"Blue Beetle" director Ángel Manuel Soto embraces Latino representation through culturally authentic elements in the film, releasing amid Hollywood strikes.
Director Ángel Manuel Soto didn’t think too much about the “Latino side of things” when visually crafting DC’s “Blue Beetle” alongside Mexican screenwriter Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer.
The film — starring “Cobra Kai’s” Xolo Maridueña as Jaime Reyes, aka Blue Beetle and DC’s first Latino superhero — oozes with Mexican references and elements of other Latin American cultures through almost every scene. Still, the Puerto Rican director says that all of this came naturally due to his and Dunnet-Alcocer’s backgrounds.
“We never were like, ‘Okay, so how are we going to make this Latino?’ We cannot hide who we are. If we have the opportunity to tell our collective experiences because we are Latino, they’re going to come out Latino.”
In “Blue Beetle,” Reyes finds himself in possession of an ancient scarab named Khaji Da made of alien biotechnology that chooses Reyes as its symbiotic host. In a hilarious scene, the scarab attaches itself to Reyes, transforming the hesitant young adult into a superhero.
Soto is promoting the film by himself due to the ongoing Hollywood strikes, which prohibit actors and screenwriters from promoting work under television and theatrical contracts. Still, he made sure to bring his cast along for the ride via a culturally relevant white shirt with illustrations of his lead cast as Mexican Loteria characters during the Los Angeles leg of the press tour. The game is similar to bingo and is popular in Mexican and Mexican-American households.
“I know they’re sad that they cannot be here, but they understand that what they’re doing is important for the future generations, and they have my full support, so the least I could do was bring them with me,” said Soto. “I know they’re here in spirit.”
Soto hopes that audiences will still show up to support the film when it opens Friday.
“Hopefully, people will watch the movie because it is a good movie, and our cast killed it and they’re going to fall in love with them,” said Soto.
The Associated Press sat down with Soto to chat more about the film’s seamless Mexican and Latino cultural references and why he was initially hesitant to take on the project.
Remarks have been edited for clarity and brevity.
AP: What has it been like being on this press tour, having to promote it on your own?
SOTO: I love talking about what I love. I think as exhausting as it might be, because it’s a lot for one person to do, connecting with fans and having experiences with people from other cultures, from other countries definitely fuels the energy cause I’m learning a lot. I learn a lot when I talk to people. I get reassurance, I get empowered. So any depletion of energy caused to forced nights of sleep and constant travel are immediately replenished when interacting with beautiful people.
AP: I read that you originally wanted to pitch a Bane origin story, but instead, DC presented you with this film. What was it like for you mentally having to pivot from wanting to tell a supervillain origin story to this coming-of-age superhero one?
SOTO: I had no idea they were working on something like “Blue Beetle.” Coming out of the success of a film like “The Joker” and understanding there’s other characters that might have so many things to explore, I wanted to pitch that Bane idea. So they came in and was like, ‘Yeah, that’s a great idea. But we got this product here, and it’s “Blue Beetle.” I knew a little bit about Blue Beetle. I knew that Jaime Reyes was in it. My first reaction was that I didn’t want to brownwash something, you know, that already existed. It’s okay if there’s familiarity with certain things, but I didn’t want to be that person that my Latinidad had to conform to somebody else’s expectations of Latinidad. I wanted to be able to be free, and I wanted the actors that I hired that are Latino to be authentically themselves.
So when I said that, they were like, ‘Oh, no, no, don’t worry. Our writer is Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer. He is a Mexican from Querétaro and just read the script. Let me know what you think.’ And when I read the script, I could see that the person who wrote it is not only Latino, but he wrote characters that he knows and they were so relatable because we’ve realized that even though we’re both from different countries, we’re so similar. Our families are so similar. The music, the TV shows, we grew up exactly the same, just in different countries. And we’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is special because not only Mexicans are going to connect. I think all Latinos are going to connect. And consequently, all the people that are not Latino also are going to connect if they’re open and curious.
AP: Can you talk more about how you and Dunnett-Alcocer settled on the story? I love how you found a way for the women to all be strong figures and also to blend all of these Latino cultures in the film.
SOTO: We know the tropes, right? We know the hero’s journey, and we all know the superhero genre, how it works. We didn’t want to miss the opportunity (to) tell the story through a different lens. For us, it’s hard to keep a secret from your mother or family because they’re always in your face, always up your nose. And we wanted to be like, ‘Okay, that’s going to happen, then let’s just keep them in from the beginning.’ They were in the transformation. They’re still going to be their family, and they’re going to bully him because he is a reluctant hero. Not reluctant for a moment, the whole film, he just wants this (scarab) out and then he ends up understanding that that’s his destiny and that could not have happened without his family.
And we wanted to create this love letter to the people that came before us, to our ancestors, especially to the women in our life. None of my family are damsels in distress. They’re tougher than I can ever be. And we wanted to honor that. They paved the way and they are heroes in their own right. So we wanted to give them heroic arcs because it is important to see the women in our lives differently than society has pushed them to be.
AP: The soundtrack seemingly includes every Latino music legend. Why was it important for the soundtrack to be mostly Latinos?
SOTO: You know, the movies that you have seen, every time they go to a Latin country, if they go to Mexico, its always the same music. If they go to the Caribbean, it’s always the same music. And the truth is that, yeah, we listen to that, but we also listen to other stuff. Not only do we consume stuff from the U.S., but we also have great rock bands in our countries. Just because other people have not heard it doesn’t mean that they’re not great. So the same way that I’ve been introduced to other music from the U.S. without any complaints, I wanted to introduce to the world, to the music that I grew up with, hoping they don’t complain about it either.
LESLIE AMBRIZ, Associated Press