Tenoch Huerta stands before a crowd full of eager onlookers. He wears a lavender undershirt with a navy suit and a headpiece made with duck and peacock feathers tucked behind his ear. A connector allows a singular black plume to dangle off his earlobe. It’s the first time anyone has seen such an open embrace of pre-Hispanic Latin culture on a stage as big as Comic-Con — and the actor hopes it won’t be the last.
“I want to say something really fast about inclusion,” Huerta said to the group of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” fans who just watched the movie’s exclusive first look in July.
“I come from the hood, and thanks to inclusion, I’m here,” he noted. “I wouldn’t be here without inclusion, and a lot of kids out there in their hood [are] looking at us, dreaming to be here, and they’re going to make it.”
In the “Black Panther” comics, Huerta’s much-anticipated character, Namor, is a mutant Atlantian with no relation to Latin culture. In the upcoming film, however, Namor has been rewritten to have significant Mayan influence as the ruler of the underwater civilization Talocan. Namor is technically a supervillain in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” although, in the comics, he is sometimes written as both a hero and anti-hero.
Huerta’s inclusion and background are evidence of the move that major comic franchises are making to increase representation on screen. In 2022, America Chavez, played by Xochitl Gomez, made her big-screen debut in “Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.”
“To have America Chavez be a central character in a Marvel franchise film is monumental, and I’m so proud that I got to bring her to the big screen,” Gomez, who credits Marvel exec Victoria Alonso for championing a queer Latina character in the blockbuster film, told HuffPost. “You can’t imagine how that will impact brown girls and queer kids trying to come to terms with their identity. Seeing someone who looks like you or loves like you portrayed on screen as a superhero is huge because of how it shines attention on those qualities you share in a positive way.”
Reports have confirmed that Oscar Isaac will reprise his voice role in “Into the Spider-Verse 2” as Spider-Man 2099, who is of Mexican-Irish descent. Comic fans will get their first Latinx-led superhero films, with “Cobra Kai” star Xolo Maridueña playing Blue Beetle for DC in 2023 and superstar Bad Bunny in “El Muerto” for Marvel in 2024.
Still, the influx of Latinx superhero representation is bittersweet. There have been plenty of disappointing news announcements in recent months. The anticipated “Bat Girl” television show featuring Leslie Grace was shelved indefinitely, as was Sasha Calle’s Latinx “Supergirl” film.
Latinx creators helped build the comics industry from the ground up, and Latinx actors have technically played on-screen superheroes for several years. While it may look like the film industry is finally having a Latinx superhero revolution, some Latinx comics creators and consumers feel like the Golden Age of Latinx superheroes isn’t here … yet.
Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, the creator of the superhero series La Borinqueña, told HuffPost that there have been more Latinx creators in the comic book industry than characters. It wasn’t until 1975, almost 40 years after the release of Superman, that Marvel debuted its first Latinx superhero, the White Tiger.
There have been a number of “scattered appearances of other Latinx characters” throughout the years, he said, but many of them are “derivative of already-existing white characters” like Blue Beetle (Jaime Reyes), Captain America (Roberta Mendez) and Hulk (Clayton Torres), to name a few.
“There is an even rarer occasion when we find out as fans that a character was Latina all along, as with Selina Kyle, better known as Catwoman, who is of Cuban heritage,” Miranda-Rodriguez said. “Rarely would we find characters acquiring mainstream success that are connected to their heritage, nationalism, and respective mythologies.”
Miranda-Rodriguez says there are some independent superhero series that highlight authentic Latinx voices like his own “La Borinqueña” series, Javier Hernandez’s “El Muerto” and Richard Dominguez’s “El Gato Negro.”
“What we end up seeing, however, is a disconnect from an authentic cultural voice with many mainstream characters,” Miranda-Rodriguez said. “That voice, that truly sincere Latinx voice, is what most mainstream publishers miss. It’s a reflection of our need to have more representation. Not only so that our characters are present in these stories, but [so] that our shared collective experiences are visible.”
While Miranda-Rodriguez doesn’t believe we’re in the midst of a Latinx superhero revolution, Ricardo Carrión, the executive producer of Puerto Rico Comic Con, does.
“For decades, [Latinx creators] have contributed to all those stories that many of us know and love…There is real value in the contribution that all these creators have made to the comics industry,” he told HuffPost. “It is something that is being noticed, not only in the Latinx community.”
“Now there is much more awareness on the part of creators to include their culture and point of view in their stories,” he added. “Mainstream characters like Miles Morales and America Chavez are a reflection of these changes. Even so, we must be aware that there is still work to be done to achieve that parity of characters of Latinx descent in the comics industry.”
The same can be said for having Latinx creators behind the scenes writing these authentic storylines and illustrating the characters.
DC inadvertently confirmed the importance of representation in all areas of the comic book industry when it released Hispanic Heritage Month comic covers featuring stereotypical Latino foods. After being called out on Twitter, DC attempted to fix its mistake but maintained two of the original covers in question, including one featuring Hawkwoman holding plates filled with platanitos fritos.
