On his first day on Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Tenoch Huerta gave an impromptu speech.
The Mexican actor, who hung by wires above his co-workers in his Namor regalia – pointy ears, piercings, the shortest of short green shorts – addressed everyone in attendance to express his gratitude and express his excitement at what the role and the meant opportunity for him.
“This is the first superhero with an indigenous background, a Mesoamerican background,” says Huerta, who will make his Marvel Cinematic Universe debut as Namor, the King of Talokan in the sequel Black Panther in theaters Friday. “It’s a brown-skinned guy. This ancient culture is in its roots. And he speaks like me. We make history. I told them, ‘Let’s do something to be proud of.’ ”
If Huerta’s unwavering enthusiasm for Namor and Wakanda Forever is any indication, the Black Panther team did just that.
“It was crazy heartfelt,” says Wakanda Forever director Ryan Coogler of Huerta’s speech, which caught everyone’s attention. “He said he wouldn’t take the opportunity lightly to play the first indigenous Latino hero in the MCU. It was crazy, but at the same time he’s the guy who does it [and] also the guy who goes around in green underwear and fools around.”
Huerta’s playful, down-to-earth charm and gentle spirit contrast sharply with the simmering intensity he brings to the role of Namor, the ruler and overpowering protector of an underwater kingdom descended from an ancient Mayan civilization. What they do share, however, is a fierce passion for their culture and the people in their community.
With his enhanced strength, speed, and ability to fly, Namor is the definition of Superman. But what drives him, as shown in Wakanda Forever, is incredibly human.
“He’s a guy who’s trying to protect his family,” says Huerta. “He protects his culture. He protects his city and the things he loves most: his memory, his legacy and his heritage. I think everyone around the world can understand his motivations.”
One of Marvel’s oldest characters, Namor, also known as the Sub-Mariner, made his comic book debut in Marvel Comics #1 in 1939. A half-human, half-Atlantean mutant, Namor’s commitment to protecting his people means that he has fought with and against superhero teams such as the Avengers, X-Men and the Fantastic Four over the years.
Coogler, who also wrote the screenplay for Wakanda Forever with Joe Robert Cole, describes the comic book Namor as “kind of A-” who is “very magnetic.” His frequent clashes with T’Challa on the side made Namor a character that Coogler had wanted to bring to screens since developing the first Black Panther movie, but rights issues then kept the character off limits. With Namor’s film rights no longer an issue for the sequel, the filmmakers were finally able to focus on developing a version of Namor that makes sense for the world of Black Panther for the character’s live-action debut.
Because the “key ingredients” of a “Black Panther” film include “a deep sense of cultural idiosyncrasy,” including exploring themes of colonization and resistance, the filmmakers looked beyond conventional portrayal as inspiration for the MCU version of the submarine of the classic Atlantis society.
The similarities and differences between the histories of Africa and the Americas drew her attention to Mesoamerica. Like Wakanda, Talokan is a fictional place that draws on a number of specific cultural influences to appear authentic and real. It’s a place that Coogler hopes will “give viewers a reason to feel the same feelings they felt when they saw the first film.”
Wakanda Forever is also a film about grief and how the leaders of two different nations who share similar wounds respond to their pain. It’s a particularly resonant topic, not least because of the unexpected death of “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman in 2020.
For Coogler, Huerta’s “passion for race relations in Mexico” was the “icing on the cake” of his casting. The filmmaker was already impressed by Huerta’s work on films like Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Sin Nombre (2009) and Sam Fleischner’s Stand Clear of the Closing Doors (2013) before the actor was called up as a Black Panther team a contestant for the role of Namor.
“I thought the depth of this guy and the passion he had when he spoke about his Indigenous Mesoamerican identity was just brilliant,” says Coogler. “I thought it would suit my cast because I have a cast full of actors who are passionate about human issues and causes. He feels like he’s one of us.”
English-speaking US audiences may recognize Huerta from his recent work in films such as The Forever Purge (2021) and Madres (2021) or the series Narcos: Mexico. But the 41-year-old actor has been building his resume since making his professional debut at 25. He has also long been open about racism and colorism in Mexico, even writing a book, Orgullo Prieto – Brown Pride – on the subject.
“In Latin America we have a serious racism problem,” says Huerta. “It’s a different dynamic [than in the U.S.] because here people are segregated and forcibly integrated into Mexico and Latin America.”
This forced integration, Huerta explains, involves the erasure of non-Western and non-White identities, customs, languages, faces, voices and more.
“They delete everything,” says Huerta. “One has to adapt to western culture in order to be able to reach goods and services. You must erase your identity to have a life. This is cruel.”
It’s a tinge of racism that’s manifest in history books that describe tribal peoples as savage and uncivilized while turning a blind eye to the inhuman acts of white Europeans. And one that Angelenos have better braced themselves for after audio of three LA City Council members and a county labor official, all Latinos, leaked and made national headlines in October.
This anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism also affects media representation. Huerta notes that television and film in Latin America are predominantly composed of white performers, barring minor, stereotypical roles.
“Brown-skinned people, black people, [the representation] is not there,” says Huerta. “We are invisible to them. If you are invisible, you do not exist. There is nothing more cruel than denying the existence of the people. she [have been] deny us for a long time.”
One of Huerta’s hopes is that Mesoamerican representation in Wakanda Forever can promote understanding for the indigenous communities still living here.
“I hope this film helps [people] respect the indigenous people that exist today,” says Huerta. “They resist and they defend their territories and they fight for their autonomy and the right to exist as they have existed for the last 1,000 or 2,000 years.”
This trend of under-representation is not unique to Latin American media. Study after study has shown that Latino representation in Hollywood has been abysmal for years. This continued lack of representation is one of the reasons acting wasn’t originally a career that Huerta wanted to pursue.
Huerta grew up in Ecatepec, a neighborhood in Mexico City that he describes as “not poor, but not exactly middle-class.” He majored in journalism in college, which he says cost him a full dollar because in Mexico, “education is a right, not a privilege.” It was only after seeing the audience’s explosive, enthusiastic reaction to one of his films during his second trip to the Cannes Film Festival that Huerta accepted that he was an actor after years of working professionally.
“I wanted to be a Jedi,” says Huerta, also citing Spider-Man and a certain caped Crusader from that other comic book publisher as some of the fictional heroes he was attracted to growing up.
But “my father and mother are my most important personal heroes,” says Huerta. His father started working at the age of 5 and later juggled his job, children and college to earn an engineering degree. Huerta credits his mother for “taking care of us all” and pushing him and his siblings to pursue their careers.
Wakanda Forever is Huerta’s most iconic project to date, but what’s most meaningful to Huerta is how Wakanda Forever continues the legacy of Black Panther. He hopes through Namor and Talokan, more people can share the experience audiences had after seeing the first film set in Wakanda.
“‘Black Panther’ moved many people, many hearts,” says Huerta. “It has helped people to be proud of who they are. … I hope Wakanda Forever can help people, especially in Latin America, the brown-skinned people, to look at themselves in the mirror and say, ‘This is me and I’m proud.’ ”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-11-07/black-panther-wakanda-forever-tenoch-huerta-namor-marvel ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’: Meet Namor, Tenoch Huerta