TAGGED AS: Film, Superheroes, television, TV
(Photo by Gabor Kotschy/Marvel Studios)
Being online, one often hears the phrase “representation matters.” It might seem a trite platitude until, at some point, a character who really represents you suddenly appears on screen and it forever alters the way you perceive stories. For those of Hispanic or Latin origins, this sensation can take forever to occur as both words cover such wide swathes of people. Within those umbrella terms, you can count Spanish-speaking Europeans, Afro-Latin peoples in various regions, those who identify as Chicano or Mexican-Americans, and the entire population of a whole continent — OK, not the indigenous peoples of South America, naturally, but the point still stands. And when film and TV try to bring some of that representation to the screen, it means discovering the specific to find the universal and connect with viewers.
It is a push-pull every genre faces, including superhero fiction. In the 1970s and ’80s, the Big Two publishers made a conscious effort to include more diverse origins for their heroes. Some of the ideas worked while others — well, we’re going to talk about Vibe in a moment. But as the characters made their way to the big, small, and streaming screens, those characters continued to evolve and illustrate the wider realities of those who are Hispanic, Latin, or any of the many terms applied to this extremely diverse group. As an example, here’s a sampling of the Hispanic/Latin characters who’ve made their way to film and television, confirming the category is both broad and deep.
(Photo by Katie Yu/The CW)
89% The Flash
Played By: Carlos Valdes
In the comics, Vibe (original civilian name: Paco Ramone) began his superhero career as the shockwave-generating leader of a Detroit street gang. He would soon join the Justice League of America during its infamous “Detroit” period and was often the butt of jokes in regard to DC Comics well-meaning but misguided efforts in diversity. And he would remain a joke until the character was selected to join The Flash‘s supporting cast in 2014. As played by Valdes, the character was re-imagined as a technological genius — he created The Flash’s (Grant Gustin) costumes and, eventually, manufactured suits for the rest of the Arrowverse’s heroes following the “Invasion!” crossover — and, eventually, a superhero with the ability to jump to other realities. For the assimilated Hispanic/Latin viewer he also represented something special — a person who never stops wearing his origins on his face, but speaks with a so-called “neutral” North American accent. He is accepted, embraced, and celebrated by his peers and friends, a set of occurrences that can often be hard to find for those who grew up assimilated in American culture. And as Valdes decided to leave the series, the character got to exit on his own terms: finding love and a position of authority in the Arrowverse’s key governmental agency. While the very notion of assimilation is a controversial one (at this point anyway), Cisco is example of someone who went through it and still found a their place.
(Photo by Matthias Clamer/ABC)
95% Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Played By: Natalia Cordova-Buckley
Elena Rodriguez never wanted to be a hero. A Columbia woman who encountered Terrigen-tainted fish product. It awakened her Inhuman potential — a short-range super-speed that also forced her to snap back to her starting point. Using the ability to fight police corruption in her home country, S.H.I.E.L.D. soon came to offer her a place in their Secret Warriors program. Despite wanting to continue helping her local community, she eventually found a place in the agency. Although, it’s worth noting she did not accept the job for a long time. And even then, she continued to go rogue, chafing at the organization’s structure (which was, admittedly, often chaotic). To an extent, she is the reluctant hero — a person seeking to help her community, but uninterested in the wider world. Nevertheless, her dedication and fierce loyalty would prove to be a boon to her friends, even if it eventually cost Yo-Yo both of her arms and, for a short time afterward, her powers. In the end, Yo-Yo proved to be one of the best S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and a key member of its rebuilt teams at the end of the series.
