Superhero narratives are powerful cultural artifacts that reflect a society’s values, and because of their major presence in film and television their role to create a more diverse industry is critical. Aware of this, the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) put together a panel moderated by Gil Robertson from the African American Critics Association (AAFCA), where Kalinda Vazquez (Executive Producer of Marvel’s Runaways) and Venezuelan director Joel Novoa (Esclavo de Dios, Arrow) discussed the impact and significance of this profitable subgenre.
For Novoa, who is currently working on a TV adaptation of Richard Dominguez’s comic book El Gato Negro for MGM Television, superhero stories can serve as vehicles to address relevant issues. “A superhero doesn’t have to be what we understand a superhero to be, the man or woman with a cape that flies around the world. A superhero could be a single mother who struggles with the police because she is being deported.”
According to Vazquez, a storyline like that could work within the superhero realm because at its core it’s a story about a character trying to do what’s right and protect a loved one. “The most important thing for creating a superhero is making them relatable, giving them that human element,” she explained. “Media can be really powerful at tackling social issues because of the humanity beneath it all.”
“A superhero doesn’t have to be what we understand a superhero to be, the man or woman with a cape that flies around the world.”
However, striking a balance between creating these fantastical worlds and also doing social commentary has been proven to be a challenging aspect of telling superhero stories in today’s polarized world, thinks Novoa. Luckily, El Gato Negro, which will star Mexican actor Diego Boneta, functions on both levels. “It would be impossible to have a vigilante today without talking about everything that’s happening around us.”
Though it would appear that for a superhero to reach mainstream success they need to emanate from or join one of the two major universes: Marvel or DC. Novoa believes El Gato Negro is much more compelling outside of those constraints. “He can create his own universe. We want to keep it different and outrageous. We also want to use it as a device to speak about the problems that we are facing right now. We don’t want to turn away from reality,” he said.
The key, both creators agreed, is that any Latinx superhero that comes around should be multilayered, and since no one single character can represent every Latinx experience, real inclusion can only exist when there are multiple offers that exalt diversity.
“Getting to see people of color in these roles is huge,” said Vazquez, who recalled going to see Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse with her family and near the end when Miles Morales tells the audience “Anyone can wear the mask. You can wear the mask,” she was profoundly moved. “He was talking to the young people of color who were out there, saying, ‘You can be a hero too.’ We didn’t really have that when we were kids and I think it’s really tremendous that it’s there now.”
The National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) seeks to inspire, promote, and advocate for Latino content creators in media. As a nonprofit organization, NALIP advances the development of Latino content creation through its programs focusing on narrative, documentary, TV, and digital formats. For more information, visit NALIP.org