Spider-Man, Pokémon, and Star-Crossed Lovers: Mixed Race Characters Take the Lead

WARNING: The following contains spoilers for the films, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Detective Pikachu, and The Sun Is Also a Star.

Although Loving v. Virginia officially abolished all remaining anti-miscegenation laws in the United States in 1967, it really hasn’t been until recently where the portrayals of mixed race characters and interracial couples on the big screen have improved significantly. Within the last six months alone, several films have had either mixed race characters as the leads or interracial relationships as the central focus. An added dimension to some of them is that apart from some of the characters being of the younger generation, the focus wasn’t on their race(s). That didn’t, however, stop these films from acknowledging their backgrounds. While it’s good that films like Aquaman are out there that get really real about being mixed, not all mixed race protagonists need to go on a journey of self discovery to that extent.

Take Miles Morales for instance, the young hero of the highly acclaimed Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. It is indicated early on in the film that he is from a biracial family. His father is Black, his mother is Puerto Rican. While Miles is on a journey of self discovery, it has nothing to do with embracing both sides of himself. Rather, it’s about becoming the new Spider-Man — that and being a teenager who’s suddenly bearing the responsibility of saving the world and all the dimensions. That’s a hell of a load of pressure, and to have a biracial kid be the one to see it all through really shows how anyone can be the hero.

I just wish Miles’ mother was more involved in the story. While his father and uncle played meaty roles in his journey, there wasn’t as much to show from his mother.

It’s not just in the superhero universes where mixed race characters are taking the lead. The same goes for the Pokémon world too. In the very first live-action Pokémon movie, Detective Pikachu, we see Tim Goodman, a former Pokémon trainer turned insurance salesman played by Justice Smith, who is on a mission to find his father, with the assistance of his father’s Pikachu that only he can understand.

While it’s not revealed right away, it is eventually shown that Tim is from a biracial family too. His mother is Black, his father is White. The fact that it takes a whole film for that fact about Tim to unfold shows just how much more pressing it was to show his journey of not only finding his father, but also remembering the interest he once had for Pokémon. It was certainly refreshing to have such a character as Tim in the lead, especially after all the other anime-to-live action films that were tanked by White actors being cast in such roles.

However, somewhat similar to Miles, I do not like how they did away with Tim’s mom. To kill off a female character — especially a Black female character — to advance the story of a male character is increasingly becoming problematic for a reason. Was it really necessary to have her die? Why not just have Tim’s parents divorced and have Tim raised by both his mother and grandmother?

The Sun Is Also a Star is a fine example of how interracial relationships are also increasingly taking center stage. Based on the 2016 novel of the same name by Nicola Yoon, the story is about two very different characters, Jamaica-born pragmatist Natasha Kingsley and Korean American romantic Daniel Bae, meeting and exploring the inevitable possibility of falling in love in one day.

While this film does give slightly more focus to the characters’ respective cultural backgrounds compared to the previous two, it’s done in such a way that not only feels authentic, but ultimately leads to the mutual understanding the two characters have for one another. In other words, in applying this one quote from Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid, they’re “different but same.”

It also was interesting to have two actual mixed race actors, Yara Shahidi and Charles Melton, play the characters. Knowing that they share a mutual understanding for what it’s like to be part of interracial families gives further depth to the understanding of their characters; particularly during the montage where Natasha and Daniel imagine a future together (mixed race baby included). The film’s release was a #BlackandGoldOpen for a reason.

In the half century since Loving v. Virginia, the existence of interracial couples and mixed race people can no longer be ignored. To see the stories told on the big screen start to catch up to this reality — by featuring characters of this check-more-than-one-box community — shows that we are finally entering an era that highlights their humanity above all.

5 thoughts on “Spider-Man, Pokémon, and Star-Crossed Lovers: Mixed Race Characters Take the Lead

  1. I’m from the West Indies. My ancestors are African, Scottish, French and Dutch. I’ve always been mixed race. Do African -Americans not consider themselves of mixed race?

    1. A lot of us are, but those of us descended from enslaved Africans often have no idea what we are mixed with, so we just use the blanket term “Black”. Also a lot of that mixing often came about in the form of rape, which most of us do not want to acknowledge or be constantly reminded of either.

  2. I feel like something that is not addressed, especially when it comes to black characters in hollywood, is that mixed-race almost always takes the lead. In The Sun is Also a Star Natasha was supposed to be a dark-skinned monoracial Jamaican , which would have been more revolutionary than the light-washing that took place in the movie. I would say this is a “score” for mixed folks but light and mixed folks have been the standard in hollywood since it’s inception. This just seems tone-insensitive to the dynamics at play and minimizes the perpetuation of colorism in hollywood as just mixed folks “taking the lead.”

    1. Normally I don’t respond to comments, but I’m making an exception in this case. Believe me when I say that I was not going for a tone-insensitive approach to the casting of TSIAAS. I actually have read about issues some people have had over the casting ahead of its release. Without a doubt, colorism is an issue in Hollywood casting. There’s no denying that. Seeing that this was my first time writing for NOC, I wasn’t sure how to factor that angle in.

      But rest assure that I definitely see and acknowledge your point.

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