While all eyes were on San Diego and this year’s Comic-Con festivities, much of the attention at the box office was still toward “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”
The newest film iteration of the iconic comic/superhero franchise made in partnership between Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures has been received very well by critics and moviegoers since its debut just a few weeks ago. While many are hailing Tom Holland’s Spidey performance, a lot the credit has also been given to other elements of the film, including its diverse cast.
And by diversity, we mean diverse on a variety of different levels. The perfect example of it all would be in Jacob Batalon.
Born to Filipino parents in Honolulu, Hawaii, Batalon was cast as Spider-Man’s sidekick and best friend named Ned. Like much of the rest of the film, the character of Ned was inspired by Ned Leeds, a Caucasian reporter from the Daily Bugle who became Spidey’s sidekick. According to Batalon, director Jon Watts and his casting director didn’t feel the need to stay true to the comics for their version of Ned.
“From the beginning, the casting director was really about getting the best people for the role,” said Batalon to us in an interview. “Jon was all about making sure the people who got cast were right for the role, not who looked good for the role.”
Batalon himself only had a handful of professional acting credits to his name prior to casting, but the filmmaking team decided to give him the role. In addition to Watts, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige also gave his approval and support to Batalon. “He was really excited to have me on,” said Batalon about meeting Feige for the first time. “He didn’t have any hesitations to involve me.”
Feige, together with Sony Pictures’ creative team, didn’t have any concerns because of one thing according to Batalon: trust. “Everyone just really entrusted me to play my part the way I saw it.” And by everyone, that included Spidey himself Tom Holland, who not only screen tested well with Batalon, but who’s on-screen relationship became less about acting it and more about “just being brothers.”
Audiences have since noticed how Batalon, Holland, and the rest of the predominately multi-ethnic cast can do to make a successful blockbuster film. The intense and emotional reactions to the debut of the first footage of Marvel’s upcoming “Black Panther” film at this year’s Comic-Con, the studio’s first African-American led film, backed that truth up even more.
While diversity is Hollywood is continuing to get more widespread, Batalon feels like being vocal and having meetings about diversity itself is just part of what can push it forward. “I’ve had no discussions with Marvel to continue having people of color in more major superhero movies,” he said. “But I feel like our film was a great example that people like us can make it and make it big.”
In Batalon’s point of view, his point of view on being Filipino in Hollywood is less about discussing the fact that he’s Filipino and more about just taking opportunity when it comes.
Similar to what Pixar director Ronnie del Carmen told us last year in an interview, Batalon thinks that being Filipino in itself isn’t what will make change happen in Hollywood. “I’ve been championing less about being Filipino in Hollywood, and more about what anyone can do.”
He continued, “There’s no tokenism in the industry. I and every other people of color working in this space are trying to be a part of large and small opportunities because it comes far and in between.”
Nevertheless, Batalon, 21, who has only been to the Philippines once when he was a child, is very proud to represent his culture and countrymen who have been supportive of him. “They’re giving all their love and support. They all just really love and there’s no other way to describe it. It’s just in our blood to be love.”
That support won’t be ‘far and in between’ anymore, however. Batalon is already getting offers to play even more roles in Hollywood films, including the already announced sequel to “Spider-Man: Homecoming” due out in 2019. He hopes that the success he’s received since his film debut will open the door and inspire people who “look like me” to do the same.
He’s even open to returning that love he’s received from the Philippines and doing projects there, too. “If the offer ever comes, I’ll definitely take it on! It’s in our blood.”
Our special thanks to Jacob Batalon and Sony Pictures Entertainment for contributing to this story. You can follow Jacob on Instagram here.