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Zendaya is now regarded as one of Hollywood’s brightest young stars. However, when Marvel announced the actor would play a pivotal role in Spider-Man: Homecoming, toxic fans of the series voiced their racially inflected anger about the decision. Zendaya received support from many people, notably Peter Parker himself. Before Homecoming’s release, Tom Holland praised his co-star’s abilities as an actor and as a woman whom nonsensical detractors couldn’t deter. 

The dark side of fandom showed itself after Zendaya’s casting in ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’

When Zendaya was announced as part of the Homecoming cast, the nature of her character was kept under wraps, but that didn’t stop a rumor from circulating that she would play Peter Parker’s classic love interest, Mary Jane Watson. There was no official information to corroborate the gossip, but the mere insinuation that Zendaya would play such an iconic character infuriated some people. 

The so-called reasoning from these fans was that a guy who gains supernatural powers after getting bitten by a radioactive spider couldn’t possibly be in a relationship with a Black woman. That’s just too unrealistic.

Similar rhetoric was spouted when Halle Bailey was announced as the star of The Little Mermaid and when Michael B. Jordan played Johnny Storm/the Human Torch in the Fantastic Four reboot. You don’t have to be Ta-Nehisi Coates to recognize the racism in these absurd beliefs. It’s all about ownership.

The assertion that Mary Jane must be a white woman speaks to an outsized idea of ownership from the fandom and a misplaced fear that making these stories more inclusive would somehow make them less meaningful.  

Considering how social media works, outbursts are predictable, but that doesn’t make them any less frustrating. 

Tom Holland supported Zendaya and Marvel’s casting process

Tom Holland and Zendaya stars 'Spider-Man No Way Home'
Tom Holland and Zendaya at the LA premiere of ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ | Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

Holland left no doubt about whose side he took during the controversy. He also shed light on the atmosphere of the Homecoming set during production. 

“The thing is with Zendaya, she knows that, from being on set with her, everyone is always complimenting everyone. Everyone is so loving here. What I love about working for Marvel is how welcoming and kind everyone is. She has such a large following on Instagram, and the majority of those people are all for her and all love her,” he told Global Grind in 2017.

“I feel like our generation of people are moving on past this whole idea you can’t cast someone who is not of the right race of a character and stuff. And I really think we’re breaking through and changing all of that. Z is perfect for it, she’s so powerful and so strong-willed, and it’s not going to shake her at all.”

Holland was right to be confident in Zendaya. Despite playing a final minor role in Homecoming as Michelle, she became a fan favorite thanks to her deadpan delivery and sense of humor. The two Spider-Man sequels reveal the actor plays MJ Watson, who falls in love with the web-slinger. But the character is a new creation — Michelle Jones-Watson — differentiating herself from Peter Parker’s typical romantic interests through her personality, not her connection to the superhero. 

Zendaya and Holland are now a Hollywood power couple


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Holland and Zendaya’s off-screen relationship developed similarly to their characters. 

Despite Spider-Man: No Way Home producers’ protestations, Zendaya and Holland began dating. Rumors of their romance began swirling in 2017, but not until paparazzi snapped the stars kissing in 2021 did they confirm the speculation.

The two have attempted to keep their relationship private, but they’re too famous to avoid media attention. Though they might not have bought a house together, on social media and at red-carpet events, they display the impression they greatly enjoy coupledom.