He’s a villain, not a hero, I know.
There’s a lot I could say about casting Puerto Rican Bad Bunny as a Mexican character, especially one so out of pocket as to be nearly non-existent in the Marvel comics. But the most important thing for me, as a Chicano, is how his casting in this role demonstrates that production companies like Sony do not value authenticity in storytelling – particularly when it comes to diversity. They’re just trying to capitalize on support from marginalized communities to sell a product. Casting Latin Pop superstar Benito Ocasio, a.k.a Bad Bunny as El Muerto is nothing but a cash-grab, playing off the marketing power of “representation.”
Marvel’s creative decisions seem to be more about what character rights studios have than actual storytelling – it’s courtroom battles for them and trying to remember which storyline we’re in for us (the audience).
With the financial back of Disney, Marvel Studios is creating a franchise so dominant in the film industry, that theatres couldn’t escape even if they wanted to. With Marvel’s Cinematic Universe having its infinity gauntlet grip on movie theatres, video games, and streaming services, what are rivals to do? Apparently, attempt to compete with their own messy cinematic universes. While some may have the creative ability to pull off their own multiverses, Sony Pictures Studios does not. Yes, they have Spiderman but what else worthwhile can they pull from their own arsenal of comic books?
Sony has been productive with its movie schedule over the last few years, with the past few Spiderman spin-offs being a mixed bag to fans and critics alike. Productions like Venom did pretty well while others such as Morbius were extensively ridiculed online. In tandem with these Spiderman villain origin stories, Sony has green-lit a slew of new movies for the next five years – including El Muerto.
But El Muerto getting his own origin movie shows Sony doesn’t value Latinx characters/characters in the Marvel franchise beyond spidies Miles Morales and Miguel O’Hara. A major production company giving a D-tier comic book character its big-budget and support is beyond lazy and incomprehensible. It demonstrates a lack of commitment to our community by refusing to scout out more developed characters. El Muertos’s lifespan in the Marvel comic universe is two issues long, definitely not warranting an origin movie.
I get it, superhero rights are tricky, with multiple media conglomerates owning different pieces of the lineup of Marvel characters and their likenesses. So Sony has limited freedoms in planning out their productions. But they still have a pool of about 1,000 characters to choose from that aren’t owned by Marvel Studios or Fox, with some potential Latinx options like Ghost Rider for one. El Muerto is one of the most unfamiliar and overlooked Latinx characters in the Spiderman world, so it’s strange that he’s the one that gets the origin movie with the celebrity lead.
Why not give Marvel and company the benefit of the doubt? Why don’t I believe they can make something good and meaningful out of El Muerto? Well, we’re talking about a franchise with multiple companies making high-budget films but where I still can count the Latinx leads on my fingers. And then they make their one Latinx origin movie about a Mexican wrestler – El Muerto is an annoying media trope, a Mexican stereotype, masquerading as a character.
And that’s before we get to the fact that they cast Bad Bunny, a Puerto Rican musician, as a character of Mexican descent. The whole thing makes me think “representation” is just a hollow term for Sony that its marketers can throw it around, instead of actually trying to satisfy the needs and wants of Latinx audiences. Sony certainly doesn’t care about authenticity. If they wanted Bad Bunny, they should have picked a Puerto Rican character. If they wanted El Muerto, the least they could have done was pick a Mexican or Chicano actor.
Positive Latinx representation in Sony’s Marvel universe is possible. Give me more of Miles Morales (see the Acadamy-Award winning Into the Spider-verse) and Spiderman 2099 aka Miguel O’Hara. The two being the main characters of the next Spiderman film show that Latinx characters have the capacity to lead these movies.
But it’s important to remember that the Marvel Cinematic Universe does not exist to represent marginalized groups or our stories. If anything, these films always plan to misrepresent the communities they “represent” in favor of attracting a “mainstream” audience. I may love comic books but I’m tired of (white, Anglo) corporate overloads weaponizing that affection against me, my interests, and my community. That’s why I’m moving towards companies and platforms created by and for marginalized groups. Because, at the end of the day, Bad Bunny is not the Latinx representation I want to see on screen when he has to pretend to be a Chicano wrestler to get there.