Oscar Isaac in “Moon Knight” Is Further Proof We Need Latinx Superheroes
Latino men make great superheroes, and Oscar Isaac is proving that in Marvel’s “Moon Knight” (even if his movie character isn’t Latino). Obviously, someone’s race, ethnicity, or gender doesn’t affect their ability to save the day, but unfortunately, Hollywood is still just catching on. Yes, there’s been progress with “Black Panther” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” but a few titles are hardly enough to redefine the whole genre. On the Latino front, I’ve enjoyed watching Pedro Pascal play the Mandalorian. Diego Luna was inspiring as the doomed Cassian Andor of “Rogue One” (my favourite of the recent Star Wars films). And Latinas like Rosario Dawson are finally slated to get their chance to be the protagonists of their own stories.
Of course, it wasn’t always that way. When I try to think of Latinos donning masks and leading stories during my formative years, I come up short. There’s Zorro – but in the films of my childhood, he was played by the Spanish actor Antonio Banderas (who is not Latinx) opposite the Welsh Catherine Zeta-Jones. These were the days when “foreign” meant European and was the only acceptable option. Oddly, my brain also goes to “Don Juan DeMarco,” starring Johnny Depp. Once again, nothing about it was Latinx, because the character is Spanish and Depp is neither Spanish nor Latinx.
Now, in many ways, we haven’t gotten very far. All of the Latino men I’ve cited are relatively light-skinned and able to play “racially ambiguous,” as Isaac teased in his recent “SNL” monologue. But they’re all also loudly and proudly Latino, asserting their identities when given the mic and advocating for their communities as Luna does on “Pan y Circo.” I do think that’s significant, particularly when the US and its immigration policies continue to demonise those who come from Guatemala (like Isaac does) and its neighbouring countries. There are no Spanish kids in US cages. It is different.
I’d also argue the roles have evolved. Growing up, I mostly saw Latino men stuck in the “Latin lover” trope. And that particularly sucks because it means they were defined by how they were perceived (usually by white women), rather than subjects in their own right. Now, I’m not going to argue Isaac is not sexy (my feed is filled with thirst for the man). But his sexiness doesn’t define him or this role. He’s able to embody a whole bunch of different things, as are Luna and Pascal, making their hero characters interesting and human in their own right. They’re certainly more than just sex symbols.
What I particularly love about “Moon Knight” is that Isaac is so dynamic in it. Thanks to some Marvel magic, he’s playing multiple people sharing the same body. This means he has scenes where he switches characters but not costumes, somehow totally transforming himself while standing in the same place, wearing the same thing. It’s impressive acting, but it also drives home the point that you can’t define him. He’s not just the nerdy, good-hearted Steven Grant, plagued by sleeping problems, or the hard-scrabble, morally compromised Marc Spector. He’s both and neither. And my money’s on more characters emerging, letting Isaac embody even more consciousnesses.
All that multiplicity shows there can’t be a single story of Latinidad. We have different stories and different perspectives, and one of our own should be able to transform completely. That helps in breaking the last barrier of Latinx representation – the idea that there can only be one of us on screen at a time. Yes, there are rumours that Gael García Bernal will guest on the show. But cameos aside, Isaac is playing multiple parts at once in the titular role, bringing diverse representations of Latino masculinity with him. I’d call that much-needed progress.