(Photo by Kyle Kaplan/The CW)
94% DC's Stargirl
Played By: Yvette Monreal
Like Vibe, Yolanda was also an attempt to diversify the DC lineup in the early-to-mid 80s, although via the notion of legacy. She took up the Wildcat identity after Ted Grant seemingly died in the Crisis on Infinite Earths, but the character never found a consistent home in any comic book. After ten years or so, she was one of Eclipso’s victims in an infamous culling of third-string heroes in an issue of his self-titled series. And, as it happens, Grant returned to active service a short time later. But on the current Stargirl series, she’s come to represent an interesting quirk: a hero consumed by Catholic guilt. Unlike Matt Murdoch’s (Charlie Cox) more generalized religious remorse, Yolanda is forever haunted by one mistake which not only continues to inform her every decision, but created a huge wedge between her and her family. In some ways, she’s the inverse of Cisco, a Latin character caught between her culture of origin and the more permissive one of her friends. Where Stargirl‘s Justice Society of America offers a place to use her talents and sense of determination, they are also aspects of her character her family expressly dislikes. Despite her attempts to make them see things differently, it is still a struggle for Yolanda to being comfortable at home — or with her friends and as a superhero for that matter.
(Photo by Marvel/ABC)
95% Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Played By: Gabriel Luna
Growing up on the streets of East L.A., Robbie Reyes faced plenty of problems. He tried his best to keep his younger brother, Gabe (Lorenzo James Henrie), safe in one of the tougher Marvel TV show neighborhoods seen so far. Unfortunately, it all caught up with him one night when a gang ran him off the road, paralyzing Gabe and leaving Robbie dying. Fortunately — or unfortunately depending on your point of view — Johnny Blaze happened to be nearby and offered Robbie the chance to become a Ghost Rider. Now riding for vengeance in a demonic Dodge Charger, he eventually took out the gang that caused so much of his grief, and aided S.H.I.E.L.D. when they learned his uncle, Eli Morrow (José Zúñiga), was the true mastermind behind all their troubles in the early parts of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s fourth season. In terms of representation, Robbie’s story, beyond the worries of a young man raising his own brother, is in the geography. Places like El Monte, Whittier, and Pico Rivera — just by naming them in a network series — offers the sense of a world plenty of Southern Californians of Latin origins know, but rarely see on TV, let alone in a superhero context. Uniting Whittier Blvd. with the Darkhold is its own special kind of magic.
(Photo by Diyah Pera/The CW)
Played By: Ciara Renée
As the joke often goes, Kendra was “just a barista” before she learned the truth about herself. She is the latest incarnation of an Egyptian high priestess destined to wander from life to life until an ancient prophecy is fulfilled. It is a lot to ask of anyone, let alone a barista still trying to find herself. While not the best-served hero on Legends, a show known for rehabilitating its characters, her discomfort with being a hero was a strong throughline, eventually leading to her exit. Although her cultural origins were never explicitly stated within the television series, Kendra has always been Latin in the comics, specifically becoming Afro-Latina in DC’s 2011 universal reboot.
Also, we’d like to mention Spooner Cruz (Lisseth Chavez) here. The character was an original creation for Legends, but speaks to the sorts of stories the show could do with a Latin character. Pulled out of 1920s Texas and deposited nearly a century later, Spooner grew up a lonely survivalist terrified of alien abduction. Her encounter with an alien mushroom (long story) left her with the ability to sense aliens. But more importantly, her story saw her becoming less isolated, finding friends, and discovering her own asexuality — a true rarity on television.
(Photo by Paul Sarkis/Hulu)
Played By: Allegra Acosta
As a revamped take on the comic book’s Molly Hayes, Molly Hernandez speaks to anxieties and living with a denied past. Although outwardly optimistic — indeed, she is the first Runaway to consider crime-fighting or welcome new people into the group — her super-strength ability first manifests out of an anxiety almost everyone mistakes for her first period. And for a long while after that, her powers seem locked behind a fight-or-flight response. The strength and endurance are, themselves, the results of her birth-parents’ experiments with an alien mineral. Sadly, she cannot ask them about it because they died in an explosion orchestrated by the other Runaways’ parents. She is instead raised by the Yorkes and a cultural distance emerges for her. Although her adoptive parents want her to be proud of her Hispanic heritage, they only allow her to visit with a blood relative when it is helpful to their own ends. And though the quest for her past is always couched in terms of a murder-mystery, it also speaks to those who grow up with a direct tie to their original culture. That desire for such a connection also manifests in her zeal to keep the team together and her willingness to trust Topher (Jan Luis Castellanos) in the second season. Despite any missteps — and the plans of the villains — Molly became adept at her powers and keeping the Runaways together.
