The Mary Jane Watson Controversy

shailene-woodley-mary-jane-spider-man-2 “Looks horrible as a redhead” -commenter Fly on

“She might be a good actress and all, but she’s not very easy on the eyes, which defeats the purpose of Mary Jane’s character. MJ is supposed to be the beautiful object of Peter’s desires. I don’t know exactly how to feel about her casting.” -commenter Newbourne on Rope of Silicon

“Mary Jane is supposed to be hot. If that’s her and she’s in full make-up, then I’m really disappointed with her.”-commenter NoSir, also on CinemaBlend.

“Huh. I’d prefer someone actually… pretty in the role. I mean, not super-model (even though she is supposed to later become on in the comic book) but, wow — this actress is plain jane. How is she supposed to compete for Peter’s attentions against ultra-cute Gwen Stacy? Ugh.”-commenter Noldorlan at io9.

“Omg she looks horrible I hope they can do something with that face of hers.”-commenter Dee on CinemaBlend.

“isn’t MJ supposed to be stunning? This girl looks about 14 and quite plain to be MJ”-commenter SukiTheCat at Huffington Post

“Burn it with fire”-commenter Balls on Cinema Blend.

This is just a sampling of the Internet commentary that came about when Amazing Spider-Man 2 set pictures featuring Shailine Woodley as Mary Jane Watson hit the Web, pictures the image to the left was taken from. Granted, it seems fairly obvious that she is walking to set and has not been made up for the day’s work, but that’s didn’t stop hardcore fans from complaining that Woodley was horribly miscast simply because of her looks.

250px-Mary_Jane_WatsonSaying an actor is horribly miscast isn’t bad in and of itself. Heck, it’s almost a tradition with comic book films. Male actors such as Michael Keaton and Brandon Lee raised fans ire when they were cast. But I don’t recall them ever being insulted and called ugly, let alone be set on fire. There’s a pungent air of misogyny to these comments, and its so prevalent that when ComicBookMovie ran a satirical editorial listing recommendations on how producers could improve Woodley’s tits, ass, and face to make her more like the comic book version, they had to add a disclaimer saying it was a joke because it skewed too close to the actual sentiments of these fans.

Why do I bring this up? Because there are new rumors putting Woodley’s job as Mary Jane in doubt, and fans like these might be part of the reason.

As we reported on Wednesday, Woodley confirmed that her scenes as Mary Jane would be cut from Amazing Spider-Man 2. This caused media outlets such as The Hollywood Reporter and The Wrap to theorize that Woodley would not be back for the character’s rescheduled appearance in Amazing Spider-Man 3 due to scheduling conflicts. The very next day, it was confirmed the next day that Canadian actress Sarah Gadon will be joining the franchise’s cast. MovieWeb took all this information, added it to scoop from a “source very close to the production” that Mary Jane was already recast, and came up with the idea that Gadon is the new Mary Jane Watson. What’s more, they say that it was most likely done because “producers are in agreement with the very vocal fanbase” about Woodley being the wrong “type” for the role.

sarah-gadon-2Gadon, seen to the left, has been acting for 16 years (since she was ten) and has become somewhat of the personal muse of the Croenenberg family (She appeared in father David’s A Dangerous Method and Cosmopolis and son Brandon’s  Antiviral). She also, with her blue eyes, arching eyebrows and pouty lips, seems to have what many men would consider a more classic beauty. Give her a bottle of Lady Clairol and she will be a lot closer to the comic book version of Mary Jane that Woodley is or even Kirsten Dunst was. Is she a better actor than Woodley? I’m not as familiar with Gadon’s work as I am with Woodley’s, but she has a long way to go to match up. But that might not be what’s really important here.

Now, this at this point is all rumor and speculation. We do know that Gadon has a role in the franchise, but we don’t know what role or when it will take effect. She could be playing Liz Allen. She could be playing an Oscorp executive. Heck, she could be playing Black Cat and Felicity Jones be playing someone else. It could be weeks or months before we find out, if not years. But if Gadon is playing Mary Jane and the fanboy’s  lambasting of  Woodley played any role in it happening, that sets a rather disturbing and dangerous precedent.

I am all for films keeping true to the spirit of the comic book. But there is a difference between complaining that they gave Jonah Hex superpowers and calling an pretty actress ugly because she doesn’t match your favorite artist’s drawing of the character.

