“Mary Jane” was trending on Twitter on Thursday night, and it’s not because we’re anywhere close to 4/20. A report was released in which Zendaya, the Disney Channel star and pop artist, was confirmed to be playing Mary Jane Watson, Spider-Man’s primary love interest, in the upcoming reboot of the Marvel franchise, Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Zendaya has long been attached to the project, which will star British newcomer Tom Holland, but in an undisclosed capacity; according to The Wrap, she’ll be taking on the role once made famous by Kirsten Dunset in Sam Raimi’s film trilogy last decade. And even if you’ve never seen an episode of Shake It Up! or K.C. Undercover, you should be pretty jazzed about this hopefully-true rumor.
Marvel has been making a push for a more diverse array of superheroes in the comic world; it’s how we’ve ended up with a female Thor and a black female teenager becoming Iron Man’s successor. But there’s a difference between testing something out in front of diehard fans and rearranging the complexity of a billion-dollar franchise.
Casting a person of color as the romantic lead in Spider-Man: Homecoming—following a pair of extremely white Spider-Man franchises helmed by Raimi and Marc Webb, respectively—would be a small but important piece of progress in the film universe currently dominating our culture, and with a large majority of Caucasian actors still in the major roles. And Zendaya, a wildly popular and naturally talented entertainer, is the right person to make this classic character her own. Young viewers won't care that Zendaya is a different race than Dunst; they'll simply root for the rising star and subconsciously accept that the Spider-Man world's major players don't all look alike.
Spider-Man: Homecoming swings into theaters on July 7, 2017. If the report is true, we just got a lot more excited about meeting that date.