Expectations are high for the success of Blue Beetle, the first live-action Latino-led superhero movie that opened Friday despite limited publicity– and whose protagonist has a strong connection to Boyle Heights.
The Warner Bros. film stars Xolo Maridueña in the role of DC comic book character Jaime Reyes, a recent college graduate who comes into contact with the Scarab, an ancient relic of alien biotechnology that chooses him to be its symbiotic host.
The 22-year-old Maridueña, a Los Angeles native best known for the Netflix series Cobra Kai, went to school in Boyle Heights where his mother, longtime radio personality and record industry executive Carmelita Ramírez-Sánchez, is the executive director of the Boyle Heights Arts Conservatory.
On Wednesday, the BHAC held an early screening for community members at an area movie house.
The Boyle Heights organization is one of several local and national groups who are advocating for the film, which some say has the potential of opening doors in Hollywood for future Latino-led projects.
Blue Beetle is the first superhero film to open during the ongoing strikes by the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild, which have impeded its protagonists from promoting the film. Earlier this month, a group of 27 Latino organizations published an open letter urging audiences to pack movie houses during the film’s crucial opening weekend.
“We invite you to join us in our effort to amplify the work that countless Latino artists have worked so hard to create. It’s important that we show up for them at a time when they are not able to promote their projects.”
The film boasts a largely Latino cast that includes several well-known actors, from George López and Becky G to Elpidia Carrillo, Damián Alcázar and Adriana Barraza. The screenplay is by Gareth Dunnet-Alcócer, a Mexican screenwriter known for films Miss Bala and Contrapelo. It is the first major studio production for Puerto Rican director Ángel Manuel Soto who spoke to the Los Angeles Times this month about the importance of having Latino creators in Hollywood.
“I am a Latino. Garreth is a Latino. Let’s talk about what we know. What was our experience growing up like?”
We don’t come from privilege. We come from the same idea and the same life. [Latinos] have had to face a lot of stuff — from being marginalized, to being segregated, to being displaced, to being gentrified, having housing insecurity, having fear that everything that you have worked for so much can be stripped away just because somebody with more power can decide for you… For me, it was very important to finally have a hero that lives like we do, that experiences life closer to the way we experience life. A hero of the proletariat, if we want to say. So that we can finally have somebody who gets us…”
The film has an 81% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on audience reactions and generally favorable reviews, many of which praise Maridueñas performance.
“Xolo Maridueña delivers a delightfully refreshing performance as Jaime,” raved Alussa Moore for IGN.com. “The Cobra Kai alum imbues the character with a sort of sweet goofiness tinged with the concern and uncertainty of someone watching their family – and their entire community – face the ravages of gentrification.”
At the Holywood Reporter, David Rooney also praised Maridueña’s performance and added: “The affection that the writer, director and cast have poured into the family unit — with one foot in their cultural traditions and another in American life, with all its challenges — gives Blue Beetle vital flesh-and-blood stakes, along with a steady stream of disarming comedy.”
The publication said the film has the potential “to be a breakthrough film for Latinos.”
The film does not lack detractors, including some who decry that the original DC comic on which the film is based was set in El Paso and that the largely Mexican-American city is Texas was erased in favor of the fictional Palmera City,
Originally developed with a $70 million budget to stream on HBO Max, the film was subsequently scheduled for theatrical release with a boosted budget exceeding $120 million. According to experts, the film is tracking for a $30 million opening weekend, with some online pundits predicting a much lower box office result for Blue Beetle.
Today, the BHAC plans to raffle four four-packs of tickets to a 12:15 pm Sunday screening of the movie. The giveaway will take place in person at the group’s Boyle Heights Lotería Art Show from 4-7 pm at the Conservatory, located at 2708 E. Cesar Chavez Avenue.