×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Secret Power of ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ Is Inclusion

In a year that gave us films like “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians,” this weekend’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” delivers one more home run for underrepresented groups in media in 2018.

An animated film that takes advantage of Sony’s piece of the Marvel pie, “Spider-Verse” not only puts a mixed-race, middle-class teenager in the driver’s seat of a beloved comic franchise — it reaches deep into its own lore to call home diverse Spider-folk of different genders and races from other dimensions.

“I think it’s so exciting that ‘Black Panther’ and our movie are coming out in the same year. I’ve heard a couple people say, ‘Do you wish it wasn’t?’ No! I think it’s amazing! It’s such a wonderful sign of the times,” Kristine Belson, Sony Pictures Animation president, told Variety.

“We can enjoy all kinds of heroes,” she said.

The hero of “Spider-Verse” is Miles Morales, an African American-Latino teen living in Brooklyn, voiced by up-and-comer Shameik Moore. On weeknights he’s toiling in the dormitory of an elite private school, but come Friday he’s rocking headphones and posting stickers of his original graphic art all over New York.

He solves quantum puzzles in notebooks and sings Post Malone and Swae Lee tunes alone in his bedroom. It’s a meticulously-drawn portrait of a modern, metropolitan teenager in a genre that often relies on tokenism to make one-dimensional characters sing.

Popular on Variety

Peter Ramsey, one of the film’s three directors, said the production relied on the family experiences of its filmmakers in making Morales.

“We tried really hard to make Miles’ world as real and relatable as possible, so that you could say this is an Afro-Latino kid and this feels just like where he would be growing up. Down to the details of the apartment he lives in,” Ramsey said.

His police officer dad Jefferson (Brian Tyree Henry) and nurse mom Rio (Luna Lauren Velez) are busy working parents, never seen out of their uniforms.

“Our production designer Justin Thompson, his mom was a nurse. He said she was always in scrubs, so Rio should always be in scrubs. That’s us trying to pack as much story into each decision along the way,” said Ramsey.

“Culturally, we’re ready for Miles. We’re craving what that character says. People all over the world want to be a part of this myth. By including more people, different ethnicities, sexes, nationalities, etc — it enriches and deepens what those myths are in the first place,” said Ramsey.

The on-screen authenticity comes a result of increasing diversity in his industry, the director said. Ramsey, a Los Angeles native and the first African-American to direct a big budget animated feature in “Rise of the Guardians,” said the landscape is slowly improving.

“A lot of it has to do with the talent pool that gets drawn upon. Historically, there are not a lot of people of color and, until recently, women. It also has to do with the schools that mostly feed the industry [and] the feasibility of people of color to study art, and get to that level of technical skill that gets you in the door,” he said. “The most important thing is that awareness around the issue is changing.”

Ramsey specifically pointed to Terence Nance (director, “Space Jam 2”) and LeSean Thomas (a Netflix anime hitting in March) as emerging, diverse creators in the space.

What’s also notable about “Spider-Verse,” which posted the best-ever December opening for an animated film this weekend, is not only Spidey’s fresh translation, but its larger message of including the other. Multi-dimensional Spider-people include a young woman who fans will recognize as Gwen Stacey (Hailee Steinfeld) and a Japanese girl named Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn). Supporting super characters include Miles’ Uncle Aaron who is revealed as villain Prowler (Mahershala Ali), a female villain in Dr. Olivia Octavius (Kathryn Hahn) and a credits-scene appearance from Miguel O’Hara, aka Spider-Man 2099, voiced by Oscar Isaac.

“This film is subversive and self-referential and meta — and funny! There’s so much ridiculous and wonderfully silly comedy in the movie — but what makes it work is that it’s profoundly emotional. It has a giant beating heart about these very diverse and lonely Spidermen from their different homes in the Spider-verse coming together to meet each other,” added Belson.

Moore points to the film’s oft-repeated tagline: anyone can wear the mask.

“What makes you special is what’s different about you. That one thing you’re not confident about, or that people make fun of you about? That thing is what makes you unique. That’s what Miles has to figure out in this movie,” said Moore.

“Operate on excellence. You can’t do it like me, you have to do it like you,” he said

More Film

  • ‘Gravedigger,’ ‘Zanka Contact,’ ‘Sweet Annoyance’ Win

    ‘The Gravedigger,’ ‘Zanka Contact’ and ‘Sweet Annoyance’ Win Top Prizes at 2nd Atlas Workshops

    Djibouti’s “The Gravedigger,” Morocco’s “Zanka Contact” and Ethiopia’s “Sweet Annoyance” were among the major winners in the post-production and development categories of the second edition of the Marrakech Film Festival’s Atlas Workshops. “The Gravedigger,” by Khadar Ahmed, and “Zanka Contact,” by Ismaël el Iraki, won the top awards – €20,000 ($22,000) and $11,000 respectively – [...]

  • Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and

    Film News Roundup: Leonardo DiCaprio Presenting Robert De Niro SAG Life Achievement Award

    In today’s film news roundup, Leonardo DiCaprio will present Robert De Niro with his SAG Life Achievement Award, the Oliver Sacks documentary finds a home and UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television gets a new dean. AWARD PRESENTATION Leonardo DiCaprio has been selected to present Robert De Niro the SAG Life Achievement Award  at [...]

  • KARNAWAL

    ‘Karnawal,’ ‘Restless,’ ‘Summer White,’ ‘Firsts’ Win Big at Ventana Sur

    BUENOS AIRES  — With Ventana Sur now firing on multiple cylinders, featuring pix-in post or project competitions for not only art films but also genre pics and animation – two sectors embraced by young creators in Latin America – “Karnawal,” “Restless,” “Summer White” and  “Firsts” proved big winners among Ventana Sur’s arthouse and animation competitions, [...]

  • (center) George MacKay as Schofield in

    From "1917" to "Jojo Rabbit," Composers of Some of the Year's Top Scores Talk Shop

    “1917,” Thomas Newman The 20-year collaboration of director Sam Mendes and composer Thomas Newman has encompassed midlife crisis (“American Beauty”), crime in the Depression (“Road to Perdition”), the Gulf War (“Jarhead”), marriage in the 1950s (“Revolutionary Road”) and two James Bond adventures (“Skyfall,” “Spectre”). Now they’ve tackled World War I, with “1917,” but Mendes’ much-talked-about [...]

  • Billy Magnussen Aladdin

    'Aladdin' Spinoff With Billy Magnussen's Character in the Works for Disney Plus

    Disney is developing a spinoff of its live-action “Aladdin” with Billy Magnussen reprising his Prince Anders character. The unnamed project is in early development for the studio’s recently launched Disney Plus streaming service. Disney has hired Jordan Dunn and Michael Kvamme to write a script centered on the haughty Prince Anders, one of Princess Jasmine’s [...]

  • ROAD TRIP – In Disney and

    Disney Boasts a Bevy of Hopefuls for Oscar's Original Song Race

    When the Academy announces its shortlist for song nominations on Dec. 16, you can be certain that at least one Disney song will be on it and probably more. Disney songs have been nominated 33 times in the past 30 years, winning 12 of the gold statuettes. This year, the studio has at least four [...]

  • Innovative Scores Elevated the Year's Documentaries

    Innovative Scores Elevated the Year's Documentaries

    It’s next to impossible for a documentary score to be Oscar-nominated alongside the dozens of fictional narratives entered each year. But it did happen, just once: In 1975, composer Gerald Fried was nominated for his music for “Birds Do It, Bees Do It,” a documentary on the mating habits of animals. Fried, now 91, perhaps [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content