(Photo by Netflix)
Played By: Rosario Dawson
While Claire is loosely based on Marvel Comics’ Night Nurse (and an early Luke Cage supporting character), calling her by that title does not seem appropriate. Sure, she is a nurse and happens to be working a night shift when introduced in the first season of Marvel’s Daredevil, but she emerges as the type who would never use a Marvel-style alias. And her true ability is a conviction she often lends to the would-be Defenders of Manhattan. Although all of the heroes of the Marvel’s Netflix programs had strong moral centers, they all became far more moral for knowing her. Indeed, her sense of morality was so strong that Luke Cage (Mike Colter) had to avoid her once he became the boss at Harlem’s Paradise. He knew what she was going to say and that she would be right. Sadly, we never got to see her indignation at his choice play out, but we can safely guess that it wouldn’t be a blow-out. Claire is the quiet hero, never adopting a codename or acquiring powers. A representative of all those people working late hours to make sure wounds are mended and the right thing is said at the right time.
(Photo by DC Comics; Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
From: Blue Beetle
Played by: Xolo Maridueña
To an extent, Jaime is the Latin hero in waiting. His feature film is scheduled for next summer, but his is one of the most anticipated debuts in years. A more recent attempt to diversify a DC Comics legacy, Jaime took his superhero name after the wildly popular previous Blue Beetle, Ted Kord, was killed under extremely controversial circumstances. It was a recipe for failure, but the creative team — which included Keith Giffen, John Rogers, and Cully Hammer — worked hard to make Jaime a likeable Mexican-American kid from El Paso, Texas who never sought to be part of the DC legacy, but made the best of when a scarab/alien battle armor came into his possession. He is also the Latin hero with a large family. The charm of the character kept him alive after his his initial comic book was cancelled and now he stands as a fully established Blue Beetle who’s arrival on the big screen will be historic — he will be the first Hispanic/Latin DC superhero to star in his own film.
Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the other Latin DC superheroes meant to be part of the DC Films continuum. Sasha Calle will play Supergirl (from a different reality) in next summer’s feature film version of The Flash while Leslie Grace will always be a Batgirl in our hearts even if we never get to see the film.
(Photo by Jay Maidment /© Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / © Marvel Studios / Courtesy Everett Collection)
74% Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)
Played By: Xochitl Gómez
If Jaime Reyes is the DC hero in waiting, America Chavez is the Marvel hero in training. As discussed in great detail in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, America has one of the most incredible abilities of any MCU character: she can transverse the universe. Her control of it is, of course, an issue even after the events of the film. In the wrap-up, we last saw her training with Wong (Benedict Wong) at Kamar Taj, the best place for her to get a handle on reality-hopping. But the power is also the source of her greatest sorrow — they first appeared in a moment which seemingly killed her mothers. Although the film starts her on a road to understanding her gift and that, possibly, she can find her family if she learns to control it, she also represents those who search for a place to belong. Over in the comics, we know she eventually finds it, but if that means we’ll eventually see a Young Avengers team in the MCU is anyone’s guess.
(Photo by 20th Century Studios / Courtesy Everett Collection)
36% The New Mutants (2020)
Played by: Henry Zaga
While New Mutants is not a great film (35% on the Tomatometer), the presence of Sunspot is still worth noting. In the film, he is presented as a conceited rich kid to mask a deep remorse. Like America, his powers appeared at an inopportune time, causing real harm to someone close to him. Naturally enough, it makes him reluctant to use his abilities, even when under threat. It also makes him a particularly attractive mark when the Demon Bear comes stalking the facility.