Take a look at the drawing of Mary Jane above. Now, think about the women in your life–your friends, your family, your neighbors, your co-workers. Do any of them look like that? I’m sure you might know some that are, in your opinion, more beautiful, but do they have a G-cup breast size? A 20-inch waist? A derriere that would make Sir Mix-A-Lot want to shout? All in one package? Not even Gadon matches up exactly. Women in comics are not portrayed as the American ideal, they are portrayed as the American ideal amplified to an absurd level. They are in no way realistic and to call out a real life woman because her real face and body doesn’t match up with the fantasized version in their comics is ridiculous. If Sony or Marc Webb kowtowed  to this kind of pressure, that would be abhorrent.

While ever woman’s body (and, to be fair, men’s too) is presented as an exaggerated version of the stereotypical ideal, there’s a lot more about Mary Jane Watson that makes her the fetishistic version of the fanboy’s perfect woman. She is a wild, fun-loving, fiery-haired woman with an exuberant personality. She’s the kind of girl who can get any man she wants. And what man does she want? A nebbishy introvert with loads of intelligence and not a lot of personality when he isn’t wearing his web suit. No wonder some comic fans get so upset when a film version of the character strays too much from the comic book version. The comic book Mary Jane might actually go out with them if she was real.

Marvel is not blameless when it comes to fanning this phenomenon amongst fans. I present you with the following.

mary jane statue
The above is a “comiquette” authorized by Marvel back in 2007 based on a design by comic artist Adam Hughes (image courtesy of Toy The statue caused a lot of controversy when it came out over the overtly sexual way the character was presented. Sure, some may consider it a playful form of pin-up are cast in three dimensions, but it still is Marvel making the sexual objectification of the character complete. Literally. This is an object you could own (if you had $125 dollars back in 2007. Now it will cost you from $750 to $800 for the statue) that portrayed Mary Jane Watson as doing the impossible task of giving us a look at both her cleavage and her thong at the same time. The only way it could be seen as being more sexist is if MJ was making Peter a sandwich too. With this as one of Marvel’s official representations of MJ, does it surprise you fans felt safe calling Shailine Woodley ugly because she doesn’t look like this?

But even if you believe fans have the right to embrace the hyper sexual version of Mary Jane as their favorite, having a “prettier” actress play the character will not automatically make for a better Amazing Spider-Man 3 (or 2, if that is where the gossip is going). You need to establish chemistry with Andrew Garfield and the rest of the cast. You have to have a quality actress to build on that chemistry and portray believable relationships between the characters. Could Gadon do that? Maybe. Could Woodley? Definitely.

There are two reasons why the “pleasing the fans” reason seems so plausible. First, the “scheduling conflict” excuse only works if Woodley’s Divergent becomes a hit, calling for a sequel. Shooting that sequel might make Woodley unavaliable for Amazing Spider-Man 3. Of course, Divergent hasn’t even been released yet. It could be the next Hunger Games or it could be the The Host, who knows? But even if it gets a sequel, there could be ways to work around that shooting schedule if she is contractually mandated to be in ASM 3. Firing Woodley for that reason just doesn’t seem logical.

2944993-blackcatSecond, the Spider-Man films have a history of doing things detrimental to the film in order to make the fans happy. That’s why Venom was shoe-horned into Spider-Man 3 and Black Cat was going to be tacked on to the aborted Spider-Man 4, complete with a sex scene, no less.  The fact that that character, a buxom “bad girl” jewel thief who crawls around NYC in a skintight, leather catsuit is rumored to be in ASM 2 proves that the desire to keep the more prurient members of the fan base happy is alive and well.

I hope the rumor that Shailine Woodley is out as Mary Jane is not true because that would make for a lesser film. But if she is out, I hope that it’s not because a vocal minority of comic book fans did not thinks she was attractive enough. If that is the reason, we probably will never know (What producer is going to say, “Yep, the fans were right. She’s ugly”?). But if you appeal to the lowest common denominator, you’ll drag the entire genre down with you.


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About William Gatevackes 1983 Articles
William is cursed with the shared love of comic books and of films. Luckily, this is a great time for him to be alive. His writing has been featured on Broken, and in Comics Foundry magazine.
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