Director Peter Ramsey discusses why Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is so thematically Black.
Spider-Man is easily in the top three of any list of the most popular American superheroes of all-time. Just about any young person could see themselves in young Peter Parker back in the day.
Today, as a new generation of comic book readers sees a grown-up Peter Parker who is matured physically, mentally and financially, Brian Michael Bendis and company created a version of Spider-Man that hearkened back to the youthful Spidey of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.
It’s a Spider-Man that is balancing school, family, life and puberty to save the world before bedtime. That Spider-Man is Miles Morales, an Afro-Puerto Rican Brooklynite with an affinity for Air Jordan’s and wisecracks.
With Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Morales’ newly-minted arachnid abilities arrive just as unexpectedly as the cadre of Spider-Man renditions that assist him in saving the day.
Filled with universal themes, as well as those that are undeniably black, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is being called the Animated Movie of the Year.
Recently, The Shadow League had a chance to discuss the Spider-Man mythos, the cultural impact of Miles Morales and other aspects of this amazing film with director Peter Ramsey.
(Warning: Minor spoilers revealed over the course of the conversation)
The Shadow League: This is your second animated feature film. what’s the difference between directing animated movies as opposed to directing live-action films?
Peter Ramsey: The interesting thing is it’s similar in a lot of ways. You’re still working with actors. In an animated film, you record all the voice talent. The director does that. We’re there in the recording booth with them going back and forth with the lines. It’s almost like being in a play or radio drama.
It’s all the same things that the director does with any actor. Then the interesting thing is you have to do that over again with the animators. Once you get the voice performance, now the animator has to take what’s in the voice performance and give physicality and movement to that. So we talk to the animators the same way we talk to the actors and we flesh out that voice performance with them.
TSL: The relationship between Miles, his father Jefferson and his Uncle Aaron strike me as being quintessentially Black, thematically. Did you have a hand in that or was it straight from the comic book?
PJ: The thing is we adapted the story from the original comic written by Brian Michael Bendis back in 2011. The central relationship between Miles, his father, and his uncle were in the comics all along. That was one of the things that made Miles’ story so attractive to Phil Lord and Chris Miller.
Sony asked them to do an animated Spider-Man movie and they said ‘We don’t really want to do another Peter Parker movie, but we’d love to do a Miles Morales movie.’
I read those comics when they first came out and I knew how much that particular story of his father and his uncle really resonate. I think it’s a universal thing with all families that sometimes we can be torn between family members and different things going on in one family. I think, with Black families, it seems to be very resonant because a lot of us lived in a situation where there are really different things that happen in one family.
One family member goes this way and another, because of so many of us came up in a place where we’re economically very vulnerable, another family member doesn’t go that way and his life is very different.
We’re always torn between family loyalty and the desire to advance and succeed, and the desire to want to be authentic and be real and holding on to the family you do have for good and for ill. It’s a really complicated thing when you see their relationship on screen.
I know I personally have a lot of feelings about Miles and Aaron and Jefferson’s relationship. And I think it’s the same for a lot of people.
TSL: The relationship between Miles Morales and washed up and divorced Peter Parker is very endearing, and very Marvel.
PR: We thought it was a great way to give Miles a real foil, a real counterweight to where he is in his life. Number one, Miles already lives in a world where there’s already a Spider-Man, and this Spider-Man that he knows is pretty perfect.
He thinks he’s going to end up working with that Spider-Man but he dies. So, he’s kind of lost. He also has the pressure of following the legacy of this hero who was perfect and everybody loved him and was counting on him.
How could he ever step into those shoes?
Along comes his second chance at finding a mentor and we have a Spider-Man who is at a totally different phase of his life.
This guy is kinda over being Spider-Man. Being Spider-Man has cost him so much that he is questioning whether or not it was even worth it.
He actually kinda tells Miles that it’s not worth it. Miles has to rely on the older Peter to learn to become Spider-Man. And Peter, in turn, has his own identity when it comes to being Spider-Man rekindled by his relationship with Miles.
TSL: The Kingpin is one of the most popular villains in the Marvel lore, having just been played to perfection by actor Vincent D’Onofrio in Netflix’s Daredevil series. Why did you choose him as the bad guy?
PR: There was never really any pressure from the outside to differentiate them. That was never a problem from the studio or anyone else.
Our big goal with the Kingpin was ‘What can we give him to humanize him and make his plan relatable and understandable? Also, how can we make him a mirror image of Miles?’ Miles has family that he loves more than anything that he’s trying to protect.
Kingpin has a family that he wants back more than anything. It goes back to the Spider-Man saying ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’
Miles uses his power with a sense of responsibility for others, while Kingpin will destroy everything to get what he wants. That’s power with no responsibility. Kingpin’s story was a way to connect with Miles’ story on a very subtle level. If you want a good story between a villain and a hero, you need that thematic echo that ties them together.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse opens in theaters Friday, December 14 and stars Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Haile Steinfeld and Nicolas Cage. It is co-directed by Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, and Rodney Rothman.