Spider-Man fans criticize Dakota Johnson's reported Spider-Verse role as 'disability erasure'

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As one of the internet's favorite celebrities, Dakota Johnson likely has her pick of which blockbuster movie multiverse she wants to appear in. And it looks like The Lost Daughter star has settled on Sony's ever-expanding Spider-Verse as its first live action female superhero. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Johnson is in talks to star as the mysterious Madame Web in an all-new solo movie, directed by S.J. Carlson and written by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, who also scripted Jared Leto's perpetually-delayed Spider-Verse picture, Morbius.

But there's a wrinkle to this particular web. Originally introduced in a 1980 issue of The Amazing Spider-Man, Madame Web is canonically blind and classically depicted as an elderly paralyzed woman who relies on her psychic abilities — which stem from a neurological condition known as myasthenia gravis — to engage with the world. (A younger version of Madame Web was introduced in 2010, but that iteration is also blind.) During her four decade Marvel Comics history, Madame Web has assisted Spider-Man in his various adventures, and has also mentored several of the female heroes who have assumed the identity of Spider-Woman.

Madame Web is canonically blind in her Marvel Comics appearances. (Photo: Marvel)
Madame Web is canonically blind in her Marvel Comics appearances. (Photo: Marvel) (Marvel)

Sony's move to cast Johnson in the role of a disabled hero runs counter to Marvel Studio's own recent attempts to diversify the Marvel Cinematic Universe by casting two deaf performers as deaf characters. Last November, Chloe Zhao's Eternals featured the first deaf hero in a Marvel movie, Makkari, played by Lauren Ridloff. And the recent Disney+ series Hawkeye introduced Alaqua Cox as Echo, a deaf vigilante who will be headlining her own spinoff series later this year.

At the same time, Marvel notably opted not to recast the blind hero Daredevil with a blind actor. Instead, Charlie Cox — who played the character on the three-season Netflix series — was officially introduced as the MCU's Man Without Fear with a surprise cameo in the records-shattering blockbuster Spider-Man: No Way Home.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 04: Actor Dakota Johnson from Netflix's
Dakota Johnson attends Deadline Contenders Film: New York on Dec. 4, 2021 in New York City. (Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Deadline) (Jamie McCarthy via Getty Images)

As much as Twitter loves Johnson, many don't love that Sony may be taking an ableist and ageist approach to filling this particular role.