The era of the one-size fits all superhero is a thing of the past. In Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, Afro-Latino web-slinger, Miles Morales is finally getting his moment on the big screen, and his debut couldn’t be more cinematically satisfying. Voiced by The Get Down’s Shameik Moore and helmed by Rise of the Guardians director Peter Ramsey, who has the distinct title of being the first Black person to direct a big budget animated feature, Into The Spider-Verse is something special. Along with his co-directors, Bob Persichetti and Rodney Rothman, Ramsey’s take on Miles’ story is bold and Brooklyn to its core. The film opens the floodgates for an entirely new visual style when it comes to animated storytelling.
In the film, Miles, while hanging out with his uncle, Aaron (voiced by Mahershala Ali) in New York City’s subway tunnels gets bitten by a radioactive spider transforming him into Spider-Man. As he grapples with his new powers, and a strained relationship with his father, Jefferson (voiced by Brian Tyree Henry) Miles soon discovers that he might not be the only high-flying superhero in the universe.
Just ahead of the film’s premiere Shadow and Act spoke with Shameik Moore and director Peter Ramsey about the two-year journey to bring Miles’ story to the big screen, and why we can expect to see more of the A1-loving teen in the near future.
“I was completely excited about bringing Miles’ story to the big screen,” Ramsey told Shadow and Act. “The caliber of people that I got to work with, the people that initiated this project, Phil Lord and Chris Miller —they are two of the most creative guys in this entire industry and my co-directors Bob Persichetti and Rodney Rothman. I’ve known Bob for years from Dreamworks animations. He’s a brilliant, brilliant man and Rodney is an incredibly accomplished comedy writer. The level of talent on this entire project was absolutely astounding.”
Miles was introduced to Marvel fans back in 2011 by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli, and he quickly became a beloved character. There was a lot riding on his big screen debut. “He’s a fantastic character,” Ramsey explained. “We all fell in love with him. We were all determined to bring his story to life in the fullest, most interesting way we could because we really just loved this character as if he was a real person. It means a lot to us.”
Despite Miles’ popularity in the comics, Sony an Marvel were initially apprehensive about bringing yet another Spider-Man story to the big screen. Luckily, they quickly changed their tune. “They saw a way to reinvigorate the Spider-Man story and franchise, and bring this new version of a new Spider-Man with a lot of different things to say to light,” Ramsey explained. “They got excited about that. Phil wrote the initial treatments and the initial draft of the script, and the rest of the team started coming together and we were all blown away by the opportunity to tell this version of Spider-Man with Marvel’s blessings. They didn’t interfere very much at all. There weren’t a lot of restrictions.”
Since Miles has meant so much to comic and Spider-Man fans — especially folks of color who’d grown accustomed to a revolving door of very white web-slingers — Ramsey knew he had one shot to get this film right. “Everybody on our team just decided we were gonna make this thing as different as possible,” he emphasized. “If we’re gonna show you a new Spider-Man, we are gonna make it something that feels truly new and of its time, and it’s gonna say more about the idea of Spider-Man than we’ve seen in quite a while.”
This is why Ramsey and his co-directors were so particular about the various details in the film. “We just tried to make Miles’ story as specific, as detailed, and as real as we could from the depiction of his family life to the music that he listens to, to the clothes that he wears, where he lives, his relationship with his uncle,” he said. “We really wanted to paint a picture of a real kid that you could identify with and fall in love with, really, no matter who you are. But for people of color, especially — trying to get a lot of these details and the texture of family relationships right was super important to everybody on our team. We felt strongly that the only way to tell the story of a new Spider-Man was to make you love the person who was gonna become that Spider-Man.”
Choosing the right actor to bring Miles to life was also essential. The moment Ramsey saw Shameik Moore’s audition, he knew he’d found his actor. “Shameik recorded his first audition on an iPhone and sent it in,” he laughed. “He has a kind of innocence, and a sweetness, and a vulnerability to him that you can’t fake. It’s very genuine, and when you meet Shameik, you see, ‘Oh, that’s just who he is. He’s not really playing a role. He’s this character, there’s something in him that is completely real and genuine.’ We listened to a lot of other people after that but always came back to that truth that we heard in Shameik’s audition. So, it was him, and when we finally got to animate to his voice, the performance that we’d get out of the character is so unique, and fresh, and funny that we made the absolute right choice.”
For his part, Spider-Man had always been a part of Moore’s life. “I’m a fan of Spider-Man, for sure,” he chuckled. “I would watch all the cartoons.” When it came to stepping into Miles’ shoes, it was a no-brainer for the Dope actor. “I really just listened to my directors, the writers and I just followed direction,” he explained. “I related to the character already, and I trusted the team because they’re living in this world day in and day out. I think the biggest part of this story is that anyone can wear the mask, and I think we break those barriers. It’s a great transition. We didn’t remove Peter Parker. Miles is learning how to be Spider-Man from a version of Peter Parker that forgot how to be Spider-Man or forgot what it means to be Spider-Man, so it’s a special story.”
There was quite a bit of backlash when the character first debuted as an Afro-Latinx kid back in 2011, so Moore knew the stakes were high. However, he never let expectations deter him. “I didn’t really feel any anxiety,” he revealed. “The most difficult thing was handling it in my mind. I’m not the live-action Miles yet, but I was really interested in giving an iconic performance vocally and making my performance as believable as possible. I wanted to bring value to what was being created. I didn’t want to just take an opportunity and be like, ‘Well, it’s just my voice, so I’m just going to do whatever, or do something that anybody could do.’ I really was just trying to figure out a way to make it so unique to me, to where only Shameik could have done that.”
For Moore, bringing Miles to life has been quite a ride. “I did my last voice session probably two or three weeks ago- we just finished,” he revealed. “That’s when I saw the movie for the first time. I’m like, ‘Wow!’ There were some things said in the movie that I totally forgot that I said.”
Though Moore was able to look towards his directors and writers for inspiration, he also had the opportunity to work with Brian Tyree Henry who voices Miles’ police officer father, Jefferson in the film. “Brian Tyree Henry I got to work studio, which was really cool,” he explained. “We did that, ‘You’ve got to say I love you scene together, in-studio.’ Jake Johnson who plays Peter Parker in the film, he and I got to work in the studio together as well.”
Depending on the success of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, there is room for talks around sequels and maybe even a live-action version of Miles Morales. Though Moore is certainly down to reprise his role Miles, don’t expect to find him in a slew of projects. “I’m only doing iconic projects,” Moore revealed. “We’re making great decisions, or smart decisions, to set up a long play. If this is about money or just being relevant and in front of people all the time, then I would be really out here in everything, but I’m turning down roles, and I’m accepting the right ones and aligning myself with the right people. Dope, The Get Down, and Spider-Man is a powerful resume. I want everything to be tasteful and the right amount.”
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse hits theaters on December 14th! Aramide A. Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes or A Word With Aramide or tweet her @wordwitharamide