Filipino Representation in Spiderman: No Way Home

Paolo Acob, Photo Editor

Spoilers if you haven’t seen this culmination of 20+ years yet!

Ownership History for the Rights of “Spiderman”

In 1996, Marvel sold the rights to most of their characters due to bankruptcy, leading Sony to grab the license of Spiderman, his companions, and his rogue’s gallery in 1999. Due to this acquisition, as Marvel in the 2010s became more popular, the studios were legally unable to make movies with the web-slinging arachnid. 

As the development of Marvel films and the creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe progressed, on Feb. 9, 2015, the two companies struck a deal as Sony agreed to allow the usage of Spiderman by Marvel Studios, scheduled to make his first appearance at the release of Captain America: Civil War

Thus, audiences were re-introduced to the character after his last appearance in The Amazing Spiderman 2 in 2014.

On June 26, 2019, fans saw the character of Peter Parker for the last time in Spiderman: Far From Home, before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. A little time afterward, in August of the same year, the license of Spiderman was up for negotiations again between Marvel Studios and Sony as their previously agreed contract to share the character.

This negotiation amongst the companies was intense, yet short-lived, for some spider-fans, as Sony and Marvel Studios, came to a final consensus of partnering together to produce Spiderman films, which also led to a collection of various spin-offs such as; Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse, Venom, and the, recently delayed, Morbius film scheduled to release on April 1. 

Spoilers for “Spiderman: No Way Home” Beyond This Point

After years of inconsistent ownership rights and whether they’d see the friendly neighborhood spider on-screen again, to 2021 and the release of Spiderman: No Way Home, fans were pleased with the outcome, the audience reception was so great that the film beat Avatar as the third-highest-grossing film as Spiderman: No Way Home accumulated about $1.8b at the box office.

This Spiderman release was special, as other “Spider-Men” reprised their double-life living New Yorker roles. Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield return as the same Peter Parker iterations they played years before but following their stories later in their lives. 

The re-introduction happened as Michelle Jones Watson, played by Zendaya, and Ned Leeds, played by Jacob Batalon, were at Ned’s grandmother’s house, grieving the death of Aunt May, played Marisa Tomei, who was the legal guardian and final living family member to Tom Holland’s Peter Parker. 

Ned began expressing “I just wish I just wish we could see him” while frantically waving his arms around, wielding Dr. Strange’s “Sling Ring,” which allows one to create portals to different parts of the world, creating a portal to Peter Parker, but not the one they had in mind. 

Jumping Into Screen

Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker jumps out the portal and introduces himself, which frightens Ned’s Lola, which means“grandmother” in Tagalog, yelling “Salamangkero!” translating to “magician.” Shortly after their introduction, Ned tries to summon another portal to Peter Parker, leading them to Tobey Maguire’s iteration. 

Getting two web-heads in the same room led to both becoming aware of one’s presence, as Andrew and Tobey instinctively noticed each other through defensive reaction. The two exchange in web-shots, provoking Ned’s Lola, in which she requests the spider-men to clean their mess in Tagalog, resulting in Ned needing to translate her words.

This scene, in particular, compared to other works with foreign languages, contained no subtitles, forcing Ned’s character to translate to the Peters and the audience. The lack of subtitles was purely intentional, as it created an exclusive experience for Filipinos and produced a general interest in the language. 

Filipino Representation

Asian representation has been done passionately in 2021, with Marvel Studios’ celebration of Asian culture with a predominantly Chinese cast in Destin Cretton’s Shang-Chi, to the casting of Kumail Nanjiani, Don Lee, and Gemma Chan in Chloe Zhao’s Eternals. 

While most other race’s received proper representation, fans were left waiting as Ned Leeds was the only current representation of Filipinos. Leeds originally, in the comics, was a white caucasian male, although, in the MCU, Ned’s ethnicity remained ambiguous until recently.

“Seeing that [scene] on screen, it made me really, really happy because at least, within the MCU, we haven’t really gotten anything that big [of] representation, especially being Filipino. It was an amazing experience to see because now it opens the door for more Filipino-Americans to appear in the MCU,” said community organizer Julius Cordero of Tulay at City College in San Francisco. 

Cordero, being a content creator on both Tiktok and Youtube, with his work focusing on comics, movies, and pop culture, discussed whether the future of the MCU has a place for diversity.

“Seeing [Lee, Nanjiani, and Chan] be in such an impactful movie like the Eternals was really great. Moving forward, it will only get better … we have the Dr. Strange and The Multiverse of Madness coming up, Wong will finally be a bigger player. It’s really fun to watch and to see and to finally have that representation that I can connect to,” stated Cordero.

Having presented one of the most memorable scenes in Spiderman: No Way Home, with no subtitles, Ned Leeds and his Lola being the leading forefront in Filipino representation opens up a “portal” to new realities, as we could be seeing other distinct ethnic groups being represented in the future of the film industry.