“When we get hit, we get stronger.” says Alberto Reyes in Blue Beetle. The patriarch of the Reyes family – played by Damián Alcázar (Alcapulco) – encompassed 99.9% of the Latino experience with a single sentence in a movie that is the first of its kind.
And mi gente, it got hit, again and again.
The blows started with the captain of the Blue Beetle ship, director Ángel Manuel Soto. He took on Beetle and having begun the climb in Hollywood one hundred miles from the starting line – not unlike his fellow Latino gente. Soto’s first big project Charm City Kings was a king-sized success at the Sundance Film Festival in 2020 winning the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Prize for ensemble acting. The film was bought and given a spring 2020 release date.
Then the pandemic hit.
Charm City Kings would find temporary housing at HBO Max. We say temporary because not only did HBO Max drop the “HBO” in its rebrand, but it also dropped the film from the platform. Blow number one.
Blue Beetle = Big Break
Blue Beetle is the first film under the new leadership of DC Studios. And it’s possible that was to Soto’s favor. New leadership + new(er) director = box office success. Theoretically at least. But, more importantly, Blue Beetle opened the doors for Latinos and signaled an opportunity not seen before – the first ever Latino-led superhero character. This in a generation where Latinos are not only under-represented on-screen but when called upon are cast by non-Latino artists.
So yes, Ángel Manuel Soto was carrying an entire culture and a heavier-than-normal lift on his Blue Beetle wings. That onus is certainly relatable for most Latinos, regardless of your occupation. Who among us hasn’t been tasked with a situation that is .1mm away from impossible?
Familiar Familial Foundation
So what is a director to do? Well, quite simply, you do what you know. And for Soto and the rest of us Latino movie lovers, Blue Beetle hatched with an unshakable foundation – family.
“We’ve been used to seeing Superheroes go solo or hide their superpowers,” said Ángel Manuel Soto earlier this year at Cinemacon. Soto knew Blue Beetle’s main man Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña/Cobra Kai) was going to be a superhero – whether he liked it or not. And he was going to make that transition with his family by his side. “His family has been with him through the entire process. Good luck hiding something from your Latina mother,” said Soto. “We wanted to make them feel like not only they were there, but they also help him get to the place to become the next superhero.”
And help they did. Beetle has some of the most prominent leading and up-and-coming Latino talent in entertainment. In fact, the cast reads like a phonebook in El Paso or Miami. Starring alongside Maridueña is the aforementioned Damián Alcázar, George Lopez (The George Lopez Show), Adriana Barraza (Rambo: Last Blood), Harvey Guillén (What We Do in The Shadows), Elpidia Carrillo (Mayans M.C.), and the ridiculously likable Belissa Escobedo (The Baker and The Beauty).
For those of you who – like a lot of beetles – have been in the dark, Blue Beetle is a coming-of-age story. Well, a superhero coming-of-age story that is. Jamie Reyes returns home after graduating college in search of a job only to discover that his family is in dire economic straits. But, an ancient alien technological marvel called the scarab fuses with Reyes, giving him unparalleled power not seen in the fictional Palermo City – or the real one for that matter. So, what is a beetle, blue or otherwise, supposed to do? Well, if you are a Latino, you lean on your family.
Together this family not only echoes the Latino experience, it highlights the diversity within our own community. Sure, there are elements most Latinos are familiar with. Among the crocheted blankets and novelas screaming from the TV are homes reminiscent of our own childhood. There are blessings by the abuelita and cactus in our yards. Honestly, this fictional superhero does a better job of making Latinos feel seen than most movies made from real life.
But, there are also differences inside the family such as citizen status, political beliefs, and economic levels of success. And that is where Blue Beetle flies above other Latino-led films. It’s a fact that we all know to our core, even though we are all the same, we are different. And that not only needs to be recognized but celebrated.
To take a line from Jamie Reyes, “this sh*t doesn’t get much better for us!” Just as Soto and the cast were beginning their big promotional push, Hollywood shut down, refusing to pay fairly the folks who write and bring to life films like Blue Beetle. Yes, I’m talking the WGA/SAG-AFTRA strike. Unable to take part in a red carpet or a press junket, the cast was left in the dark while Soto talked to anyone and everyone who would listen about the film. For those keeping count, that was hit number two.
Blue Beetle may have been down, but it was far from being exterminated. Latinos did what Latinos do. We support the gente. With the help of its family, the film prevailed. In fact, 27 different organizations came together to support the film with an open letter. Blue Beetle opened up number one at the box office. Officially it banked $25 million bucks, kicking Barbie out of the top spot for a second week in a row.
Turns out Latino-led projects in Hollywood are a good idea. And why shouldn’t they be? Us Latinos make up more than 25% of the box office sales (and 40% of Blue Beetle’s). It’s impossible to know how much more successful Blue Beetle would have been if the strike didn’t happen. But one thing is for sure: “When we get hit, we come back stronger.”
Blue Beetle is in theaters now and is rated PG13.