Spider-Verse & Aquaman: A Celebration of the Biracial Superhero

2018 has been a wonderful year for comic book films. Black Panther broke boundaries and shattered expectations as it brought an authentic experience to audiences around the world. Avengers: Infinity War culminated ten years of Marvel storylines in a film equivalent of a comic book event. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse brought animated films to a new level with stunning fluidity, a beautiful story, and strong themes. Finally, Aquaman took audiences on an adventure combining Indiana Jones’ storytelling, Star Wars level scale, and a comic book flare.

With the medium continuously growing and evolving, it’s also becoming more inclusive. An emphasis on relatable themes allows these films to reach untapped audiences around the globe. An aspect never before touched upon in superhero films was brought to the forefront two times this year. Biracial superheroes are rare, and both Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse and Aquaman had this element woven into their respective lead heroes and crafted a theme around them. This is a celebration of two biracial heroes making their cinematic stand this year. 

Arthur Curry & Miles Morales

Spider-Verse: A True Masterpiece

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is a masterpiece. Earlier in the month, I reviewed the film, giving it a perfect 5/5 and giving it the title of the best comic book movie of the year. The film has an emotional core that guides the film and its colorful plot. All the characters felt three dimensional, the storyline was robust, and the themes went beyond good and evil. The lead in this film is Miles Morales, a biracial teenager growing up in Brooklyn, New York. Half Black and half Hispanic, Miles equally embraces both cultures. He speaks Spanish to his mother and English with his father, his household is uniquely respectful of both cultures and his life as a teenager in New York is very authentic.

An aspect of the film that respects this is the removal of subtitles when Miles’ mother speaks to him in Spanish. Usually, when a language switch takes place on film, you get subtitles but here, it is removed and feels fluid. As a man of color who grew up in Queens, New York, I am the first to say that NYC has its own flavor. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse captures it nicely and Miles perfectly represents everything it means to be a kid of color in this city. Stan Lee once spoke about the concept of Spider-Man and how the character doesn’t need to be white. Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli conceptualized the character in 2011 and the character immediately took off.

Miles Morales embodies everything that makes Spider-Man great. He has the same charm as Peter Parker, the same growing pains and feeling of responsibility. At the most basic core of Spider-Man, one word pops out, relatability. All of this is amplified by the biracial background of Miles Morales. Kids of color don’t have to imagine that they are Spider-Man, they can literally see themselves on screen through Miles. Miles Morales may not be Peter Parker but he’s just as much of a Spider-Man and fulfills the exact same goal that Stan Lee originally set out of the character.

Dual Cultures: The Story of Miles Morales

The idea of a superhero and his fans being one, that is what Spider-Man represents. Miles’ world is on full display through his actions, traits, and environment, A biracial kid living in Brooklyn, listening to the latest and most iconic music, having a strong family household, dealing with all the pressures of school, and embracing what makes him different all come to create the perfect Spider-Man story.

Everything about Miles’ Spider-Man feels authentic to his dual culture. When he finally realizes his purpose, Miles creates a Spidey suit worthy of his personality and individualism. Sporting a spray-painted Spider-Man suit, topped with a hoodie, basketball shorts, and classic Air Jordan 1s, there is something special about the entire look. This is enhanced by the music that reverberates around the story and around Miles. His Afro-Latino heritage blends every part of his character. His design, his song choices, his voice, provided by Shameik Moore, and the story that envelops him, all scream Spider-Man. While I felt a tremendous amount of inspiration from seeing Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, I thought that it would be better to give our readers direct reactions to the film from members of our team who felt most represented.

Writer Opinions:

The first is writer of ComicBook Debate, Tevin Murphy, who had this to say about Spider-Verse: “I’ve never really been a Spider-Man fan because I could never see myself or connect with the character on a level that made him feel relevant to me. However, after seeing Into the Spider-Verse and seeing Miles Morales in action, it was amazing seeing a young Black Spider-Man reacting and responding the same way I would. He looked like me, he liked the things I liked, he liked the music I liked, and most of all he was unsure of himself and his skills just as I was at his age. This Spider-Man is the Spider-Man I needed as a kid. It was beautiful to see Miles embrace his Afro Latino heritage and codeswitching. He felt like a fully fleshed out character instead of a Peter Parker replacement. For the first time, I truly believed that anyone could wear the mask.”

The second is our Jeremy Wilkerson, who said: “I grew up loving Spider-Man more than anything, and now I get to see myself with him. For the first time, I really saw myself swinging through the city, and I can’t help but to think about all of the black and latino kids who will grow up seeing themselves too.”

