Marvel Studios spotlights Indigenous antihero in ‘Echo’ | Entertainment

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Alaqua Cox, Menominee and Mohican Nation, began her journey as “Maya Lopez” in the TV miniseries “Hawkeye” in 2021. It was her very first acting role. Three years later, audiences will see Cox as the title character in Marvel Studios' “Echo” on January 10.

The “Echo” miniseries will follow Lopez as she is pursued by Wilson Fisk's criminal empire, which brings her home to Oklahoma where she must confront her own family and heritage. Indigenous actors like Zahn McClarnon will play his father and Graham Greene, Tantoo Cardinal, Devery Jacobs, Cody Lightning and Chaske Spencer will also appear in the series.

Indigenous representation also extends beyond the camera with Steven Paul Judd, Kiowa and Choctaw, appearing as a co-writer on the series and Navajo creative Sydney Freeland directing an episode and serving as executive producer.

Cox, who is deaf and an amputee, said her resilience began when she underwent surgeries and her parents were able to provide her with positive reinforcement growing up.

“It helped me become tough, strong and resilient. I think it’s a similar trait to Maya and so I’m happy to share that trait with her,” she said.

It was revealed that in “Echo”, Maya's superpowers will be changed from the original comic, indicating that she has photographic reflexes. Cox said Maya's superpowers would be among the most unique in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

“I love her superpowers, but I don't want to say exactly what her superpowers are but she's able to connect with specific people, her ancestors – I don't know if I'm supposed to say this but she does – she's able to use her indigenous culture and that's largely included with the help of her ancestors, and we have that resilience, and to this day she's able to do that, so it's cool to see that,” she declared.

For her larger role, Cox said Disney and Marvel supported and prepared her by finding her an acting coach and an American Sign Language consultant.

Cox said she hopes Native youth see casting that looks like them and know they can do anything.

“I hope they will be proud and happy to be able to see their culture represented authentically and accurately on screen,” she said.

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The January release of “Echo” is particularly significant because it will debut all five episodes on Disney+ and Hulu, and it will be the first Marvel Studios series to be rated TV-MA, meaning mature audiences only.

Richie Palmer, one of the executive producers of the series, said that “Echo” is a different type of series and that it was not made to have the first series rated TV-MA but to tell the story of the main character without restriction.

“We knew we weren't going to hold back with Maya Lopez. He’s a badass character who deserved all the bad and we weren’t going to limit him. Maya Lopez was introduced in a particularly dark run of Daredevil comics from the late '90s,” Palmer said. “She just brings with her such a traumatic story, an emotional story that we didn't want to avoid and holding all of that back would have done the character a disservice.”

The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and IllumiNative advisors also partnered with “Echo” to ensure Choctaw culture, legends and history were properly represented. Palmer attributed the series' success to their partnership.

“Our Choctaw partners were awesome and always available for us and were there with us when we were shooting some of the major sequences, they were always a phone call away even from the editing bay with Sydney,” he said.

Devery Jacobs, Mohawk, who plays the character “Bonnie,” said the opportunity to work on “Echo” was something she was headed toward because of the story following an Indigenous superhero and anti-hero , working with Freeland again and becoming part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Jacobs recently starred in “Reservation Dogs.”

“I hope that for Indigenous audiences watching “Echo,” they see how badass we are and could be, and for non-Indigenous audiences, I hope people take away the different ways we can be . There is no one specific way to be indigenous,” they said.

Chaske Spencer, Fort Peck Assiniboine and Lakota Sioux, who plays “Henry,” said he was on the edge of his seat when Freeland recounted how the story of “Echo,” who was part of the cast and about Cox.

“I'm very excited to be a part of it and to work with everyone because you have crazy talent on this show, crazy talent from top to bottom. I think people are going to be blown away by Alaqua's performance ” Spencer said.

American Sign Language

In “Echo,” Jacobs and Spencer are tasked with performing using American Sign Language. For Spencer, it was a challenge, due to the rapid script changes that happen on television and learning different accents and cultures in ASL.

“I definitely had some sleepless nights, but it was worth it,” he said.

Jacobs noted the feeling of responsibility of being hearing actors who play characters who also hear but use sign language to communicate with a deaf person.

“For me, I play a CODA, who is a child of deaf adults, and making sure I seemed proficient enough in ASL was really important, it was definitely stressful, but I also think it was a lot of fun. “I'm still learning and I want to continue learning ASL. It's opened the door to a community, to such a vibrant and beautiful culture, that also has many Indigenous people within that community itself.” she declared.

Jacobs added that Plains Indian Sign Language will also be featured in “Echo.”

Vincent D'Onofrio, who plays the antagonist “Wilson Fisk”, plays the character for the third time from his previous works in “Daredevil” and “Hawkeye”. He will appear again as Fisk in this year's “Daredevil: Born Again.”

D'Onofrio said he enjoyed exploring the emotionality of his character Fisk and that in “Echo” audiences can expect to see Fisk's emotional relationship with Cox's character be the heart of the series.

He praised Cox's impressive performance as a newcomer and working with Freeland.

“She will remain one of my favorite directors in my career. She's so good at what she does, it's just that every day on set was a pleasure working with her and experiencing this world with Maya through Native American ancestry,” he said. “The Native American actors that were on the show and their acting and how they felt about the whole thing was really super interesting and just lovely.”

Freeland called the first day of filming “terrifying then exhilarating.”

“Having the chance to tell an Indigenous story of such magnitude and scale was extremely exciting, but it can also be extremely intimidating, but I think when you get to filming you've tried to prepare as humanly as possible so that when you actually can start shooting, hopefully it feels a little more natural,” Freeland said.

The show brought together again Freelander and indigenous talent she has worked with in the past, such as Julia Jones, Jana Schmieding, Jacobs and McClarnon. She said it was a nice feeling, unlike other projects, to feel like the only person on set.

“The Indigenous community is relatively small, so the actors, the directors, the writers, we all know each other, we hang out and talk to each other on and off set, so it was actually a lot of fun and a lot of relaxation to work with friends,” she said.

Freeland hopes that Native audiences will see not only a Native American character on screen, but also a complex and complicated human representation of Native people in front of and behind the camera.

“That's one of the things that I'm so excited about about this show is that we're telling the story of a character who is a villain and we're working in all kinds of shades of gray and incorporating the indigenous aspects things. It just creates a great sort of starting point for a story,” she said.

You can also expect some Native humor in “Echo,” but Freeland said it had to be toned down a bit for the show.

Freeland also praised Cox's ability to effortlessly go from filming a few days on “Hawkeye” to then working on “Echo” for three months. She said it's not something many people can do.

“You have to have a certain type of internal motivation and you have to have a certain constitution as a person. And I think hearing Alaqua talk about her childhood experience, she comes across as a very tough person and I think her Native upbringing has a lot to do with that,” Freeland said.

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