Exploring Marvel’s Inaugural Native American Protagonist

Left: Alaqua Cox poses at the IMDb Official Portrait Studio (Corey Nickols/Getty Images for IMDb). Right: Alaqua Cox with cast members and Kevin Feige, president and chief creative officer of Marvel Studios, speak onstage during D23 Expo (Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney).

In 2020, Disney+ unveiled the Hawkeye series, spotlighting the beloved character from the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. Alongside this series debut emerged Maya Lopez, an antihero who is Native American, deaf, and an amputee. Portraying her was Alaqua Cox, an actress embodying all three characteristics. It marked the inaugural instance of a Native American character taking a central role in a Marvel Studios project.

Before completing filming for the Hawkeye series, Cox received news of an even more groundbreaking venture for her character. Marvel Studios greenlit the Echo series, dedicated entirely to Cox’s character. Premiering in January of the current year, this five-episode arc represents the first Marvel Studios project to revolve around a Native American character.

“Hawkeye is my initiation into acting,” Cox shared with The Hollywood Reporter following the Echo announcement. “And now, I’m getting my own show in the MCU? It’s surreal.”

Raised in the Menominee Indian reservation in Keshena, Wisconsin, Cox is of Menominee and Mohegan descent. After graduating from the Wisconsin School for the Deaf, she held positions at a nursing home and with delivery companies such as Amazon and FedEx.

Unlike many peers her age, Cox never harbored ambitions of being in front of the camera. In fact, she had only played a minor role in a high school play. Her trajectory shifted in 2019 and 2020 when friends alerted her to a casting call seeking a deaf, Native American actor to portray a superhero in a Marvel Studios project.

Before she knew it, Cox found herself in a Zoom meeting with Marvel executives, securing the role. Marvel Studios had cast precisely the talent they sought: an actress authentic to the fictional character.

“Alaqua is truly one-of-a-kind,” remarked Marvel’s head of casting, Sarah Finn, to The Hollywood Reporter. “She underwent an extensive audition process, and we were all rooting for her from the start.”

Following the Echo announcement’s widespread attention, Cox embarked on her first leading role, collaborating with acting veterans like Vincent D’Onofrio and Charlie Cox. The show’s cast and crew were committed to ensuring authenticity and broadening representation for Native American and deaf communities. Indigenous and deaf actors were cast for corresponding roles, crew members underwent American Sign Language (ASL) training, and Navajo native Sydney Freeland was enlisted as director. Additionally, consultations with the Choctaw Nation, the fictional character’s origin, ensured accurate on-screen representation of Lopez.

Combining these efforts with a commitment to representation resulted in a story faithful to its dialogue, character development, costumes, languages, interactions, and minutiae.

Reflecting on the endeavor with the Choctaw Nation, Freeland emphasized to Variety, “Representation was paramount to myself and the entire crew…I made it clear that we were there to engage in dialogue, not dictate. Our aim was to incorporate their input and create a more authentic portrayal of the Choctaw people and culture.”

While plans for a second season or other projects for Cox remain undisclosed, shows like Echo aspire to advance representation for Native American communities and individuals with disabilities. Cox is eager to contribute to this mission within one of today’s most renowned film franchises.

“I firmly believe that children deserve to witness inclusivity and accurate representation,” Cox shared with The Hollywood Reporter. “It will empower individuals of diverse cultures and abilities, fostering a belief that our aspirations can transcend limitations.

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