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Spider-Man: Far From Home has just spun a little bit of LGBTQ history. As the first openly transgender actor to appear in a Marvel Studios blockbuster, Zach Barack couldn't be more thrilled — not only because, hey, it's Spidey, but on a more personal note he's helping increase trans visibility in the pop culture landscape.
"I’m kind of losing my mind a little bit, but I'm acting like I'm not," Barack told Variety before Wednesday's world premiere in Hollywood. "I don't know that it fully has [sunk in]…I don't quite have the capacity to explain how meaningful it is to me."
It's the first big role for Barack who plays one of Peter Parker's classmates as they embark on a post-Avengers European vacay only to wind up running into some CGI monsters known as the Elementals and a mysterious master of illusion named Mysterio, played by Jake Gyllenhaal.
Of course, everything is not what it seems.
But if there's one thing that's quite clear for Barack, it's that his mere presence in the MCU means something to people in the transgender community who previously felt ignored by superhero movies.
"He's along for the ride," said the 23-year-old on the red carpet. "This cast is meant to reflect what a real New York City class would look like, right? There's trans folks, there's people of color. That is not stuff you've seen in movies… That is why I am there. I get to be part of that. And I get to reflect that."
As to whether his character, also named Zach, is trans as well, Barack said "it's up for interpretation" and that the reason gender identity is not discussed is because our friendly neighborhood wallcrawler is busy saving the day.
"Maybe that's part of life. You go through it. Your genetic identity is part of it. It's not always the main thing," he noted. "And I think… what Sony and Marvel are trying to reflect is that experience in life."
And being a part of something so iconic as Spider-Man has extra meaning for the Chicago native, who landed the part after auditioning just two weeks before shooting began.
"I’m not by any means an expert on comics, but I read them growing up, you know, and they were important. And there’s something very inherently trans about those stories, especially ones where identity and hidden identity is part of them," Barack elaborated. "For example, Peter Parker’s journey [in Spider-Man: Homecoming] is a lot about balancing being a teenager and having this other part of your life."
He continued: "And that is just so trans, it’s something that I absolutely think I’ve felt on a daily basis sometimes – especially being a transmasculine person because sometimes there’s a pressure to be a different way than I feel naturally inclined to do because I want to fit in, and I have to actively fight that instinct. But the fact of the matter is, being in this movie is so beyond incredibly meaningful and I hope that it means something to other people."
While Barack is the first out trans actor on the big screen for Marvel, LGBTQ representation within the superhero genre has been making inroads on the small screen. Case in point: Marvel's Jessica Jones on Netflix features Aneesh Sheth's as Jess' openly trans assistant Gillian at Alias Investigations. While DC Comics' Supergirl on The CW introduced the first trans superhero on mainstream TV with Nia, played by Nicole Maines Dreamer.
Acknowledging the lack of trans representation in film and television save Laverne Cox's role on Orange is the New Black and Hilary Swank's performance as Brandon Teena in Boys Don't Cry (even if Swank isn't trans herself), Barack hopes his casting will continue to break new ground for the LGBTQ community in Hollywood, adding that he hopes to see more nuanced characters in the future.
Spider-Man: Far From Home swings into theaters on July 2.