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Marvel’s ‘Namor’ Is Not For All Latinos

Photo courtesy of Eli Adé/Marvel Studios


“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is the latest sequel from Marvel Studios. The film pays tribute to Chadwick Boseman’s character (T’Challa) upon his passing in 2020. In addition, the film introduces the Mesoamerican-inspired civilization of Talokan, ruled by the underwater god, Namor. Throughout the film, Namor [played by Tenoch Huerta] attempts to combat contemporary colonization through a nearly failed alliance with Wakanda. Huerta, who is famously known in Mexico, has made strides in Hollywood with this role. Although Huerta brings Latino/a/e representation, this role is exclusively for indigenous and brown Latino/a/e communities and here is why. 

The exclusion of black, brown, and indigenous individuals predates the mainstreamization of film and television. Particularly in the United States, where minorities [such as Latinos, Asians, Black Americans, Native Americans, and women] were subject to bias. According to Variety, “the history of show business…can be broken down into three general eras: humiliation (1905-42), protest (1942-49), and the struggle for equality (1949-2016).” 

The era of humiliation was characterized by the normalization of blackface. Blackface was used by white performers to dehumanize African Americans. According to History, white performers would “darken their skin with shoe polish, grease-paint or burnt cork and paint on enlarged lips and other exaggerated features.” This practice was popularized after the American Civil War and would open-up stereotypical roles for black actors. This racism did not fade even though many black actors gained fame from these roles. Moreover, other phenomenons, such as yellowface and brownface, would later emerge as well. 

Furthermore, minorities would face political challenges during the protest era. The NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) emerged as the main defender of black actors during the 1940s. According to Variety, “Walter White of the NAACP scheduled a series of meetings with film studios seeking an end to Hollywood’s traditional portrayal of Negroes as superstitiously fearful spooks.” However, their demands were seldom met, with many actors deciding to boycott award ceremonies as a result. Making boycotts and protests was a commonplace occurrence throughout the struggle for equality era. 

The struggle for equality era sought to transform traditional institutions. This included hiring practices, which was the main cause of the Hollywood boycott of 1996. According to Variety, “Rev. Jesse Jackson called for pickets across the country, “to protest the death of minorities in Hollywood as well as the failure of some movies and TV shows to reflect diversity.” The protest was spurred by the fact that only one Oscar nominee that year was black.” Although the integration of minorities had improved, they were seldom recognized for their work. In addition, women in the film industry voiced their concerns about job opportunities with only few obtaining behind-the-scenes positions. 

For Latinos/as/es, the struggle for representation has likewise been difficult. According to NPR, “Latinos have been a part of Hollywood since the silent movie era. But they continue to be underrepresented in front and behind the cameras.” So-called Spanish roles were often portrayed by white actors utilizing brownface. Furthermore, Latinos/as/es were often typecast as bandidos (bandits) or hyper-romanticized. Today, Latinos/as/es compromise only 7% of film leads. 

However, we are beginning to see important change. The first “Black Panther”, which was released in 2018, made history with its mostly black cast. This decision came at a time when black communities voiced their grievances about police brutality. According to VOX, “Black Panther is in many ways a love letter to black culture. Africa has traditionally been an unsophisticated player in American media, often portrayed as backward, savage, and chaotic in everything from news coverage to films.” Furthermore, “Black Panther” offered the black community a seat at the table by prompting conversations on culture, politics, and identity. The same goes for indigenous and brown Latino/a/e communities with Huerta and the character of Namor

Huerta has voiced the colorist tendencies in Latino culture. During an interview with Ruido En La Red, Huerta described how racism was taught at home, with his grandmother preferring his light-skinned cousin. Furthermore, Huerta has called out the typecasting of Latinos/as/es. “They need thieves, they need kidnappers, they need whores. So, they call the brown-skinned people to make them. And we fit under that stereotype,” Huerta stated. With his role as Namor in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”, Huerta hopes to encourage brown pride in the morritos and morritas (boys and girls) of tomorrow.

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