Miles Morales did it. That is the best way to describe the animated masterpiece that is Across the Spider-Verse without spoiling plot points for Team Tardy. (Seriously, what are y’all waiting for?) The sequel to Into the Spider-Verse finds Miles (voiced by Shameik Moore) coming into his own on both sides of his double life—as a high school student navigating advanced coursework and adolescence, and as a masked hero slinging webs all about New York City.
But Across the Spider-Verse is as much a story of a Black boy defying all odds as it is a tale of connection to (and disconnection from) his own parents. Despite the tension, it’s the nurturing and support of those characters—Jefferson (Brian Tyree Henry) and Rio (Luna Lauren Velez)—that provides the necessary foundation to prime teenage Miles for success.
“When I was doing this, as a young Black man myself—emphasis on young [laughs]—I thought about the images I wanted to see when I was coming up,” Tyree Henry says. “The representation of this kind of family in theaters and living rooms is so important because it can build on how we can continue to nurture our young Black and Brown men and women.”
Those navigating parenting in this realm of the multiverse may not be raising young’uns swinging from skyscrapers while attempting to save humanity (if you are, godspeed!). But that doesn’t mean there aren’t gems to be gleaned from this epic motion picture. LEVEL hopped on a Zoom call with Brian Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren Velez to discuss their own takes on Jefferson and Rio’s Spider-rearing, and the lessons everyday parents can take from Across the Spider-Verse. —As told to John Kennedy
Brian Tyree Henry: Give them hugs. Hear them. Make sure they know they’re accepted. The number-one rule is acceptance. Because with acceptance comes nurturing, listening, transparency. If you come from a place of accepting that your child is exceptional, you’ll be okay.
It’s very important for young Black men and young Brown men to know the world is already going to tell you what you’re limited to, just because you exist. Before you open your mouth, before you leave the house, you’re already told that you’re limited. I think what has to be more reinforced every single day is that they’re limitless.
What I wanted to portray is that the sky's the limit. Miles can have anything he wants, but he also has to know and stay grounded in the fact that he’s our child. And that all of these things that are given to him are because we were parented this way.
We even have this thing, like, “You check in when you come here. Yeah, you stay at your school but you always check in. What did you say? Why is your friend calling me by my first name?” Those kinds of things never get old. And they have never been proven to be wrong in how we’ve grown into successful, independent people of color.
Luna Lauren Velez: Parents are afraid in this day and age to be parents. You’re no longer allowed to say this or that. We’re not those parents. We are the parents who are like, “We parent you. When you leave the house, then you can do everything you want. But right now, while you’re here, we’re still gonna maintain this household—loving, strong boundaries. And this is how this household works.” They still of course want the best for their son; they’re making sure he’s able to navigate the world. That’s the way we parent [Miles]. That’s the way I was raised.
The [most important] thing is to really come from love. Hear them. The language about “don’t ever let anyone tell you you don’t belong”—to me, it’s that phrase. If you could say that every day, every hour, every minute to your kid, I think you’ll be good.