Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. may no longer be in the air but it remains a popular rewatch thanks to its diverse and talented cast, portrayals of amazing women, and of course, great storytelling. We slowly saw the show add Latinx actors, first by introducing us to Elena “Yo-Yo” Rodríguez in season 2. She’s an inhuman who sees her new powers as a gift from God. She stayed until the end of the season and even got an online spin-off.
In season 4, we got to meet Robbie Reyes, aka Ghost Rider, played by Gabriel Luna, and with his addition, he advances how Latinx people are portrayed on the show by centering the Chicano experience. Unlike Yo-Yo, who was from Colombia and became an official member of S.H.I.E.L.D., Reyes has a regular job as a mechanic in East L.A. and takes care of his extremely intelligent younger brother, Gabe Reyes (played by Lorenzo James Henrie), who was left paralyzed after the accident that gave Robbie his powers.
Portrayals of life in East L.A. are extremely meaningful to Latinx Angelinos and Southern Californians. Whether we grew up nearby or are from another neighborhood, the cultural hub of East L.A. represents so much of the nuances of our lives, our cultural knowledge, and the resilience we’ve built. Though some people paint East L.A. and its neighboring Gateway Cities as gang-ridden neighborhoods with nothing to offer, the Latinx community and other BIPOC know that it’s also a place full of great food, community-owned cafés, amazing murals, car culture, and its own fashion sense. It would be amazing to see a Marvel show centering this vision of our community.
Especially because Hollywood’s prejudice against working-class and often-undocumented families (and the small businesses they create) mean we rarely see East L.A. stories given the dignity they deserve. Seeing Reyes’ complicated past on TV was a balm, helping to heal the subpar representation of the Latinx community.
Luna’s portrayal on the show clearly resonated with audiences and executives, who greenlight a Ghost Rider spin-off in 2019 that would have starred Luna and potentially showed even more of his family and community with us. The plans were eventually scrapped due to creative differences but three globe-altering years should hopefully allow the powers to be to work past all that.
Thankfully, 2020 brought with it a different, more everyday look into life in East L.A., Gentefied, which before it was summarily canceled won the hearts of many fans who were proud of the approachable way the series handled social justice-related issues.
It’s hard to say how things might have been had we gotten to see Ghost Rider. Conversations about Latinx TV shows have rightfully become more nuanced in the United States since we first met the character on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in 2016. Despite the efforts of shows such as Orange is the New Black, Taina, and Gentefied, which more prominently featured Afro-Latinx actors, studios still tend to look for lighter-skinned or mestizo actors when casting for Latinx roles. With non-Black Luna in the titular role, Ghost Rider would have needed a diverse supporting cast to adequately represent Latinidad and East L.A.
What we do know is this: Ghost Rider was an imperfect Latinx with a regular job who was dealing with spiritual elements bigger than himself, while trying to get justice the best way he knew how. Considering that so many Latinx immigrants are taught only to follow rules and make the right choices, it was a relief to see a Latino character make mistakes and still manage to care for himself and his family.
Rarely do first-generation immigrants of any background get this type of acceptance from those we love. Despite the fact that Ghost Rider was considered an evil spirit, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ‘s iteration of Robbie Reyes was kind, sensitive, flawed, and a great caretaker to his younger brother Gabe without ever impinging on his own choices. In a time when toxic masculinity has been at the forefront both in immigrant and mainstream cultures, it would have been great to continue seeing Gabriel Luna’s portrayal of Ghost Rider and his adventures in an often misrepresented side of L.A. Hopefully, now with the advent of Disney+, they can pick back up this project and give us more (and more diverse) Latinx representation.