All of us, together, with a few simple keystrokes and mouse clicks, can make things happen. It was the story of the 2008 election, and now it’s becoming the story of pop culture, as Internet campaigning is now responsible for crowning tomorrow’s superstars, reanimating television shows, and making the irrelevant relevant again. (Just look at Betty White.) The latest benefactor of the digital hive mind is Donald Glover, the African-American star of Community and former 30 Rock writer who, through a series of comment discussions on a blog, found himself the people’s choice to star as Peter Parker in the forthcoming Spider-Man reboot from (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb. Glover has responded to the movement, which has become a trending topic on Twitter and launched its own Facebook campaign, by saying he loves the character and would be interested but wants to audition, not to be handed the part. Glover’s insistence on going through traditional channels to get the part seems to suggest that he senses something a little fishy about the whole thing, and he’s right. What’s being asked for, it seems, is an appointment based on race rather than merit.
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Glover is a talented guy, no doubt. He’s a sharp comedian, plus he has the boyish good looks to make for a credibly dorky-cute Peter Parker. But the suddenness of all of this suggests that people still, in theory, like the idea of colorblind casting. Glover’s resume isn’t long or high-profile enough that people heard his name and thought, “Oh yes, definitely him.” Rather, they saw a photo and thought, “Well, why not Denny Gordon? Sorry, Donald Glover, whatever.” It’s not a bad impulse. It’s disappointing that in this day and age an actor of color isn’t considered for franchise characters like Spider-Man. There are black superheroes in the movies now, most recently Will Smith in Hancock and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury in Iron Man 2. But the first is an original character, and the second is one that only comic-book fans know was originally white. There is inequality afoot, and no one likes that. Pair that with the fresh victory of White’s triumphant appearance on Saturday Night Live and you suddenly have a new Internet tradition: trying to get maybe-improbable actors into things you want them to be in.