Feminism, Movies

Why Marisa Tomei As Aunt May Isn’t A Big Deal

It was just announced that Marisa Tomei will be playing Aunt May in the third Spider-Man reboot in thirteen years. This news wasn’t particularly interesting to me beyond “How IS Aunt May related to Peter?” because Marisa Tomei is definitely the most drastic change from the original depictions of the character in comics, television shows AND the original Sam Raimi films. However, the internet had a lot of things to say about the casting, from how hot the new Aunt May is, to how inaccurate the casting is, to being another example of Hollywood patriarchy. It’s hard to argue that Marisa Tomei isn’t an attractive woman but I will tackle the other two claims.

The Amazing Spider-Man King-Sized Special #5 (November 1968). Script by Stan Lee. Pencils by Larry Lieber and John Romita, Sr. Inks by Mike Esposito (as Mickey Demeo). Letters by Art Simek. Marvel Comics.

Uncle Ben is the considerably older brother of Richard Parker, Peter’s dad, which is probably why both he and Aunt May look like his grandparents rather than his aunt and uncle. Now we all know the story: Uncle Ben is killed and Aunt May is left to not only raise a teenager by herself but also (unknowingly) the superhero known as Spider-Man. She’s been depicted up until recently as a frail old woman both in comics and in television, and when Spider-Man first became a live action film, they honored those depictions by casting Rosemary Harris as Aunt May in the 2002, 2004 and 2007 Spider-Man films by Sam Raimi.

2002 Spider-Man. Film. Sam Raimi.

Cliff Robertson as Uncle Ben & Rosemary Harris as Aunt May

Rosemary was 74 years old when the 2002 Spider-Man film was released, and 79 by the last in the trilogy, adding up to a 47 year age difference between herself and Tobey McGuire (Peter Parker #1).

In the next version of Spider-Man, they went slightly younger with Aunt May by casting the lovely Sally Field.

2012 The Amazing Spider-Man. Directed by Marc Webb. Film. Sally Field as Aunt May. Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben.

Sally Field as Aunt May & Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben

Sally Field was 65 years old when The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) was released and then 67 when its sequel was released in 2014, with a 37 year age difference between her and Andrew Garfield (Peter Parker #2), a decade less than the previous iterations even when both Spideys were roughly the same age (28 years old).

In this latest reboot, Peter Parker is going to be younger: not just in terms of the character’s age but also the actor who will be playing him. Tom Holland is 19 years old and will be playing a 15/16 year old Spider-Man, making him almost a decade younger than the actors who came before. So it makes sense to go a little younger with those around him, because comics has this thing where characters don’t really seem to age but it’s impossible to freeze real-life aging the same way. It’s a franchise that wants to have its actors locked in for as long as possible, especially in a Marvel film. So what do they do? They cast 5o year old actress Marisa Tomei.

Marisa Tomei. 2015 Academy Awards at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday night (February 22) in Beverly Hills, California.

Yes, ladies and gents. The very attractive Marisa Tomei is 50 years old because we live in 2015 and she hasn’t been aged up by environmental factors such as poverty. Like I said, I agree she’s attractive but I’m not sure why that would disqualify her from playing an aunt to a teenage boy (both fictional and in terms of the actor playing Peter). The age difference between Tomei and Holland is 31 years so it seems Ben Parker will not be the significantly older brother of Richard Parker but just his brother with a decent age gap which was the same case for The Amazing Spider-Man cast. Also, Uncle Ben has been aging down as well. Cliff Robertson was 78 years old in Spider-Man and Martin Sheen was almost a decade younger at 71 when The Amazing Spider-Man was released. I wouldn’t be surprised if they cast Uncle Ben as someone much younger than Sheen.

I find it interesting that we’re having this conversation given that a few weeks ago we were talking about a 2013 piece by Vulture discussing this weird pattern of leading men getting older but their leading ladies staying young. They followed up that piece with one earlier last month that talked about Emma Stone, Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett Johansson having an “older men problem” in terms of who they act against in their films. After you’ve hit 40, the chances of older women getting great roles decreases. Men don’t have this issue, but it’s like running into a brick wall head first for women which we’ve discussed at length among many other issues in Hollywood. So to call the choice to cast Tomei an act of patriarchy on the basis that she’s attractive feels shallow, given that it’s probably a struggle for women like her at age 50 to get great roles. She’s attractive but she’s not young and that’s what Hollywood tends to salivate over in their female actresses. What’s also very interesting is that the discussion is focused on looks, but no one stopped to look at the fact that all three women who played Aunt May have either won or were nominated for Oscars. In fact, Tomei specifically won one Oscar and was nominated for two but hey, we’re talking about how hot she is, am I right?

With all that said and done, someone did bring up a point worth thinking about: Does the lack of a fragile Aunt May lessen the need in Peter to look after her? I reply with: no. As someone who is an eldest child of four with two parents who had me pretty young, I can tell you that physical fragility isn’t the only motivation to want to look after your parents (biological or otherwise). Financial strain is another form of fragility and whenever things got tight, I was hyper aware of the needs of my parents and tried to make things easier which included getting a job. Aunt May may not be an old, physically breakable woman in this version of Peter’s story, but that doesn’t change anything. Uncle Ben will still die and Peter will still feel guilty. That guilt along with the financial constraints of a single parent home will still make Peter protective of his aunt. Nothing changes for these characters.

So long story short, I’m not particularly excited about anything from this property so far but the reasons given for why Tomei wouldn’t be a great Aunt May don’t hold up.

  1. Al

    July 10, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    I will probably go to see this now, just for Tomei, when I would not have gone before.

    1. Megan Purdy

      July 11, 2015 at 10:10 pm

      She needs more work!

  2. Lindsey

    July 12, 2015 at 7:34 am

    I know she’s not frail, but is there a rule somewhere saying people can’t have hot aunts? I’m sure the Aunt May of the comics was a looker in her hayday, BECAUSE EVERYONE IS IN COMIC BOOKS. Seriously, let Tomei act – she’s good at it, after all.

Comments are closed.