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Marvel’s First Native American Lead │ DiversityComm

By Natalie Rodgers  

In 2020, Disney+ released the Hawkeye series centered around the popular character from the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. But with this series debut came the introduction of Maya Lopez, an antihero who is Native American, deaf and an amputee. She was played by Alaqua Cox, an actress who also identifies with all three of these characteristics. It was the first time that a Native American character was featured in such a prominent role for a Marvel Studios project.

But before Cox had wrapped filming for the Hawkeye series, she was told of an even bigger ground-breaking project for her character. The studios officially greenlit the Echo series, which would completely center around Cox’s character. The five-episode arc, which premiered in January of this year, is the first Marvel Studios project to star and tell the story of a Native American character.

Hawkeye is my first experience of acting,” Cox told The Hollywood Reporter upon Echo’s announcement. “Now I’m going to get my own show in the MCU? It’s wild.”

Cox was born and raised in the Menominee Indian reservation in Keshena, Wisconsin and is part of the Menominee and Mochican Nation. After graduating high school at the Wisconsin School for the Deaf, Cox worked at a nursing home and with delivery companies like Amazon and FedEx.

Unlike many other actors her age, Cox never had big dreams of being in front of the camera. In fact, she had only had one acting role ever—a background character in a high school play. Her whole perspective changed in 2019 and 2020 when her friends sent her a casting call for a deaf, Native American actor to play a superhero with Marvel Studios.

Before she knew it, Cox was sitting in a Zoom meeting with Marvel executives officially booking the role and Marvel Studios had cast exactly who they wanted: a talented actress who was authentic to the fictional character.

“Alaqua is one of a kind,” Marvel’s head of casting, Sarah Finn, told The Hollywood Reporter. “She went through a large audition process. We were all rooting for her from the beginning.”

After the Echo announcement made headlines, Cox went to work in her first leading role, working alongside acting veterans like Vincent D’Onofrio and Charlie Cox. But besides Cox herself, the show’s cast and crew strived to make sure that the show was as authentic as possible and brought an even bigger level of representation to the Native American and deaf communities. The show cast other indigenous and deaf actors to play indigenous and deaf roles, had the crew take ASL classes, hired Navajo native Sydney Freeland as the director and met with the Choctaw Nation, where the fictional character hails from, to ensure they were correctly representing Lopez on screen.

Combining all of these elements with a priority for representation ultimately led to creating a story that was accurate from the dialogue and character development to the costumes, languages, interactions and all of the details in between.

Of curating accurate representation with the Choctaw Nation, Freeland said in Variety:

“Representation was extremely important to myself and to everyone on the crew…Basically I said, ‘No, no, we’re not here to tell you what we’re going to do, we’re here to create a dialogue so that we can get your input and create a more authentic portrayal of the Choctaw people and culture.’”

While plans for a second season or other projects for Cox are yet to be announced, shows like Echo are hopeful to bring even further representation to Native American communities and people with disabilities in the future. And Cox is hoping to do exactly that with her position in one of the most popular movie franchises today.

“I believe kids deserve to see inclusivity and accurate representation,” Cox commented to The Hollywood Reporter. “It will make those with all types of cultures and disabilities feel like our dreams can break free from limitations.”

All episodes of Echo can now be streamed on Hulu and Disney+.

Read more articles from the Native Origins community here.

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