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Beyond Spider-Man, the Power of Family and Inclusion in Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse

We attended the interview as a guest of Sony

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation

When you see the name Spider-Man, you assume you know the full story: A radioactive spider bites Peter Parker, he flies across the buildings of New York City, and he saves the day from baddies like Green Goblin and Doc Ock time and time again with witty and spectacular charm.

The new film, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse isn’t that story though, moving away from the classic hero tale we all know. Instead, it opens the door to a more dynamic and diverse universe that dares to take on the mainstream conventions of a superhero film. The cast and crew of the movie, just coming off completion of the final film edits less than two weeks ago, couldn’t wait to share their thoughts on the new picture.

It all started with a pitch from the critically acclaimed writing team of Chris Miller and Phil Lord. “It was about four years from the point when Amy and Avi came to us and said ‘What about an animated Spider-Man movie?’ I said we’ll do it if it’s a Miles Morales movie and if it can be something that we can really push stylistically in a new way”, Lord began.

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation

“We got a little carried away, and added a few extra characters”, Miller added. The film began to take shape, bringing in elements from various parts of the Spider-Man universe, coming together to create something never seen before in an animated or live action Spider-Man feature. “He was the newest, coolest version of Spider-Man and it seemed like a reason to go and make another Spider-Man movie. His family background is different, it’s not just that he has a different ethnic background, but that his parents are alive. They’re together, they’re working hard to figure out how to help the kid be his best self and they don’t have all the answers. We just thought that it was such an amazing foundation for a movie and it’s all right there. His origin is in the book, and it’s such a great place to start. I grew up with a Cuban mother and American father and our household was like that,” said Lord.

The movie brings that immersion front and center, celebrating a wider demographic and connection, which is highlighted by the Morales family. Luna Lauren Velez, who plays Morales’ mother, Rio, was completely surprised by the depth of the project and voiced her thoughts on how important it is to bring a movie like this to the big screen. “It’s an exceptional experience and one that I didn’t see coming at all. I honestly thought, wow, we are going to do an animated movie but I didn’t think we’d be doing something like this”.

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation

Valez took it all in, focusing entirely on the importance of family and how there’s a real world quality to what’s going on throughout the film. “This family, they’re positive role models. It’s a loving mother, a caring father, a typical thirteen year old kid who’s coming into his own and trying to figure it out. He’s lovely and goofy and warm”. The film doesn’t create a distance between the characters and the audience, instead, bringing everyone closer together and giving children everywhere someone they can look up to in a very personal way.

“I feel like, it’s not only a game changer in many ways, but what it’s going to do for kids who’ve never seen themselves represented and for for the first time to have something where they get to be the hero and the hero really makes a difference…not just with the bad guys, but in their lives, with family. Some of the stuff that goes on with Miles and seeing the parents and their quiet moments, and their concern for him and concern for what’s going on in that environment, it’s stuff we don’t typically get to see in this way and this movie is really, really special.”

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation

Morales has the power to reach so many, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the talent of Shameik Moore. “When I was younger, I saw an earlier version of Miles Morales and looked to the right and I saw myself in the mirror and looked back at the screen and he looked just like me. That moment, I didn’t know there was a black Spider-Man. He had the low cut, just like me and it looked like they took a photo of me and animated it. I always felt like I was Spider-Man.” Shameik always felt he was the right choice, making sure he made it a personal mission to become the next Spider-Man. “For me, it was a law of attraction situation. I was filming the movie Dope. I wrote in my journal ‘I am Miles Morales. I am Spider-Man’. The directors from this movie came to see the movie at Sundance before the movie was released. The first time I saw it…they were in the room and they were like we want him to be Miles Morales. There’s something about this guy.”

His costar, Jake Johnson, felt that special quality, speaking up about how working with Shameik really brought his role of Peter Parker to a whole new level. “As we’ve been doing this, I think we’ve started seeing that there’s a real team between Miles and Peter that we really like doing. That’s something that felt very organic to us. At least for me when I was doing Peter, before I felt I got to be in a booth with Shameik. It was just different. I felt Peter really came to life when we could be opposite each other and I can see, oh, that’s who Miles is!”

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation

The duo loved every moment of it, but didn’t just focus on their roles. For both Moore and Johnson, there was a bigger message forming during production, and one that they both realize will really impact the audience when they go see the film in December. “There’s also something about this movie, that as a father of daughters, I’m really glad Spider-Gwen is in the movie, I’m really glad Miles is in the movie. I’m also glad as a white man that Peter is in the movie. Shameik and I have talked about this a lot off press. We both love this idea of inclusion. It’s time for anybody to wear the mask. You can see everybody and that doesn’t mean that the old is out. We are all in this together and it’s all inclusive. There’s a real heartbeat to this movie.”

Johnson went on to talk about his own experiences, sharing that it wasn’t always easy for his children to see themselves in the heroes on screen. Thankfully with Into the Spider-Verse, the door has opened for characters like Gwen Stacy to be a positive role model for young women. “With my daughters, I didn’t grow up a superhero guy. When they started getting into it and would say things like ‘I want to be Spider-Woman’…We don’t really have a term for that but the term is now going to be Spider-Gwen. If you want to be a girl and want to call yourself Spider-Man you can, but if you want someone who looks like you, you could say that. I think we are now in a time where everyone should be able to get themselves represented in the big movies they see. Everyone should look like a hero on the big screen. Anyone can wear the mask. Anyone can be great. We are proud to be in this movie.”

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation

It’s an important message, especially at a time where the real world may not always make you feel like the individual can make a difference. Everyone can take part in the action, everyone can be a hero. “You have the ability to change the world for the better,” Johnson points out.

Make sure to see Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse when it releases on the big screen December 14th. Learn more about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse online, Facebook and Twitter.

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