ECCC 2019: Spider-Verse’s Representation Matters Panel

by Tito W. James

At ECCC 2019, I attended a panel on Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse and how representation has an impact. Panelists included Tana Ford, Hope Nicholson, Heather Antos, Jorge Molina, Jason Latour, Karama Horne, and Cully Hamner.

The discussion was raucous and varied with each speaker giving their own take on how Spider-Verse affected them. Spider-Gwen co-creator Jason Latour confessed that after he saw the first test screening of Spider-Verse he wanted to marry the film’s screenwriter Phil Lord.

Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) in Sony Pictures Animation’s SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE.

Latour initially feared that the Spider-Gwen comic was going to flop because similar things had been tried and failed. He thought it would be the last Marvel book he would ever do. Latour was overjoyed that fans embraced Spider-Gwen as much as they have.

Panelists spoke about the authenticity of the main character and how they loved the film’s specific nuances. Those who grew up in Brooklyn appreciated that Miles spoke to his parents in the exact slang Spanish dialect from that area. There was also realism in his being the new kid in school. We’ve all been there where we’re terrified of making a fool out of ourselves in front of a crush.

One panelist joked that audiences who grew up with Peter Parker as Spider-man could relate to Peter B. Parker because they’re old. Latour, who has worked on the film, pointed out that the point of that character is to show that’s it’s not over for you as a person. Even when he think’s he’s past his prime, Peter B. Parker can still be a better Spider-Man. It’s an interesting dynamic because Miles is learning from Peter how to be Spider-Man and Peter is reminded by Miles what it means to be Spider-Man.

Discussion turned to why these characters worked and what set Spider-Verse apart. There have been African American superheroes before but this particular iteration of Miles Morales struck a cord in ways others did not. What’s the secret? What makes films like Black Panther and Spider-Verse work isn’t just a good main character but good supporting characters and challenging villains.

Ultimately Miles is a character that embodies his own film. He’s an artist who draws on the streets, away from rules and conventions. It took over 800 artists to bring Miles’ story to life and they too broke every established rule to do so.

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