Beyond the film, though, this version of Sunspot speaks to just how hard it can be to get representation right. Back in the comics, Roberto Da Costa is a famously darker-skinned man of Afro-Brazilian descent and criticism of Zaga, a light-skinned Brazilian actor, made the rounds when the film was finally released in August of 2020. Director Josh Boone told io9 at the time that he wanted to “represent Brazil in a positive way” and “didn’t care so much about the racism I’ve heard about in Brazil, about light-skinned versus dark-skinned.” While perhaps not pertinent to the plot of New Mutants, intra-racial tension between light and dark-skinned people exists in many cultures around the world and casting the character in a certain way would, at least, acknowledge it — just as Sunspot’s skin tone did in the comics.
(Photo by Eliza Morse/FOX))
79% The Gifted
Played By: Sean Teale
To an extent, Marcos is the “wrong side of the tracks” version of Sunspot. Born to affluent Colombian parents, he was disowned when his powers manifested. He drifted into a life of crime as his light-generating powers were particularly advantageous to the cartel. Then he had a chance encounter with Lorna Dane (Emma Dumont) and soon found his way of life irredeemable, joining her in an X-Men–inspired resistance cell. Becoming its de-facto leader by the time the Struckers joined the group, he proves particularly good at his job. Of course, as nothing ever goes well for Mutants, Marcos was eventually forced to ask the cartel for help — but he did it all for the sake of his child. In a television landscape where Latino men are often drug dealers and absentee fathers, Marcos is an attempt to remedy the stereotype by walking him through a life of crime and into a Marvel-style redemption.
(Photo by ©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection)
- - Batman: The Animated Series
79% Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)
Played By: Liane Schirmer/Ingrid Oliu (voice), Rosie Perez (pictured), Victoria Cartagena (Gotham and Batwoman)
Renee Montoya is one of the most interesting Latin heroes as her rise to costumed status was not an orchestrated event (as such). Instead, it happened slowly over years. Beginning her existence as a recurring street cop character on Batman: The Animated Series (voiced by Schirmer and Oliu), the character’s popularity saw her invading the pages of the Batman comics range. There, she was soon promoted to detective and her character began to deepen: queer, good at her job, but prone to destructive behaviors. The latter aspect came to the fore following the death of her partner on the job, after which she went on a spiritual journey with The Question. He soon died of cancer, leaving the costume and name to her.
Curiously enough, Renee has never appeared as The Question in any of her live-action appearances. Played on both Gotham and Batwoman by Cartagena, Renee is presented as a complicated cop willing to skirt the rules if it suits her ends — the exact level of self-destruction broadcast TV will allow for her. In Birds of Prey (as played by Perez), she flourishes as a good cop. Of course, Gotham is filled with bad cops in that film, necessitating her to break the law and work with vigilantes. Presumably, a subsequent Birds of Prey would have seen her adopt The Question identity; she was coded in the character’s colors for much of the film, after all. And, we’ll be honest, we want to see some version of her as The Question, kicking ass, finding clues, and bettering herself. In terms of representation, she is the Latina who eventually owns in the ambiguity of her life.
(Photo by ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.)
86% Moon Knight
Played By: Oscar Isaac
Although Marc Spector is Jewish, the Moon Knight television series introduced a new wrinkle in his heritage by casting Latin actors as his family. A break from the comic book canon, to be sure, but a respectful choice to recognize Isaac’s Guatemalan and Cuban heritage. Granted, the speed of the series meant we didn’t learn too many specifics about the origins of Marc’s family — who could easily be from just about anywhere in Latin-America or elsewhere — but this change to Marc (and Steven) was also expressed in another way: Jake Lockley speaking Spanish. Back in the comics, that alter spoke with a more stereotypical New York cabbie accent. Separating him on the TV show with another language could potentially set up a deeper conflict between the personas and, maybe, another secret Marc needs to uncover about his past to become whole. In that regard, Marc and his alters come to represent how the Hispanic and Latin worlds are not monolith. The terms represent so many rich and complex permutations, defying expectation that even now, some online still wonder how Moon Knight can be both Jewish and of Latin origins.