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tv Native American Representation Debuts in Marvel Entertainment’s ‘Echo’

For Native Americans there is something also familiar about Maya’s interactions with family and friends, with the way the community speaks to each other, and the sense that distance doesn’t mean separation. ‘Indian humor’ is prevalent throughout.

Native American actress Alaqua Cox stars as Maya Lopez in Marvel Entertainment's 'Echo' showing on Disney+ and Hulu this week.,Image courtesy Marvel Entertainment, Disney

SANTA FE, NM —Marvel Entertainment presented a special screening of their latest Hulu and Disney+ series ‘Echo’ in November. The first two episodes were shown to a small gathering and featured a short Q&A with director Sydney Freeland (Navajo).

Streaming on Disney+, the origin story of ‘Echo’ revisits Maya Lopez, played by Alaqua Cox (Menominee and Mohican), whose ruthless behavior in New York City catches up with her in her hometown. She must face her past, reconnect with her Native American roots and embrace the meaning of family and community if she ever hopes to move forward.

Echo is a spin-off from the 2022’s “Hawkeye” limited series. Unlike previous Marvel television outings through Disney+, Echo will be geared for more mature audiences, much like the former Netflix-released Marvel shows Daredevil, Punisher, Iron Fist and Jessica Jones.

The main character, Maya Lopez (aka Echo), is based on the comic book character. She is Native American, deaf, partial amputee and a ‘villian’ set in the Daredevil storyline. She is a protégé of William Fisk aka Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio).

Alaqua is perfect for the role as well. Like Maya, Alaqua is Native American, deaf and a partial amputee. Echo is Alaqua’s first acting role, having been an Amazon/Fedex employee before being cast as Maya Lopez. Darnell Besaw, who plays Maya as a child in Echo, is also Alaqua’s cousin.

The screening presented the first two episodes. Episode one recapped Maya’s history with clips from ‘Hawkeye,’ plus new footage. Daredevil fans will be excited and disappointed to know there is a cameo from their favorite blind superhero (as seen in footage leaked on TikTok), and an extensive history with Kingpin. Second episode delves into Maya’s strained relationship with her family and community as she seeks to make a name and place for herself.

The first two episodes feel distinctly part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is a world where Iron Man, Captain America and Thor are heroes, Thanos nearly wiped-out half of all living beings, and alien worlds are now known. Maya starts off as a mere human criminal working for a powerful and dangerous crime syndicate, but a run-in with an Avenger who tells her who ordered her father’s murder changes that. She begins to connect with her community and tribe, and in the process, ancestorial forces that are awakening.

Yet, for Native Americans there is something also familiar about Maya’s interactions with family and friends, with the way the community speaks to each other, and the sense that distance doesn’t mean separation. ‘Indian humor’ is prevalent throughout with a lot provided by Graham Greene (Dances With Wolves, The Last of Us).

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Director Freeland, who helped develop the series, directed the feature film ‘Drunktown’s Finest’ in Gallup, New Mexico, on the Navajo Reservation, and had directed episodes of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Reservation Dogs and The Walking Dead. Freeland said they worked with the Choctaw Nation to guide the story, and to accurately represent their culture.

Freeland said the Choctaw Nation was at first apprehensive about working with Marvel. She told them that Marvel wasn’t just telling them they were going to make the series, but instead wanted to ‘partner’ with them to tell an accurate and faithful depiction of the tribe and have their input. The Choctaw then worked with Marvel on story and historical and culture accuracy. Marvel recently showed the series to the Choctaw Nation.

The first Echo series trailer was released on YouTube in two versions, the second with Choctaw subtitles.

There are several Native American superheroes in Marvel comics, and Disney+ series ‘What If?’ introduced a Haudenosaunee superhero Kahhori, but Echo is the first Marvel Entertainment property to feature Native American representation in a series or movie. Superhero movies have been criticized for their lack of diversity, though Marvel has produced movies like Shang-shi and Black Panther that delved into Chinese and African storylines.

So far, reviews of the series have been positive, while social media has challenged Marvel’s so-called ‘woke’ agenda by releasing media that feature and star people of color, women or LGTBTQ+ people. Prior to any footage or story details being released, alleged media critics blasted the show.

Much of the same criticism faced Prey, the latest movie in the Predator franchise starring Amber Midthunder (Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux tribes) as a Comanche hunter set in the 1800s. Many panned the movie before it was released, yet Prey was met with acclaim and good reviews when it was released online.

All five episodes of Echo will be released on January 9, which is a change for Marvel Television releases. Previous Disney+ series have been released week-by-week. The change has alarmed some online critics who’ve alleged that insiders say Disney, who owns Marvel Entertainment, are disappointed with the final product and are pushing out the episodes at once to get them out of the way. However, Echo is allegedly the start of more adult-themed television shows like the cancelled Netflix Marvel television series. Unlike the previous Marvel pantheon, Echo is released under ‘Marvel Spotlight,’ and future project include the continuance of the Daredevil series starring Charlie Cox and D’Onofrio.

It will be interesting to see what Indian Country thinks of Echo once it’s released.

Echo also stars Chaske Spencer (“Wild Indian,” “The English”), Graham Greene (“1883,” “Goliath”), Tantoo Cardinal (“Killers of the Flower Moon,” “Stumptown”), Devery Jacobs (FX’s “Reservation Dogs,” “American Gods”), Zahn McClarnon (“Dark Winds,” FX’s “Reservation Dogs”), Cody Lightning (“Hey, Viktor!” “Four Sheets to the Wind”) and Vincent D’Onofrio (“Hawkeye,” “Godfather of Harlem”).

Episodes of the series are directed by Sydney Freeland (Navajo) and Catriona McKenzie (Gunaikurnai). Executive producers are Kevin Feige, Stephen Broussard, Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Brad Winderbaum, Richie Palmer, Marion Dayre and Jason Gavin (Blackfeet). Co-executive producers are Jennifer L. Booth, Sydney Freeland and Amy Rardin. Christina King (Seminole) is supervising producer.

Cast: Alaqua Cox, Chaske Spencer, Graham Greene, Tantoo Cardinal, Devery Jacobs, Zahn McClarnon, Cody Lightning and Vincent D’Onfrio.

Directed by: Sydney Freeland, Catriona McKenzie.