Introducing a new character to rabid Marvel Cinematic Universe audiences can be risky if it’s not stunt casting — think Kurt Russell as Chris Pratt’s dad in “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” — but “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’s” Namor owned the screen as soon as he flew out of the ocean on winged feet, decked out in Mesoamerican finery. Even better, Namor is played by Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta, a relative newcomer to Hollywood although viewers may know him from “Narcos: Mexico.”
But more importantly, Huerta embraced the opportunity to represent people who look like him in a major Hollywood blockbuster. His charisma and passion pour through the phone as he talks about Mexico, how his darker skin made him the object of racism and how the entertainment business prefers “white” Latinos. His activism accelerated when he learned his niece was being bullied because of the color of her skin. Huerta points out that local shows in Mexico and Latin America often star very light-skinned actors but not so much Indigenous or Black or other people of color from the region. “Producers say, ‘Oh, this is because the people demand white people in the movies,’” he says with a mocking tone. “But that’s not true. This movie proves that that’s a lie.”
What does it mean for “Wakanda Forever” to be such a big hit?
I love these kinds of stories with representation not being the core of the story. The story itself was important but representation is part of the narrative. In a couple of weekends, we made half a billion dollars. So people love representation in the best way possible. They don’t care. You know. You’re brown. You’re white. You’re Black. They love stories.
Americans tend to think racism is just a thing in the U.S., I think.
When they say that people just want to see white people in the movies and in TV, that’s white supremacist. In Latin America, we have a serious problem with white supremacists.
The movie shows off Mesoamerican culture and shows colonial oppression but celebrates Namor and his people, too. Was it fun to be a part of this?
It was so fun to make this movie. I mean, the inspiration for Talokan of the Latin American cultures is just an inspiration. Of course, it’s not a documentary, of course it’s not talking about today’s Mayans. It’s about the past, this Mesoamerican past. We have to take that movie from that point — and it’s beautiful. I mean, when you play with science fiction, especially with Afrofuturism or Mesoamerican futurism, you can play with these elements, and you can create this fantastic world.
What did you think when you first saw the film?
Oh, it blew my mind. I think the first cut was around four and a half hours. And that made me feel so proud of my job and the job of everybody else. You know, all my teammates, the director producers. Oh, it was just beautiful, to be there for the first time in the movie theater, just watching this fantastic movie.
Do you want to direct or produce?
Yes, of course I wanted to produce or maybe eventually direct, but mainly produce different kinds of movies. I mean, it doesn’t matter the genre, just so it’s a good story, a drama or a comedy or whatever. But just different stories, good stories with an accurate representation.
Mexico has a lot of terrific directors and producers.
We have the stories, we have the history, so we have a lot of elements to create fantastic shows, movies, plays … but now our cultural elites, all of them are white and all of them are of European descent, and they have the control over the media. Eventually, we’re gonna defeat them. We’re gonna create these new shows and movies. So we’re gonna prove our point that representation matters. [Laughs] You can make good money with representation.