Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse- Bridging Diversity, Gender and Hip-Hop Generations
After seeing previews of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, I knew there was an undercurrent of innovative creativity that came with this franchise action-hero film that set it apart. When the film won the Academy Award for Best Animated Film, I kept asking my 9-year-old daughter if she would watch the film with me. When my favorite band’s drummer and Instagram tastemaker, Questlove Gomez, posted about the film’s story and its use of music, I was hooked into wanting to watch it.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse begins with a brief and comical rundown of all the previous blockbuster films and spinoffs. While the visuals are fresh in their comic-like representation and the sound, perhaps, overt, the proof here is in the story and the music- which exist congruently. In the more official opening scene, Miles Morales is listening to “Sunflower,” by rapper’s Post Malone and Swae Lee, on his headphones before heading back to VISIONS boarding school. The song serving as both anthem and bridge for multi-generational hip-hop culture.
Miles, played by Shameik Moore, is a biracial student who lacks confidence while attending the prestigious private school on scholarship. What makes Miles prime super hero material is his extremely marketable demographic- young and unsure, diverse and into hip-hop culture. Including infamous songs like Notorious B.I.G.’s Hypnotize and the mix of old-school hip-hop during Mile’s subway graffiti scene, the film pays homage to previous hip-hop films such as Wildstyle, which was released in 1982.
After Miles is bit by the spider, he attributes his side-effects to puberty, which my daughter and I found hilarious (and I was secretly glad that subject was put in mainstream dialogue). There is also light mention of more adult themes (divorce and disagreements on wanting children) and a few heavy sub-plots (betrayal and death within family). More significantly, was the moment Miles takes a leap of faith, confidently embracing his superhero identity. The song What’s Up Danger, by rappers Black Caviar & Blackway, captures this scene as Miles dawns his hoodie, the image seen in reverence to Treyvon Martin, the African-American teen gunned down in 2014. The underlying treasure of the film is in the mutual understanding of the battle parents face in wanting what’s best for their child. Mile’s finally gaining the confidence to fulfill his destiny after his father offers him his unconditional love is the real lesson.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse bridged not only the space-time continuum, it introduced us to a diverse group of characters (including Spider-Women, Penny Parker and more) illuminating the idea that there isn’t only one superhero. The film also bridged generations of hip-hop fans by framing, providing context and alternative visual representations of the music’s narrative. And it also brought girls and their moms into the realm of animated action-hero films.