skin, or their hair color, frankly, that character is shallow and sucks," Gunn wrote to Facebook. "For me, what makes MJ MJ is her alpha female playfulness, and if the actress captures that, then she'll work. And, for the record, I think Zendaya even matches what I think of as MJ's primary physical characteristics - she's a tall, thin model - much more so than actresses have in the past."
He stressed that he can't confirm the casting reports -- that he doesn't even know whether they're true -- but that the anxiety over casting an actor of color in the role of Mary Jane isn't unique to this film or the Spider-Man property.
"People get upset when something they consider intrinsic to a comic book character changes when adapted for a film," Gunn wrote. He acknowledged that he can sometimes relate, but noted that when he objects is when the changes are story-based: "There are movies I dislike because I think there's a basic misunderstanding of the story or the character when the comic is transferred to film (I still hate how in the first Batman movie the Joker was revealed as the murderer of Bruce Wayne's parents, for instance.)"
[Editor's note: So do I, Mr. Gunn. So do I.]
The fact that the lead characters in Gunn's film are aliens allowed for him to cast Zoe Saldana as Gamora and Vin Diesel as Groot without ever facing questions like the ones that the Spider-Man: Homecoming filmmakers are dealing with, but that doesn't mean Gunn hasn't given it a lot of thought before now.
"When Michael B Jordan was cast as Johnny Storm I didn't understand the uproar," the filmmaker added. "The primary characteristic of Johnny was not, to me, that he was white, or that he had blonde hair, but that he was a fiery, funny, big-mouthed braggart of a hero. I was happy that he was going to be played by one of the finest and most charming young actors out there."
In that actor's next film, of course, he delivered a powerhouse performance that drove Creed to dozens of awards and award nominations. So there's something to be said for Gunn's judgment on that one.
You can read his full comments at the link above. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 -- which, oddly enough, stars Creed's Sylvester Stallone alongside the returning cast and newcomers Kurt Russell and Pom Klementieff -- will be in theaters in November of 2017.