Spider-Man Becomes the Latest Big Movie to Adopt a Social Cause

Sony is encouraging Spider-Man fans to make a difference by volunteering. Cheap promotional stunt? I appears not.

Last summer Spider-Man got a makeover in Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, morphing the character from the traditional Peter Parker we all know into half-black, half-Latino Miles Morales, a teen whose family was trying to get him into a charter school. While the latest Spidey film, Sony's upcoming The Amazing Spider-Man, takes us back to the Peter Parker era, the studio took a new-school approach to the character's heroism through Tuesday's "Be Amazing, Stand Up and Volunteer" day of service.

Indeed, encouraging moviegoers to make a difference seems to be an emerging film promotion trend. Last spring the release of the Hunger Games was tied to a campaign with World Food Programme and Feeding America to raise awareness about hunger around the world. The campaign asked moviegoers to be a part of solving the problem by making a monetary donation. However, actually getting out there and doing something in your community makes social change a lot more personal.

To that end, Sony partnered with the cities of Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. to bring people together to work on a variety of service projects. In Los Angeles, four out of five projects benefited schools and their surrounding communities. In the low-income, majority Latino community of Boyle Heights, 85 volunteers came out to pick up trash, pull weeds, sweep sidewalks, and clean alleys around the Boyle Heights Technology Youth Center, which helps 13-to-22-year-olds through both an alternative high tech high school and programs to boost their the learning, employment, and career opportunities in technology-related fields.

Joe Diaz, the center’s coordinator of multimedia says many of the volunteers who came to help are from the neighborhood and have either accessed the center's resources or have family who have done so. Youth in the neighborhood hear the same messages Diaz heard growing up in the community: it's too dangerous to be out on certain streets and participating in service projects will ruin your street cred. That made it doubly inspiring, says Diaz, to see students "taking charge, being the team captains," and "being able to be out sweeping the alleyways, getting involved and cleaning their own neighborhood."

And although it's tempting to see the volunteer day as simply part of a promotional scheme for a movie, Diaz says he views the day "as a longer term opportunity for the kids to be involved in something positive." Once they "get that good feeling from making their community better," he says, "they'll want more of it." The studio's support simply made running a community cleanup easier, Diaz says, since they paid for lunch for the volunteers. However, when a studio rep came by there was no hard sell for the kids to go see the film. The rep, "never even talked about the movie," says Diaz. "He just thanked the kids for coming out."

Diaz believes it would "be a win-win" if more studios promoted their films through service days and worked to build relationships with schools and communities. "Don't get me wrong, I love red carpet premieres," says Diaz, "but the memories of service go a lot further."

Photo courtesy of The Boyle Heights Technology Youth Center

Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

RELATED: Greta Thunberg urges people to turn to nature to combat climate change

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"We need to act right now to stop burning fossil fuels and ensure a rapid energy revolution with equity, reparations and climate justice at its heart," organizers say.

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