Entertainment and politics are always overlapping because our experiences drive stories and our ideas move politics. However, the last few months, there have been two high-profile moments that have opened up a space for dialogue and education in rapid succession. These two events include the first trailer for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and audio leaked from a Los Angelos City Council meeting. In both circumstances, what “Latinx representation” is has been challenged from within Latinidad.
The connective tissue involves anti-Blackness and anti-Indigeneity within Latinx cultures. While Latinx (or any variation of Latino/a/e) is an ethnicity for the purpose of resource allocation on the Census and political power in the U.S., people of this background can be of any race—most often, Black, Indigenous, and/or white. However, due to immigration as far back as the 1800s, there are significant populations of East and South Asians, too.
As with the U.S., this diversity doesn’t mean systemic inequality doesn’t exist within it. Most countries in Latin America use the caste system (made by Spanish colonizers) officially and colloquially, leading to discrimination for Latinx people further from whiteness. These challenges aren’t new but are probably new to those who tend to flatten the diversity of this ethnicity into a monolithic culture or race, ignoring that discrimination exists within it.
The fallout, in relation to the L.A. City Council leak and the discussion over who is brought into the fold with Namor‘s introduction into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and others), has brought these conversations into the American mainstream.
Namor the character, Huerta the man
As some hailed Namor as one of the first Latinx and Mexican main characters in the MCU when the trailer for Wakanda Forever dropped, many Indigenous voices weren’t having it. In response to an article tweet from Sinebargo, on Tenoch Huerta (the actor playing Namor in Wakanda Forever) speaking up about racism in Mexico and social justice in art, Huerto said he is not Indigenous and “not all brown people are identical.” Additionally, Huerta has clarified his heritage by tweeting about his grandparents (Purépecha and Nahua). While Huerta is Mexican (in nationality), his character is from a kingdom that existed pre-colonization. Therefore, Namor is Indigenous.
To be clear, most Indigenous creators expressing concern about the reaction are not directing it at Huerta, but at non-Indigenous fans claiming Namor to be something he isn’t. Also, there’s a concern about Namor’s background being flattened into a homogenous blend of what are actually distinct cultures. Black Panther did this with the Wakanda tribes, but those real-world cultures hold more political power in their respective countries than the various Indigenous cultures do in Mexico. Understandably upset, Indigenous Mexicans and Americans shared stories and frustration on TikTok.
(Note: “mi gente” translates to “my people” or “my folks.”)
@vanillasalt333 #stitch with @themadzness #namor #Latino #Hispanic #tenochhuerta #wakanda #blackpanther2 #blackpanther #wakandaforever ♬ Cumbia Buena – Grupo La Cumbia
Even stories beyond the conversation of Marvel and representation were being shared. This includes one Indigenous woman in Mexico recounting moments where she was just with her child, existing, and endured a barrage of micro-aggression. People would make comments about the complexion of her child, the child not having a “proper” name, and her solitary cultural dances being “too loud.”
Many non-Indigenous Latinx creators who used the Marvel news to speak up about the white supremacist beliefs embedded even in their own families. A handful pointed out how Huerta isn’t the first Mexican representation in the cast of a Black Panther movie, considering Nakia is played by Mexican-Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o.
@spidey.zero #greenscreen #stitch with @Kari G a call to action to mi gente latine. #mcu #wakandaforever #namor #latine #lantinxcreatives ♬ original sound – chris.
Until the Wakanda Forever teaser, the most important Latinx characters have been Xochitl Gómez, Salma Hayek, and an army of Afro-Latinas—Zoe Saldaña, Tessa Thomspon, and Lauren Ridloff. Until 2021, the only main characters in a Marvel movie were Saldaña and Thomspon. Anti-Blackness contributes to the public discounting Afro-Latinx people. I’m not saying these or the others (Benicio del Toro, Xochitl Gómez, Michael Peña, etc.) are “enough,” like there’s a quota on representation, nor is it to imply quantity is more important than quality. (I have a little stake as an outsider.) However, in celebrating Huerta’s Namor, we should be careful about not ignoring the others that provide important representation despite not fitting into what everyone expects a Latinx person to be.
The real-life, high-profile, and very ugly example a week later
Those already aware of these issues, or those following this discussion online regarding MCU representation, were probably not as surprised as others may have been when leaked audio revealed racist and xenophobic remarks from some Latinx members of the L.A. City Council. While Koreans, Serbians, and the larger working class were slandered in the leaks, the most discussed were the nasty, racist comments about Oaxacans and Black residents of the area. Oaxacans are the Indigenous people in southwestern Mexico, and regardless of what side of the border they live on, they experience anti-Indigenous sentiment.
Choctaw citizen and writer on Oaxacan culture A. S. Dillingham wrote in an explainer on these comments in the Washington Post:
Oaxacan social movements in the early 2000s, struggling against persistent political authoritarianism and economic inequality, emphasized their Indigenous character in mass mobilizations. And Oaxacans living in the diaspora have increasingly embraced and celebrated their indigeneity as a point of pride. Many living in the United States have made connections with Native nations who have similarly been cast as part of the past and inferior.
Listen to the leaked audio with caution, but the many Latinx council members who were once celebrated as a win for representation used their power to further dilute the resources of the non-Latinx and Latinx Indigenous and Black population of the city. Solidarity is used to get the vote, but also, like many other candidates regardless of background, their policies and hateful words show that proximity to whiteness, be it in social power or actual colorism, continues to be weaponized against the most marginalized.
Bringing these issues into the mainstream
By choosing this cultural route for Namor and casting Huerta, Wakanda Forever’s casting director and everyone else involved in the decision are not only bringing more voices to the MCU but are (unintentionally) bringing forth some deep-rooted issues into the mainstream American dialogue. I say American dialogue specifically because Huerta and other high-profile artists have spoken on this for years in Mexico. Huerta has even garnered negative attention from high-profile, right-wing commentators in Mexico, with identical talking points to anything you might see on Fox News, for speaking up on colorism and racism in Mexico.
I don’t want to give Marvel too much credit because, ultimately, it’s a company, and the premiere of Wakanda Forever was rough when watching people stumble around the language used when discussing the cultures referenced in the movie. Even giving space for mistakes in translation and general disorientation of the fanfare around a red carpet, many creatives (on and off camera) referenced the real Indigenous cultures in the past tense, and these people are still very much here. That unconscious erasure makes it easier to discount activists and actual members of these communities.
Marvel’s presence as a media giant just gives everyone a shared starting point to understand these nuanced issues with Namor. The high-profile nature of the L.A. City Council scandal is a starting point for many others, as well. This is going to be rough but long overdue. I’m hopeful despite the xenophobia and racist comments I’ve seen, because even the terms (for example) Mexican American and Asian American come from the coalition building when working-class communities of color are able to work through these differences.
(featured image: Marvel Entertainment and Mario Tama/Getty Images.)
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