The new animated Spider-Man movie, out Dec. 14, begins with a delightfully relatable scene that transported me back to my own teen years. Into the Spider-Verse begins with Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) sitting at his desk in a Brooklyn bedroom covered in rap posters, wearing huge headphones, and mumbling lyrics to a song with just as much focus as he gives the textbook opened in front of him. At the same time, he's completely oblivious to his parents bellowing from another room to get his attention.
This seemingly simple scene swiftly pulled me into the world of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse from my movie theater in Queens, New York. It captures the way that so many of us spent our weeknights in two-story homes and apartment buildings, and it's just one way in which the Marvel Cinematic Universe's newest teen Spidey puts our experiences — especially black and brown New Yorkers — front and center.
It would have been easy for the film to to simply use Miles as a diversity prop, but its attention to the Nuyorican experience provides representation that is completely refreshing.
A Brooklyn native with an African-American father and a Puerto Rican mother, Miles answers his parents in Spanglish, which I use when telling my dad tells stories “that lose their meaning in English” or when I catch up with my Latinx neighbors when we’re walking our dogs. As a former prep school kid, I chuckled knowingly as Miles tries to swag out his Brooklyn Visions Academy uniform with a pair of Air Jordan 1's (affectionately known as “Breds” among the realest of sneakerheads), and makes an unsuccessful attempt to avoid a mushy goodbye from his dad in front of all of his classmates. (I’m pretty sure my parents only know how to make sentimental goodbye scenes). He doesn't seem to mind too much, however. After all, Miles knows that his parents, a police officer (voiced by Atlanta breakout star Brian Tyree Henry) and a nurse (voiced by the legendary Lauren Velez of New York Undercover fame), are willing to make every sacrifice for him to have the very best.
There’s a special moment in Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse that I hope I hope every black and brown prep school kid gets to see on a big screen. As he gets his school shape-up, the men in the barber shop high-five Miles for being such an academic star in school. And that, “We’re all rooting for you” sentiment is such a needed message for young children who are forced to deal with racially-based snap judgments and stereotypical narratives way earlier than they ever should. Into the Spider-Verse provides a welcome change, as Miles gets praised for excelling in school, for making his parents and Brooklyn neighborhood proud.
But it's not all about excelling for Miles. Thanks to this movie, we actually get to see an Afro-Latinx kid simply being a kid. We watch Miles get the sweats while trying to talk to his crush — who ends up being Gwen Stacy, also known as Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld). He tags buildings with his graffiti in places where his dad won't be able to find them. Though it's a superhero film, Into the Spider-Verse takes viewers on an irresistible coming-of-age journey that feels close to home.
For some children, their first vision of Spider-Man will be an image of a Black and Puerto Rican teen, saving the world — and even alternate universes — in a hoodie and limited edition kicks. That's some badass, powerful imagery.
It would have been easy for the film to to simply use Miles as a diversity prop, but its attention to the Nuyorican experience provides representation that is completely refreshing. "It’s a version of Spider-Man that is just representative of what it’s like in 2018 America or the world,” Bob Persichetti, one of the film's three directors, said in an interview with Variety. “There’s diversity everywhere, and New York’s the place where it started for America.”
For some children, their first image of Spider-Man will be of a Black and Puerto Rican teen who saves the world — and even alternate universes — in a hoodie and limited edition kicks. That's some badass, powerful imagery.
And though some of Miles Morales' littlest fans may not be aware of some of our country's recent police brutality cases, I couldn't help but feel immense pride with a styling choice I hope was intentional. In one scene, we see Miles gain confidence and step on the ledge of a Brooklyn building to let go and learn the "webs," then watch as he sails from skyscraper to skyscraper wearing his Jordan 1s and a red hoodie. In real life, this is the same style of dress that causes women to clutch their purses when a black man passes them on the street, and prompts people to avoid sitting next to young men of color on the subway. It's similar to the attire a 17-year-old Trayvon Martin wore the night of his death, when he was gunned down with only a bag of Skittles in his hands.
These harmful assumptions and racist acts of violence will not be erased because a film like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse exists. Purse clutching and other microaggressions have loomed large for too many centuries to be reversed with one animated superhero film. But what it will help change, is the way young black and brown children see themselves, and measure their own value.
I love watching Spider-Man movies in Queens theaters — it's been my thing since the Tobey Maguire installments. I love when audiences screamed "Queens Blvd.!" when our neighborhood made its way into a scene, or when we cheered as Spidey whipped past the 7 train. Although Miles is from our neighboring borough, this time around, I watched young Latinx grade schoolers climb into their seats next to their parents to root for a Spider-Man who looked like them. I saw a young black teen, wearing jeans and a hoodie himself, chuckle as Miles fumbled his chance with Gwen. Although they may have all been at different stages in their lives, they're all grasping that a Afro-Latinx superhero can now be a norm for them.
And as we filed out of the theater (true Marvel heads wait until after the credits), I heard MCU fanatics say that this was one of the best Spider-Man installments they’d ever seen. That bite-sized review spoke volumes to me. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse isn't one of the best Spidey films in the franchise because of Miles’ ethnicity. It’s enriched by it, thanks to the Nuyorican nuance, and it's a coming-of-age animated film. But most importantly, and poignantly, it gives a new generation of Spider-Man aficionados a hero they can relate to on so many incredible levels.
I’m closing out 2018 stanning a Spider-Man who yells "Wepa!" while soaring Brooklyn brownstones. And I absolutely can’t wait to see young New Yorkers — of every culture — dressed up as Spider-Man for Halloween next year.