Let’s get in front of this one, can we?
Sony and producer Amy Pascal are in early development of a film based on SILK, a superhero from the Spider-Man section of the Marvel Universe. In the comics, Silk is a Korean-American woman with spider-abilities similar to those of Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Spider-Gwen, et al. SILK joins a number of “spin”off movies being developed from the Spider-Man canon, including VENOM, SILVER & BLACK, and MORBIUS.
(original art by Mario Ulloa, who also drew a nifty pinup of Silk & Cassandra Cain a.k.a. Asian Batgirl)
I don’t say this lightly, but I do believe SILK could be Asian America’s BLACK PANTHER film, if done well. It could also be an Asian American CATWOMAN (2004) if done poorly.
(Actually, the idea of Halle Berry as Catwoman seems kinda cool now, but a movie can be both ahead of its time and sucky, and unfortunately that’s what CATWOMAN was. But I digress.)
I don’t mean that every racial group is entitled to a BLACK PANTHER epoch-type film, or that Asian Americans and African Americans have the exact same needs, or that there’s any creative integrity in “just doing what the BLACK PANTHER people did.” But let’s say that among the many things BLACK PANTHER was — and it was a lot of things — was a creation myth for popcorn movies about people of color. The film codeswitched elegantly from summer superhero epic to social realism to allegorical fantasy, thanks to the imagination of Ryan Coogler and company. It was culturally specific to Black people, and also had that siiiiick car-chase fight, and also was accessible to Marvel nerds (and also made a gazillion dollars). So in that sense, BLACK PANTHER “showed us how.” It sure would be cool if Asian America had a movie like that.
The opportunities for such seemed few and far between, because the superhero genre has only a few Asian protagonists with their own significant stories. But now they want to do a Cindy Moon movie. Cindy Moon (Silk’s “real” name) is necessarily, specifically, an Asian-American superhero. She’s not a side character who can be plausibly recast (The Ancient One, The Mandarin) or an avatar of Asian-ness who can get away with not being ethnically Asian (Major Kusanagi, Iron Fist), or a character who can be recontextualized without the Asian-ness (Goku, the Death Note guy). If one’s intent was to do a Spider-Woman who is not Asian, Marvel has several Spider-Women who could’ve been that. Silk not being an Asian person is NOT AN OPTION.
Conveniently, Cindy Moon has already appeared (briefly) in SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, played by Tiffany Espensen. Tiffany is not Korean, but hey, ninjas aren’t Korean either, looking at you, G.I.JOE movie.
So Korean actors, can we call that one even? I don’t know if Ms. Espensen could, would, or was meant to play superhero Cindy. I do know that Cindy has alternate-universe counterparts, so I think we’re good there too.
Unlike BLACK PANTHER, Silk is not a legacy character in the Marvel Universe. She’s only existed since 2014. She isn’t even what you’d call an A-list Marvel character, but hey, neither was Groot, and look at Groot now.
What Silk has is a storyline centered on an extraordinary Asian American person.By comics lore, she acquires her powers in the same spider-bite event which, thankfully, was not seen in the current Spider-Man iteration. Thereafter, her origin story is kind of similar to the movie OLDBOY, perhaps not by coincidence. She’s kept in captivity for a number of years, learning life from books and videos. She emerges eventually (with some attendant emotional instabilities) to search for the parents from whom she was separated.
And then there are her powers.
Silk is literally a thing that binds Asians together throughout history. Like the term “Asian American” itself, it connects disparate but related places, and encompasses sense memories for Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Indians, all the cultures along the Silk Road. Yeah, that’s not all Asians, but it’s a lot of ’em. Back to BLACK PANTHER, which also artfully used a controlling metaphor built into the diaspora of people whom the film is ostensibly about. That’s big! The Panther mythology, the Wakandan worldbuilding, elevated BLACK PANTHER and made it more coherent and beautiful than its predecessors. There was a constant internal dialogue between (as Coogler puts it) “tradition vs. innovation” focused through the lens or race. Blackness was not incidental to the story, it was the story. And that was particularly possible for BLACK PANTHER given the character’s long history, but not at all an unreasonable goal for future movies about Superheroes of Color.
In the comics, Silk’s journey gets way into mystical territory, with much talk of Spider-Totems and Master Weavers and Loomworld, and I’m not necessarily advocating they go there. The silk/weaving metaphor is more subtle and grounded than that. A savvy filmmaker could play with the theme of textile arts/garment-making as a traditional province of women (similar to the way Catwoman puns on the “cat lady” trope, but with more agency). The Making Of The Costume is always a central part of the superhero myth, yet in many cases the craft of it is absurdly elided: Spider-Man supposedly sews his own form-fitting mesh-fabric suit in like, a day. Iron Man just 3D-prints the thing by voice command. Daredevil has his outfit made for him by the local haberdasher. Call me a nerd for being the son of a textile artist, but there’s more to it than that. There’s no reason Silk can’t be an avatar for the dedicated knitters, weavers, crocheters of the world. Silk’s organic webs are (according to my best nerd sources) more versatile than Spider-Man’s, so her power set enables potentially-cinematic-cool scenes like the one where she spins her own first costume:
(Fun Fact! Sericulture is the technical term for the science of harvesting silk from silkworms, and yes, there was supposedly a Japanese scientist making a bulletproof silk from a hybrid of traditional silk and spider protein, because Japan as always is way ahead of us on the Spider-Man stuff.)
But all this is fanboyish fodder — every movie COULD be a revelation, how does one actualize it? Again, it’s underreaching to simply cast an Asian actor. That’s inclusive, but not quite representative. (And, side-rant, SILK wouldn’t be the first film with an Asian American woman in the lead, or the first Asian American superhero — stop it, #socialmediaheads. Don’t ignore lesser-known films like PEOPLE I’VE SLEPT WITH and CODE NAME PHOENIX in your hyperbolic need to say “First!” and “Finally!”) BLACK PANTHER wasn’t the “first” anything in Black cinema except for being the first movie about Marvel’s Black Panther. It was an exceptional movie because Coogler and company made a decision to make it exceptional, and stuck to it. I’ve no doubt that on BLACK PANTHER, the goodwill and uplifting result of the film started with its creative personnel. SILK, ideally, would have a director who is an Asian American woman. May I suggest:
I’ve written on Jen Phang’s work elsewhere, and okay, she’s not the only reasonable candidate, but she is the one with a publicity shot in which she’s clearly doing a Spider-Woman crouch. 🙂 #SpiderPhang
Who knows if there actually will be a SILK movie? We were supposed to have a SINISTER SIX film now, at one point. But there should be, because SILK has the potential to speak to people. A LOT of people.
I really have a lot invested in this idea, and since it’s Comic-Con month, I’ll be expounding on all my SILK aspirations for the next week or so. In my next post, I’ll discuss potential villains for SILK, as well as ways to avoid making another CATWOMAN (starring the wonderful, essential, and inimitable Halle Berry).