Finally, our writer, Ayanna Branham, had this to say: “To me Miles becoming Spider-Man is about bringing two different worlds together and simultaneously loving both parts of yourself. Being biracial, it sometimes feels like you have to pick a side, it took me a long time to really ground myself in who I am. Watching Miles struggle with wanting to be like the others, but then finding his own way to be Spider-Man resounded with the way I had to figure myself out.”

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment

Aquaman: Turning Waves & Making History

Moving on the second film is Aquaman. James Wan’s Aquaman is a spectacular film with impeccable visuals, beautiful sequences and a heartwarming story centered on family. In my review of the film, I gave it 4.5/5, citing its uniqueness, strong story about identity and some of the most thrilling sequences in comic book movie history. Jason Momoa makes for the perfect Aquaman, and not only is his own biracial heritage important, but it is also one of the most central plotlines of the entire movie. The fact that Arthur Curry is half human and half Atlantean is amplified by Momoa’s own biracial heritage. The film makes it a point to explore why Arthur feels disconnected and how being caught between two distinct cultures, yet not feeling embraced by either one, has affected him and molded him into the man he is at the start of the film. Only after embracing both cultures and heritages is he able to unlock his potential and become the King he was born to be. 

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Where Miles Morales brought an authentic experience of a biracial teenager living in New York, Arthur Curry takes the concept to a mythological level. The story has been told many times, a queen falling in love with a lighthouse keeper, their eventual child becoming an outcast and disconnected. Arthur Curry is already torn between two worlds; his comic background is rooted in the idea of being the bridge between two cultures. Jason Momoa’s biracial heritage only brings the character to another level. As mentioned in my review, his Hawaiian heritage bleeds into the film’s themes as his family crest tattoos are on full display throughout.

Zack Snyder Casting Jason Momoa

Both Zack Snyder and James Wan respected and amplified Jason Momoa’s presence and his natural fit into Arthur Curry’s existing story. While Aquaman lends itself to a story of dual heritages and identities, it wasn’t until Zack Snyder cast Jason Momoa for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, that the vision became a true reality. Aquaman is one of the oldest superheroes, with decades of stories and themes woven into his lore, yet it wasn’t until now where it feels real and truly impactful. Jason Momoa’s Native Hawaiian heritage blends with his on-screen persona perfectly and the plot weaves around it and him. 

The overall theme of Aquaman is embracing both sides of your world. This theme works really well with Arthur Curry’s character, Jason Momoa’s heritage, and James Wan’s story. To bring another perspective to this point, lead writer of ComicBook Debate, Donnia Harrington adds: “The decision to make this modern-day interpretation of Aquaman biracial is not only groundbreaking, but it’s also progressive. The story of this half-human/half-Atlantean superhero who is played by someone who is half-Polynesian/half-white shows the layers of depth when it comes to Arthur struggling with—and eventually accepting—his mixed heritage. Jason Momoa’s own background adds an additional layer of emotion because he’s so passionate about his brownness and his openness to sharing his identity has become a form of representation. According to UCLA’s annual Hollywood Diversity Report, Native Hawaiians only received 0.5% of representation in film. When a movie like Aquaman comes along that says both yes, a biracial and brown superhero can and will exist, it is groundbreaking. Every minority deserves representation in the media and Aquaman is that step towards positive change.”

Arthur Curry & Miles Morales

Spider-Verse & Aquaman: 2018’s Best Comic Book Films

Both Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse and Aquaman are special. In an era where comic book films are in abundance and multiple offerings are put to screen each year by a multitude of film studios, gems like these standout. There has been a trend over the last few years where superhero films can be and mean more, and reach more than ever before. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse and Aquaman brought something new for fans. On an intrinsic level, the concept of a kid caught between two worlds and identities is relatable on a world scale, which speaks to Aquaman doing so well at the international box office. Likewise, there is nothing more “American” than a biracial teen living in an urban city and finding his place in life. These are experiences that ring close to home and inspire.

Both films use different methods, various themes, and strong character moments to make the same point; what makes you different is what makes you special. Miles Morales is the perfect Spider-Man because he represents what Stan Lee wanted for the character. Arthur Curry’s story is finally realized through a biracial man of color playing the titular hero, learning that it is through his dual heritage that he truly deserves the throne. In the span of one week, we got an Afro-Latino Spider-Man and a Brown-Polynesian Aquaman on film. Both Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse and Aquaman will inspire kids, adults, and fans from around the world like never before. We are seeing history in the making for comic book films and as a fan, I couldn’t be more excited for the future.

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