Spider-Man CAN be Gay and Black

Spider-Man, Spider-Man

He can’t be gay? Of course he can!

This coloured man and gay woman have both been Spider-Man.
This coloured man and gay woman have both been Spider-Man.

The pink press has been up in arms over the last couple of days after Pink News ran with a piece essentially cribbed from a post on Gawker (who should have known better) saying that Spider-Man is contractually required to be neither gay nor black. According to the headlines, and thus the opinions of the majority of Internet denizens who link posts without reading anything but the headlines, this is proof of why racist, homophobic hollywood is evil or something.

The thing is, the headlines are lying. Let’s look at why.

You only need to check the original Gawker article to see why the clickbait titles are wrong. It doesn’t even take first year level legal knowledge to understand this contract, either. I can only assume that the people analysing this stuff – which was leaked due to the Sony hack from a while back – were either tired, or looking for trouble.

The contract, which Gawker provided screengrabs of (links go direct to the screengrabs, so you can compare with what I’ve written below), states:

a. Mandatory Spider-Man Character Traits. Spider-Man (whether Peter Parker or an alternative Spider-Man character) must always strictly conform to the following “Mandatory Character Traits”:

  • Male
  • Does not torture*
  • Does not kill unless in defense of self or others*
  • Does not use foul language beyond PG-13
  • Does not smoke tobacco*
  • Does not sell/distribute illegal drugs*
  • Does not abuse alcohol*
  • Does not have sex before the age of 16, does not have sex with anyone below the age of 16
  • Not a homosexual (unless Marvel has portrayed that alter ego as a homosexual)

b. Peter Parker Character Traits. Depiction of Peter Parker or his Spider-Man alter ego must conform to the following character traits:

  • His full name is Peter Benjamin Parker.
  • He is Caucasian and heterosexual.
  • His parents become absent from his life during his childhood.
  • From the time his parents become absent he is raised by Aunt May and Uncle Ben in New York City
  • He gains his powers while attending either middle school or college.
  • He gains his powers from being bitten by a spider
  • He designs his first red and blue costume
  • The black costume is a symbiote and is not designed by him
  • He is raised in a middle class household in Queens, New York
  • He attends or attended high school in Queens, New York, and he attends or attended college in New York City, New York.

I think I see where the confusion stems from: that opening line in section b of the contract, where it states “Depiction of Peter Parker or his Spider-Man alter ego must conform to the following character traits”.

If you’re not paying attention, that looks like they are saying Spider-Man can only be the following things but that’s not true. All they are saying is that Spider-Man while he is the alter-ego of Peter Parker must have the following traits. If that wasn’t the case, there would be no need for separate requirements for both Peter Parker and Spider-Man, because they would be the same person.

Peter Parker is not the only Spider-Man in Marvel Comics (Hi, Miles Morales!). Peter Parker isn’t even the only white male Spider-Man (Hi, Ben Reilly!). I’d add a line saying he’s not even the “best” Spider-Man because May Parker, his daughter from the MC2 universe, is way cooler but I don’t want to get loads of hate mail from fanboys so I’m going to hope you didn’t just read that (but she totally is the best).

May Parker and other characters like her are the reason there’s a line in the Spider-Man requirements that states he has to be male. May started out as Spider-Girl and more recently became Spider-Woman. Now Spider-Girl is the alter-ego of Anya Corazon; a half Mexican, half Puerto Rican badass with possibly the best Spider-whoever outfit.

Marvel adding in the requirement that Spider-Man be male is therefore a clear attempt to make sure that when someone buys the rights to make a film of Spider-Man, they can’t slip a Spider-Girl or Spider-Woman into the mix essentially for free. It just makes good sense from Marvel’s point of view, as it protects their income. If you want Spider-Girl, you have to pay for her separately.

For those of you who clicked on those links in the last couple of paragraphs, you may have noticed that Miles Morales is half black, half Puerto Rican (Marvel has a thing for mixed race people with Puerto Rican heritage becoming Spider-based superheroes). Morales isn’t the first coloured man to become Spider-Man either, since the half-Mexican Miguel O’Hara was Spider-Man in Spider-Man 2099 (which I admit I have not read because it came out in the grim, dark nineties comic era and really looks like it).

This is why there is no entry in that list of Mandatory Spider-Man Character Traits listing Spider-Man’s race, ethnicity or heritage. Marvel know Spider-Man is not always a white man and they don’t want to limit their own income by saying only Peter Parker or Ben Reilly can be purchased by filmmakers as Spider-Man. As with the Spider-Girl thing, Marvel are protecting their own income. It’s just good business sense.

So we’ve can now see that Spider-Man can be black, although Peter Parker contractually can’t. Why can’t Peter Parker be black? That should be pretty obvious by now. Marvel are protecting their incomes again.

Would a filmmaker who knows that most people aren’t comic aficionados and therefore aren’t likely to know  who Miles Morales is want to buy the rights to that character when they can buy Peter Parker’s name and cast a coloured actor to play him, thereby getting a coloured Spider-Man without paying for two characters? No. They would buy the one character with the recognisable name. It makes sense for Marvel to protect their incomes. If you want a coloured Spider-Man, you have to pay for a coloured Spider-Man.

Now that’s sorted, let’s look at the gay issue.

The Mandatory Spider-Man Character Traits do not say Spider-Man cannot be gay, they say:

  • Not a homosexual (unless Marvel has portrayed that alter ego as a homosexual)

That qualifier is the all-important part of this issue. Why? Because Marvel have had a gay Spider-Man. Let’s take a look at Jessica Drew.

Jessica comes from the much-hated Clone Saga, when there were lots of Peter Parkers running around, being Spider-Man. Jessica once even took on the alias of Peter Parker during this ridiculous, over-long storyline (so now you see why the list of Peter Parker Character Traits says he has to be male – so buyers can’t get Jessica Drew on the cheap). Jessica is a lesbian. Jessica was once Spider-Man (although she’s now yet another Spider-Woman). You can see where I’m going with this.

These contractual limitations on who and what a Spider-Man character can be are all to protect Marvel’s business interests. They have a large selection of characters from the Spider-Man universe, each with different creators and different contractual requirements for royalties, likeness rights and so forth. They have to protect those interests as well as their own incomes. As a result, their limitations on characters can be quite specific in some cases (like the list of background details and costume requirements for Peter Parker) or more generalised and full of qualifications, as with the gay Spider-Man point.

The Marvel-Sony contract specifically states that Spider-Man can be gay if the character who is being Spider-Man has been portrayed as gay by Marvel in the comics. The contract also does not put a race or heritage requirement on Spider-Man, only on Peter Parker. Spider-Man therefore can be black.

The only thing Spider-Man can’t be is female, and the reasons for that are simple: Marvel want to be able to sell a Spider-Girl or Spider-Woman if someone comes along looking to make that film as well.