Hello and welcome back to My Geekology! I’m Ash and today we will take a closer look at an incredibly talented actor in Ryan Coogler’s blockbuster film, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022): José Tenoch Huerta Mejía! The actor makes his Marvel debut in the final film of Marvel Studios’ Phase Four. It is being received warmly by fans worldwide and positively by critics. The “Critics Consensus” on Rotten Tomatoes calls the film “an ambitious and emotionally rewarding triumph for the MCU.” Today, we are going to explore Huerta Mejía’s background and the character he portrays on screen. We will also take a step back and appreciate the incredible moment this is for so many people around the world! We hope you enjoy it! See you on the other side! Oh, and a SPOILER WARNING is in effect!
There was a moment when I was driving home from seeing Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022) when I felt it. I understood it. There is a rippling effect that occurs when a piece of media connects to its audience at such a divine level that they, in a way, identify with it. You saw this with people making the “X” gestures after the original Black Panther film and in a more general way in extraordinary ways, people cosplay the characters they love. I have loved franchises, but I have never felt that pull before, until this film.
When I was little my parents told me and constantly re-emphasized to me not to let anyone, be they peer or adult, mispronounce my name. One of the first things that happen in the film when the Wakandans are recalling interactions with Namor is they all mispronounce his name. My wife told me her family had told her the same thing, perhaps it has something to do with the colonial nature of the story in the film and how colonialism has touched each of our people (I am Anishinaabe and Mexican American, she is African American and Panamanian). Whatever it is, I grew up understanding that it is always more than a word, a name is a connection to our roots and our place in history and this world.
The Feathered Serpent
“I have many names. My people call me K’uk’ulkan, but my enemies call me Namor”
Our first time seeing Namor we are only able to make out the outline of him. He hovers above a dark ocean having just dispatched a helicopter single-handedly. We experience this from the perspective of the passengers, not sure what is happening, feeling that tension. We are first shown the legend: the profound protector of a people: the feathered-serpent god. He is a fierce mythic force, but he is also a man.
José Tenoch Huerta Mejía dazzles the moment he takes the screen opposite Angela Bassett and Letitia Wright. He is an actor overdue for as enigmatic a role as Namor, however the Narcos: Mexico (2018-2021) star is magnetic. Huerta Mejía portrays a re-envisioned version of Prince Namor of Atlantis. Marvel Studios’ blockbuster hit Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022) sees Namor as not an Atlantean, but rather an Indigenous Mesoamerican.
The Los Angeles Times recalls a speech Huerta Mejía made to his colleagues before filming. He said, “This is the first superhero with an Indigenous background, a Mesoamerican background,” He continued with, “It’s a brown-skinned guy. This ancient culture is in his roots. And he speaks like me. We are making history. I told them, ‘Let’s do something to be proud of.’”
The film does not squander the opportunity in its hands. The cultures of both the past and living Indigenous people of Mexico and Mesoamerica are shown with vibrancy. Their languages are spoken, and they are given life. We are given our own gesture in the MCU (left hand open pointing upwards and slightly angled to the left and right hand open and mirroring it downwards and angled slightly to the right). When done, the gesture (called the ‘Líik’ik Talokan’), offers a greeting and symbolizes unity and solidarity.
The actor made a splash at Brazilian Comic Con. He was very open answering questions. Collider noted that Huerta Mejía, “revealed that he never thought he’d make it this far, because Mexican television lacks people of color on screen, and he never saw himself represented as he grew up.” This illustrates what we hope is intentional, is actually intentional. This film has an arm stretched out. Which must have been what I felt that night driving home, a film was pointing at me, maybe for the first time.
A Deeper Meaning
Let’s return to Huerta Mejía, Angela Bassett, Letitia Wright. By the time their characters meet, the film has already illustrated Namor’s physical abilities as well as the fantastic siren-like abilities of his people, however, we know nothing about him. That makes the tension in this first meeting all the more delicious. He introduces himself as K’uk’ulkan. This is the Maya term for the feather serpent deity. The Aztec term for the same deity is Quetzacoatl. It is a being that is incredibly important for people of Latin descent.
The real conversation that is being had here is much more intricate than one might think. When the Queen of Wakanda repeatedly reiterated “Who are you?” with agitation before Namor explains who he is, she is also asking “Who do I have to be in this moment.” Let me explain.
There is something very significant that this film is brave enough to tackle. It takes it on with courage, as it does with the colonial narrative as well. It examines the multiple identities people of color have to take on in their lives. Be they traditional spiritual ideas vs. scientific ones, code-switching based on company, or in the case of the film a mythic protector vs. a human being. This is true for both Shuri and Namor. They have wants and desires but must balance those with the weight of duty placed on their shoulders. Bravo.
Thank you for coming on this journey as we Namor and the incredible diversity of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)! We hope you had fun, and we’ll see you here next time at My Geekology!