Yes, a lot of movie critics and movie-goers are talking about how Latino culture and values were strongly represented and characterized on the big screen with DC’s new movie, “Blue Beetle.” And as a Latina who sat in the theater this past weekend, I must admit that I was proud of the pointed and repeated depiction of multi-layered family dynamics, the love for community and undeniable loyalty to Latino cultural staples. For instance, I loved watching Xolo Maridueña, who so wonderfully played the main character, the Blue Beetle, turn to Vicks VapoRub to feel better.
“Blue Beetle” opened at the top spot of the United States box office, with the film making $25 million in its debut weekend, beating Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” movie.
Me and my partner wanted to heed the advice of Dolores Huerta, so we decided to contribute to “Blue Beetle’s” opening weekend revenue, and on Friday, we headed to a small independent theater, Regency Theaters, in the city of Commerce, just a couple of miles from our home. As two Latinos from Mexican and Guatemalan heritage households, we did not know what to expect. But, we were excited to check out the first Latino superhero film within DC’s extended universe. Before now, I had no idea that Blue Beetle had been a DC character since 1939.
I must admit that I have never been a superhero movie fan; I’m more of a horror and psychological thriller type of girl, but I decided to give this one a chance.
And I’m so glad I did.
“Blue Beetle” is not only for superhero or DC fans. The movie, released on August 18, will also please anyone looking to laugh, cry and feel inspired, Latino or not.
A movie made by Latinos for Latinos
Clearly, “Blue Beetle” is a movie made by Latinos for Latinos. The director, Angel Manuel Soto, and screenwriter, Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer, are both Latino. The movie also has an incredible Latino cast, including Adriana Barraza, Damián Alcázar, Elpidia Carrillo, Bruna Marquezine, Raoul Max Trujillo, Susan Sarandon and George Lopez. The star of the film is Maridueña, who brings to life the main Mexican-American character, Jaime Reyes/Blue Beetle.
Before “Blue Beetle,” Maridueña was known for his role in Netflix’s Cobra Kai, the sequel series to the ’80s hit movie The Karate Kid. The 22-year-old star has Cuban, Mexican and Ecuadorian roots. He was born in Los Angeles, California, to Omar G. Ramirez, a music producer, and Carmelita Ramirez Sanchez, a radio host.
In “Blue Beetle,” Reyes, is a recent college graduate returning home to Palmera City, loosely based on Miami and the Florida Keys, to spend time with his family. Soon after his arrival, Reyes learns that his family is on the verge of losing their home. Hoping to help his family through hard times, Reyes wants to secure a job, but instead of employment, he ends up transforming into a symbiotic host for an alien-like object called the Scarab, that controls and manages the Blue Beetle. But becoming the Blue Beetle potentially places what Reyes holds most dear in danger, his family.
DC’s first Latino superhero
About 10 minutes into the movie, my partner shared his first thought out loud. “Jaime reminds me of a Latino Spider-Man, but better,” he said. Immediately, I knew exactly what he meant.
Much like the title character in last year’s animated “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” the Blue Beetle character feels to me like a refreshing and realistic type of superhero. Jaime is a pacifist who happens to become a superhero with deadly armor, which he refrains from using until he must, and that adds to the situational comedy that makes “Blue Beetle” both funny and fun to watch.
For me, what distinguished “Blue Beetle” from other superhero movies was his balance of politeness and integrity, which left no space for arrogance or presumptuousness, which I connect many superheroes with. Blue Beetle was not trying to prove himself to anyone; he was not trying to be the strongest and the best at fighting or display his attributes. His biggest concern was his family, and that was his biggest drive throughout the entire movie.
Real-life circumstances that are prominent in Latino communities
The movie touches on real-life, authentic circumstances that are prominent not only in Latino communities but in those of working-class families. In the movie, the Reyes family is facing possible displacement after their landlord decides to increase the rent. In California, Latinos are more than twice as likely as whites to be experiencing rent-related hardship, according to a study by researchers from the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge.
Blue Beetles’ father, Alberto (Alcázar), is a working-class father with health issues. Even if he is always an optimistic voice of reason for his son, he is sick, and Jaime worries, which is a family dynamic that is familiar to Latinos and other families of color. Worrying about and protecting our elders, especially our parents, is an unspoken rule. We become the caretakers of the people who once cared for us in our first years of life. I felt my tears and those of many others in the audience come down as Jaime and his dad expressed their love for each other as Alberto’s life came to an end. I had never cried in a superhero movie before.
I’m an only child, but my partner was able to instantly relate to another family dynamic that I think will be a fan favorite: the relationship between Jaime/Blue Beetle and his sister Milagro, played by Belissa Escobedo, whose jokes and one-liners had people laughing throughout the movie.
Milagro mocks and acts cynically towards Jaime throughout the film, but even when they are constantly teasing and bothering one another, the love they have for each other is very evident. “That’s the relationship my siblings and I have with each other,” my partner said. “That’s just how we’ve grown up and it’s nice to see it normalized and portrayed here.”
Another family dynamic familiar to the Latino community is grandma “Nana,” which actress Adriana Barraza portrayed. Grandmothers are considered the matriarch of the family and this is no different in “Blue Beetle.”
In the movie, Grandma Nana is the most respected and natural leader. For the love of her family, she is willing to fight and bring back the revolutionary past, when she was “Down with the imperialists!”
Blue Beetle history and future
Since 1939, Blue Beetle has been a part of the DC Universe superhero community. The character appeared in “MYSTERY MEN COMICS #1,” according to DC’s official website. As a solo adventurer and a member of the Teen Titans and Justice League, Blue Beetle serves both sides of the comics.
Despite what most people might think, the first version of Blue Beetle is not what we are seeing on the big screen. The first version of this superhero was a man named Dan Garrett, an archaeologist who first discovered the scarab in an Egyptian ruin, which gave him superpowers that he used to fight crime.
The second version of the Beetle was Ted Kord, who had no powers but carried on the Blue Beetle legacy with just his wits, gadgets and a sharp sense of humor. Jaime is the third and most recent portrayal of Blue Beetle, a recent college graduate from Texas.
Latino representation in media and movies has seen little change in the past decade. Latino speaking roles grew from 3.3% in 2007 to 5.2% in 2022, according to a study conducted by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.
In an Instagram post uploaded on Wednesday, DC’s co-CEOs, James Gunn and Peter Safran, wrote, “I can’t wait for audiences to meet Jaime Reyes, who will be an amazing part of the DCU going forward!”
Although it has not been confirmed if “Blue Beetle” will be revamped, a sequel is promising. It will not only elevate Latino representation in movies, but it will also help the Latino community feel seen and integrated into Hollywood.