Actress Dakota Johnson is universally beloved and uncontroversial in the Hollywood community. But there was a decent amount of backlash when The Hollywood Reporter announced that the star was “in talks” to play the lead in “Madame Web,” the Sony spinoff centered on the Spider-Man character. Some fans are claiming Johnson playing the lead is an example of “disability erasure” because the actress isn’t really blind.
Meanwhile, Madame Web is traditionally depicted as visually impaired. According to THR:
Introduced in 1980’s The Amazing Spider-Man No. 210, Madame Web is a clairvoyant mutant who specializes in predicting the future of Spider-themed superheroes, having mentored not only Peter Parker’s alter ego, but also multiple generations of heroes calling themselves Spider-Woman. Traditionally depicted as a blind, paralyzed old woman, she is surrounded by a web-like machine necessary to keep her alive, meaning that she stays away from direct conflict, and rather sends others on missions.
At 32, Johnson also isn’t elderly. But in 2010, a younger version of Madame Web was introduced in the comics, though she too was depicted as blind, Yahoo reported.
This all comes after Marvel has been diligently working to improve representation in their films as they face external pressure to do so. Yahoo recalled how “Eternals” debuted the first deaf superhero in a Marvel movie last November with the introduction of Makkari (Lauren Ridloff). More recently, the Disney+ series “Hawkeye” included Alaqua Cox as the hearing impaired vigilante Echo. That character is getting her spinoff series later this year.
However, Marvel failed to recast Daredevil, who is blind, with a blind actor in “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” They opted to keep Charlie Cox in the role instead.
Some Twitter users reacted strongly to Johnson being cast as Madame Web instead of the studio hunting for a blind actress to play the role.
“H*** naw, disabled actresses exist! Madame Web is a canonically blind character with myasthenia gravis, disabled mimicry is so annoying,” one person shared. “And before you comic book dweebs get your knickers in a twist, yes I know about the Julia Carpenter version. This casting most likely means they’ll introduce the OG Cassandra Webb combined with elements of Julia, So it’ll still be disability erasure.”
Another fan agreed.
“There are only two outcomes here:
- A) Sony makes Dakota Johnson, a not-blind person, blind in the film. or
- B) They ablewash the disability out of the character entirely.
That’s it. Two options, both sh***y.
Stop it, @SonyPictures.#RepresentationMatters #ableism #SpiderMan.”
“Madame Web” is one of several projects currently being developed as Sony builds out the catalog of Marvel characters and hopes to bottle lightning for the second time. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” grossed more than $1.74 billion globally, smashing records in the post-pandemic box office.
Sony already released “Venom” (2018) and “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” (2020) plus is looking forward to “Morbius” with Jared Leto coming out in April. The studio is also developing “Kraven the Hunter” currently, THR reported.
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