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‘Miss Bala,’ Animated Spider-Man Show Sony’s Commitment to Diverse Heroes

Latina action stars, mixed race superheros, and blaxploitation icons took center stage at Sony Pictures’ CinemaCon presentation on Monday. At a time when the movie business is being heavily criticized for offering up a glut of films about white men, the studio’s upcoming slate is notable for highlighting an array of ethnically diverse leading men and women.

Miss Bala,” a thriller about a Mexican woman (Gina Rodriguez), who becomes entangled with a drug cartel; “Superfly,” a remake of the 1972 crime classic about an African-American cocaine dealer; and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” which reimagines the wall-crawler as a black teen named Miles Morales, are among Sony’s most-promising upcoming releases.

Catherine Hardwicke, the director of “Miss Bala,” argued that a major studio film about a kick-ass Latina heroine was long overdue.

“The time is right for an action movie where a Latina actress is number one on the call sheet,” she said. Hardwicke added that the commitment to diversity extended beyond the camera — the film was shot in Mexico and 90% of the cast and crew were Mexican.

Rodriguez said that her casting and the film’s focus weren’t about doing the moral thing. It was good business. Latino audiences over-represent and are responsible for one of every four tickets sold, she said. “This is an opportunity to cater to your audience,” she said.

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is another barrier-breaker. The animated adventure imagines a world comprised of numerous Spider-Men, one of whom happens to be a precocious high-schooler with an African American father and a Puerto Rican mother.

“Fans have clamored for this young hero of color to have his own film,” noted Sony Pictures chief Tom Rothman while presenting unfinished footage from the film.

Shameik Moore, who voices Morales, talked about the character in deeply personal terms. He said that one day, years ago, he wrote in his diary, “I am Miles Morales. I am Spider-Man.”

“And now I get to play him,” he said. Moore maintained that Morales’ inclusion in the cinematic Spidey canon proves something that Spider-Man creator Stan Lee once argued.

“It’s really true,” said Moore. “Anyone can wear the mask.”

By it’s very nature, “Superfly” is a remake and doesn’t tread new ground. However, Sony’s decision to release the film in June, which is the height of summer blockbuster season, suggests it is confident that “Superfly” can draw a big crowd. Director X, the music video filmmaker tasked with putting a fresh spin on the crime thriller, emphasized the picture’s escapist origins while presenting footage to theater owners.

“‘Superfly’ is timeless,” said Director X. “It’s the definition of cool. It’s about the fashion, the cars, the hair, and the music.”

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