Representation Matters: What’s Next for Latinx Superhero Stories?
Black Panther blew my mind. It was a revolutionary, Afrocentric superhero tale that used a diversity of styles to make a new, unique movie. It was recognition of a culture that has been ignored for so long. Then I looked at my Hispanic wife, and I thought of our future half-Hispanic kids, and I realized that there would be no heroes on the screen who look like them.
And we aren’t looking like we will get any soon. I look at the July Solicitations for Marvel, and they do not have a single solo series featuring a Latinx character. (Latinx is the gender neutral term for people of Latin American ethnicity.) America is cancelled, which is a blow to LGBT representation as well, and Miles Morales’s Spider-man is on hiatus, though I am sure he will return one day.
Robert Da Costa, aka Sunspot, aka Citizen V, is now MIA after the No Surrender event. He will pop up again eventually, probably, but as of now, there are no plans. Sure, there will be a Latino Ghost Rider side character on the new Avengers comic team, but that is not a lot of representation for a population that makes up over 17% of the American population according to the US Census.
There is some Latinx casting in the Disney Marvel movies. Zoe Saldana is Puerto Rican and Dominican. She plays Gamora, an alien in green. Her culture is one of a fictional race not on this planet.
Spider-Man: Homecoming at least plants the seeds for Latinx actors playing major characters. There is Michael Mando playing Mac Gargan. While the character pretty much just existed to set up a post credits scene, he is very likely to come back for the sequel. He isn’t a necessarily latinx character, and he is a criminal, but he might come back. Or he was just a more flushed out Easter Egg.
The second Latinx is more likely just an Easter Egg, and most people didn’t catch it. Selenis Leyva plays Ms. Warren. There are two possible meanings to this. She is the wife to Miles Warren, aka Jackal, or she is a gender swapped Miles Warren. This is potentially exciting, because we have not seen this character yet in the movies and Warren is responsible for two major Spider-man story lines, Spider Island and the Clone Saga. Both are unlikely to show up in the movies, though. The Clone Saga was quite lengthy and is a punch line these days in the comics, and Spider Island, with people turning into giant man-spiders, would be downright horrifying. Neither of these characters are going to be heroes or role models for the children, if they show up again at all.
But wait, Michael Pena plays a Latino! Yes, there is one Latinx character in the Marvel movies who people can actually remember. A criminal character listed 9th on the IMDB page for Ant-Man. That is the best role model at this time. There are no planned movies for Marvel starring Latinx characters, and looking at the current lineup of comics, it is highly unlikely we will see one.
The movies have done slightly better with the Asian population thanks to Dr. Strange’s Wong and company and the Iron Fist TV show. As long as you ignore the fact they white washed the Ancient One.
Fox’s X-men universe is doing a little better. Morena Baccarin is Brazilian and plays Vanessa in the Deadpool films. So there is one. There are no Latinx characters in X-men. There is Latino actor Oscar Isaac playing Egyptian character Apocalypse in X-Men: Age of Apocalypse, covered in blue body paint. Which is ok, I guess, unless you were a North African or Middle Eastern actor. Sunspot is played by Adam Canto in X-Men: Days of Future Past, though you may not remember. I didn’t. He is 16th on the IMDB page if you look though. Sunspot will also be played by Henry Zaga in New Mutants whenever that comes out. That will be a big deal. He will probably be the biggest Latinx character ever in a superhero movie. Sure, there have been over 50 superhero movies, but still. They are getting around to it. Columbian inhuman
Sony is actually beating the bigger studios to a Latinx with an animated movie, Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse. Miles Morales will star in the film, which is actually pretty awesome. I just wish Miles was getting a big budget live-action movie, instead of a drastically smaller budget animated movie. I can’t guarantee this film won’t flop because of that decision, and the fact that it is animated takes away a lot of the victory. People would have been pissed if Disney kept Black Panther to an animated feature.
