In Spider-Man: Homecoming, Zendaya Stood Out By Not Fitting In

Photo: Courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment.
The official release date for Spider-Man: Homecoming is Friday, July 7. But overzealous fans of the insect-adjacent superhero (and entertainment writers who couldn’t make it to the press screenings) stood in line to catch the film Thursday night. And make no mistake, there were lines. Outlets, including The Hollywood Reporter, are reporting that the film grossed over $15 million on its opening night, and its main attraction could be how it diverges from past iterations of the web-slinger's story. Spider-Man: Homecoming circumvents the traditional origin story, instead taking us into the high-school woes of a sophomore named Peter Parker (Tom Holland), who moonlights as a local YouTube-famous vigilante. And despite being directed by a white dude, this latest entry in the superhero canon has an incredibly diverse cast, which is completely fitting for a movie set in New York City.
Teenage Peter’s love interest Liz (Laura Harrier) is a Black girl with a white dad who also happens to be the film's big baddie, Vulture (Michael Keaton). Apparently biracial is the new Black on the diversity front; but that’s another post for another day. Ned, Peter's best friend and “guy in a chair,” is played by Hawaiian actor Jacob Batalon. And even one of Vulture’s henchmen, Herman (Bokeem Woodbine), is Black. Peter's bully Flash is played by Tony Revolori (who you might remember from The Grand Budapest Hotel); Hannibal Burress and [the love of my life] Donald Glover have cameos.
Then, there's Zendaya. She stands out as more than a woman of color in an action genre that is usually reserved for white guys and their white friends. She plays Michelle, a social outcast who lurks in the shadows and observes the goings-on of her fellow classmates. Positioned as a high school student who is wise beyond her years, Michelle isn’t interested in fitting in with her peers, instead finding solace in books, activism, and sarcasm.
In real life, Zendaya is one of the young millennial icons of our time. Her social commentary is exactly the kind of stuff that Michelle would post on her Tumblr. She has gained the respect of industry insiders like Beyoncé, who featured her in the Lemonade film; and not only did Rihanna give the actress a shout out for her Met Gala look on Instagram, Zendaya was humble enough to acknowledge that her life had been changed for the better as a result. She is the definition of an “it girl.”
Now, I’ve spent more than enough time imagining what it might be like to be friends with this girl, so seeing her as a social misfit was a pretty hard sell at first. But ultimately, this, too, was a testament to the film's diversity. Michelle wasn't sexualized and didn't exude the traditional Black girl magic that has permeated media. She was able to provide an example of the diversity that exists even within specific identity groups, especially in contrast to the more popular and polished Liz.
For the record, though, I think a transformation may be in store for Michelle. It looks like she has a little crush on Peter, so we may see her as the love interest should she appear in the sequel. I'm here for it — I will take all of the Zendaya I can get.

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