“I don’t want Disney’s permission or help; I want to see the Latino answer to Walt Disney.”
Thomas Delfi, the founder of Nerdtino Expo, the first Latinx comic book convention on the East Coast, said the key to seeing more “casual diversity” is Latin creators having more agency over their own work, as in Jorge Gutierrez’s “Maya and the Three” series on Netflix. Gutierrez created his own characters outside the Marvel and DC universes and incorporated his culture effortlessly throughout the story.
“I’m going to go supervillain on you right now because Hollywood won’t save us any more than it wants to,” he told HuffPost. “When Latin creators stop asking for permission to have their work commoditized and open studios or become executives, [these titles] will allow them to not have to ask the industry for permission anymore, but to push and advocate from within in an aggressive and impactful way.”
Delfi cites “Dark Winds” on AMC as an example. The 2022 series is a 1970s noir detective show set on a Navajo reservation and was filmed by a reservation-owned movie studio. “That’s the kind of thing I want to see. I don’t want Disney’s permission or help; I want to see the Latino answer to Walt Disney,” he said.
Carrión echoes this sentiment, likening the boom in Latinx representation in superhero films and comics to the founding of Milestone Comics in the early ’90s by a group of four African American creators who wanted more representation of people of color in the industry.
“Representation is a powerful way that can help our Latinx characters and stories change and evolve for the better, stripped of all the prejudiced stigmas created a long time ago by people that didn’t understand our culture and history,” Carrión said. “The new influx of Latinx superheroes is extremely important to create a change of mentality in today’s society.”
While Latinx characters have historically been underrepresented in comic books, they’re often depicted as villains or second-class citizens when they are featured.
For Latinx comic fans, representation goes beyond negative stereotypes. Latinx people make up 19% of the U.S. population and, despite the global pandemic, accounted for 29% of movie tickets sold in 2020, according to the Motion Picture Association.
“I’d like to see us move to a future where fully-realized leading roles are played by more people with diverse backgrounds. I’d like a future where we aren’t sidekicks or girlfriends of the main character, but real heroes with complex backstories and obstacles to overcome that we identify with,” Gomez said.
For Miranda-Rodriguez, in an ideal world, one-third of all superhero films would star Latinx actors to “truly make an impact on Hollywood mainstream culture.”
“[Hollywood] must take into consideration the importance of the Latinx market, not just in the United States but around the world,” Carrión said. “There is a great opportunity to approach this [constantly growing] market with productions that appeal to our idiosyncrasies. There is a need to feel identified with stories and situations that represent us culturally.”
Part of the way to do that is to go beyond hiring Latinx talent and making sure Latinx directors, screenwriters and crew are involved every step of the way.
“We’re making progress, and I love it — but we need to be in the writers’ rooms and behind the camera more often so our input is included from the start to shape our stories,” Gomez said. “Representation matters, but so does authenticity.”
Carrión touts Warner Brothers’ “Blue Beetle,” which is being produced with a mostly Latinx crew and helmed by Puerto Rican director Angel Manuel Soto. The screenplay is by Mexican-born Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer.
“In addition, part of the filming was done on location in Puerto Rico. The big players must start creating real opportunities for talent to develop these Latinx stories and characters,” he said.
Of course, that includes more representation at conventions like Comic Con as well. While Carrión confirms that Puerto Rico Comic Con caters entirely to the Latinx market, the event receives more international attendees each year.
“The comics industry has been changing its perspective on the representation and inclusion of diverse characters within its stories. That is something that should be replicated in comic conventions and related events,” he says.
Even with the growing audience abroad, comic-related events don’t seem to have talent lists that wholly reflect the audience. This year, two of New York Comic Con’s main guests are of Latinx heritage (Oscar Isaac and Freddie Prinze Jr.), but well over half of the speakers invited to the event are white. The same can be said for San Diego Comic-Con, WonderCon, FanExpo, FanBoy Expo, and more of the country’s biggest conventions.
“The Latinx market is a very specific one and behaves in a specific way — and that is where I think the problem lies in some events. Although we are considered a ‘single market,’ the reality is that within our community, there are many small cultural differences that need to be taken into consideration. It is a detail that only we Latinx understand,” Carrión explained.
As both Miranda-Rodriguez and Carrión know from experience, there is a lot of opportunity for events, movies and graphic novels to integrate Latinx culture in a way that appeals to a wider market without ostracizing any one community or treating Latinx people as a monolith.
La Borinqueña is a perfect example of appealing to the masses without sacrificing one’s own culture. It became the first Afro-Latina and independently published graphic novel added to The Smithsonian’s permanent collection. The La Borinqueña team also released two special edition covers to commemorate Hurricane Maria and raise money for their ongoing philanthropic work in Puerto Rico to continue to uplift and give back to their own community.
“It is not an easy task, but it is not impossible, either,” Carrión said. The one thing that would make it a whole lot easier for everyone involved: Hiring more Latinx creators.
“I think we are in the midst of a popular culture stage of evolution,” Delfi says. “What we are seeing now is a reflection of reality and demographics. That seems scary to some people because it feels like the world is being offended ... when really this is all course correction.”