There is, of course, one more corner of the MCU: the TV shows. Agents of Shield is doing great with representation. The main cast is wonderfully diverse, and there are a couple major Latinx characters. There is Elena ‘Yo-Yo’ Rodriguez, a Colombian inhuman who can basically “yo-yo” herself at super speeds so that she can move at Quicksilver speed then end up back where she was standing. She has been a main character for a couple seasons now. There is also Robert Reyes, the Ghost Rider. While he was only in 9 episodes, he was a central character in that arc. The half season was all about the Ghost Rider. This character still lives in the shadow of the Nicholas Cage movies. Most people forgot or never knew about Ghost Rider on Shield. And the truth is, the show is not likely to get another season.
The other show with a Latinx character is Runaways. The switch of Molly Hayes to Molly Hernandez on the show wasn’t just done to fill a demographic either. It was done so that it was an addition to Molly’s identity. It added another facet to her, which plays out in subtle details. The show is not a hit on the caliber of Netflix shows, but it does give a much needed voice to the superhero web-series niche.
DC, on the comic book side, is doing better. Though they did just end their Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle comic, they have Puerto Rican character Derek James starring in Sideways. Jessica Cruz shares the Green Lanterns with Simon Baz, one of the few Muslim heroes. She is also a member of the Justice League, getting her loads of story lines. There are other characters who will no doubt appear as they start rounding out their new team books and their identities.
The problem is that these existing Latinx characters have not translated to the big screen. Worse, they have even white washed their Latino character Bane into an Englishman. In the comics, Bane is from the fictional Latin American country, Santa Prisca, and he owns a Teddy bear named Osito (Spanish for Little Bear). While I love Tom Hardy as an actor, it makes little sense to have him play Bane. In Batman and Robin, which is admittedly not the best Batman film, Bane is played by not one but two white actors.
Now, there is one outstanding Latinx character from Suicide Squad: Diablo. First off, yes, this character is another criminal, and I didn’t realize this trend before I started writing this. Criminals and an alien…that’s how Latinx have been mostly represented. Anyways, Diablo was actually a great character. In my opionion, the best thing about Suicide Squad by a mile. Yes, he was a criminal, but at least he felt bad about it. His sacrifice at the end redeemed his soul and granted him peace. Plus, you know, total bad-ass.
I am not saying we need to have Latinx people taking over non-Latinx roles either, though I am hardly against it. Jason Momoa is not a blonde haired white guy, but he is a highly entertaining Aquaman. We don’t need to reinvent existing characters or change them to make them more diverse. There are more than enough Latinx characters to populate the movies and comics. Besides the already mentioned America Chavez and Miles Morales, there are super heroes going though several comic eras.
The White Tiger fought alongside New York’s street level heroes. Arana is a member of the Spider family with more swagger and none of the Parker luck. Now though, the current White Tiger is no longer Hector or Ava Ayala, but a police officer named Keven “Kasper” Cole. Arana disappeared into the Spiderverse. A couple of the newer characters like Humberto Lopez aka Reptil and Victor Mancha died. Echo, the Bendis era New Avenger, died in the Bendis Moon Knight run. That doesn’t mean that these characters, who all have ties to heroes already established in the MCU should not appear.
I hope to see Jessica Cruz in the supposedly coming Green Lanterns movie, because she would be a wonderful addition to the movies not only as a Latina superhero, but as one battling mental illness in the form of debilitating anxiety attacks. I would love to see Renee Montoya appear in the DCU, even though it will probably only be as a detective and not as the Question. Her run in Gotham was too short for such an important character in the GCPD.
There are combined over one hundred years of comics in the Big 2. It is ridiculous that we are not seeing any sizable representation for what amounts to almost one fifth of our country. Plus, they sell comics in Mexico. Sales may go up if some of the characters were more relevant to that market.
In the last ten years, in the last 40 years if we look at DC’s Golden Age of films, we have not had one Latinx superhero I can find. I am not saying we have to change everything; I am just saying we should try for a little more. The kids on my wife’s side talk about the racism they encounter, and I know there is a good chance my children could endure it as well. These days, racism is no longer a secret, and kids call other kids disgusting terms. Terms learned from their parents. And there is no more shame in it. I know a movie or comic won’t stop ignorance, but maybe it will make it easier to bear.