Thursday, September 28, 2023

'Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse': Students discuss representation, themes

June 27, 2023
Photo by Abbey Ross | The State News

Since its release on June 2, "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" has sparked a whirlwind of discussion and praise around its animation styles, plot, characters and soundtrack. The film, a sequel to "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse," expands its cross-dimensional plot and sees the return of familiar favorites Miles Morales (played by Shameik Moore), Spider-Gwen (played by Hailee Steinfeld) and Peter B. Parker (played by Jake Johnson), among others.

However, "Across the Spider-Verse" added some new faces to the mix, as well, such as "Spider-Man India" Pavitr Prabhakar (played by Karan Soni) and Miguel O'Hara (played by Oscar Isaac).

For Michigan State University students like biomedical laboratory senior Alyssa Murphy, seeing characters of color being positively written and represented in film sets the example that minority students can thrive in any environment.

“I think it’s important to show that (type of) representation (in) the main character because (Miles) is the character that people look up to … he’s the example,” Murphy said

Murphy said many film studios outside of Marvel or Sony are increasingly taking steps to include meaningful representation, which can feel fulfilling. Especially for children, Murphy said, seeing movies like Disney's "Encanto" and the live-action "Little Mermaid" allow people to be empowered by characters that reflect their own culture.

 “That’s where films are heading and that’s (what) we (should) be showing the next generations … diverse main characters and the cool things they can do,” Murphy said. “They’ll be seeing their role models (come) from the same background and (have) the same skin and challenges they have to overcome.”

Women and gender studies junior Parisse Paige said a scene in the movie that felt particularly relatable to her was when Miles and his parents shared a heated exchange about identity and belonging

“It was interesting because I’ve been in that situation," Paige said. "The embarrassment of having your parents chew you out in front of everybody and then everybody’s trying to act like they don’t hear."

Paige, who attended a predominantly white high school, said seeing Miles juggle his Afro-Latino identity across different environments was refreshing. Many Black students who attend a predominantly white institution, or PWI, can relate to Miles with his code switching between different social settings, she said.

“That was very interesting to see on screen," Paige said. "With him being the way he is–dealing with his family struggles and then going to this PWI ... and dealing with that."

In one scene near the film's beginning, Miles and his parents discuss his collegiate future with a school counselor, who suggests that Miles write an essay about growing up in a "struggling" household.

 Paige said this stereotype of struggling POC is a common thing many students of color have to navigate. To her, she said, the point of the scene was to question the concept of emphasizing adversity to justify success

“Like it’s easy to f--- up in school but Miles didn’t … he put in the work and academically excelled,” Paige said. “That’s why he’s successful, not because he’s a Black (boy) … the Black experience is not a monolith.”

 In addition to expanding Miles's storyline and relationships, "Across the Spider-Verse" introduced new characters and dimensions, like Pavitr Prabhakar-occupied "Mumbattan." Watching the costume design, music and dialogue reflect Indian culture in a non-degrading way, in addition to the depiction of Irish-Latino Miguel O'Hara as a determined, stoic character, showed that the film writers carefully researched different cultures, Paige said.

With some characters, like Jessica Drew (played by Issa Rae), Paige said, the writing could have been more bold. 

Games and interactive media senior David Gakodi said the "canon event" plot conflict elevated the film in its discussion belonging and self worth. Gakodi said the scene where Miguel O'Hara tells Miles he was never meant to be Spider-Man was particularly powerful.

Along with themes O'Hara's internal conflict and an "ideal" Spider-Man, Gakodi said, he hopes to see more of newcomer character Hobie Brown (played by Daniel Kaluuya) in the trilogy's final installment

“It’s kind of funny to see someone that's sort of against everything but like deep down inside they’re rooting for everyone,” Gakodi said.

In the next film, Gakodi said, he hopes writers will continue to create more diverse characters whose culture are accurately represented.

Support student media! Please consider donating to The State News and help fund the future of journalism.


Share and discuss “'Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse': Students discuss representation, themes” on social media.