We are only a month into 2019 but Captain Marvel is already being called the most anticipated film of the year. The movie features a female superhero lead and also stars Dominican actor Algenis Pérez Soto as alien warrior Att-Lass.
The film tells the story of Carol Danver’s (played by Brie Larson) evolution into superhero Captain Marvel as she joins the galaxy’s Starforce, an elite Kree military team that Captain Att-Lass (Soto) is also a part of. Filming began in May of last year and on March 8 audiences will get to see Soto’s Att-Lass on the big screen.
“It feels great to be part of a film this big,” he said. “I really hope they continue to give us Latinos the opportunity to demonstrate that yes, we can do it too.” The bilingual actor prepped for the physically demanding role by taking kickboxing classes but physicality in roles is actually how he got started.
Soto’s career kicked off with the 2008 indie film Sugar, where he portrayed Dominican pitcher Miguel Santos. He was born and raised in the Dominican Republic, in the small town of Quisqueya, San Pedro de Macoris. The same city where baseball, the most popular sport in the country, was introduced in the 1860s by Cuban immigrants. The Dominican Republic has the second-highest number of baseball players in Major League Baseball so it’s no surprise that Soto dreamt of one day becoming a pro baseball player.
This dream was realized in a different way than he hoped for when he was cast as Santos — who also hailed from the same city — in Sugar, directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. Soto’s older brother had mentioned that they were casting locals for the film but Soto dismissed the idea of acting. He instead went to play softball but Boden and Fleck ended up making an appearance at the game and they zeroed in on Soto.
“They liked me but I still wasn’t sold on the idea of being an actor, I was very skeptical. Finally, everything worked out great and my first experience as an actor was so amazing that I fell in love with this career.”
The film was a critical success and opened the door for other films including the recently released La Isla Rota which centers around the murder of a Haitian couple crossing the Dominican border.
“As a Dominican, I was very interested in doing this film because of all the history that exists between the two countries.”
Now with Captain Marvel, he is once again reunited with Boden and Fleck, the duo that discovered him, coming full circle from an indie to a blockbuster. When discussing what excites him most about the film, he says it’s “to be able to play a superhero, to wear the suit and of course, to work once again with Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.”
Latinx are not commonly seen in major films like this, according to the 2018 UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report, in 2016, Latino actors played only 2.7 percent of roles in the top movies of the year.
However, Latinx are known for showing up in theaters all over the US, accounting for 20 percent of opening weekend ticket sales for summer blockbuster movies. Latinos represent 18 percent of the U.S. population and comprised 24 percent of frequent moviegoers — the most of any minority ethnic group, according to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). According to The Wrap, Latinx women over age 25 are the most frequent moviegoers.
While Latinx are making their presence known in theaters, there is still progress to be made when it comes to representation on the silver screen yet when it comes to superhero films there’s no lack of source content to choose from.
Latinx heroes or villains can be counted on one hand. Oscar Isaac, who is of Guatemalan and Cuban descent, portrayed Apocalypse in the X-Men sequel and Jay Hernandez played the role of El Diablo in Suicide Squad. Women are exponentially less represented with only Dominican-Puerto Rican actress Zoe Saldaña of Guardians of the Galaxy.
But in the world of superhero comics, there are some, though still not plenty, of Latinx characters that can be adapted to film. The Wrap listed 11 movie-worthy Latinx superheroes including Marvel’s own America Chavez and they recently introduced “Living Lightning” — a gay, Latino superhero joining the Avengers team.
All this is to say that Soto’s role in Captain Marvel is more than just a role, it’s an opportunity that’s not yet given to many Latinx actors.
“I would love to see more Latino actors on both television and films and in more significant roles,” he says. I would also like to see more be recognized and nominated more often for the Oscars and Golden Globes.”
He dreams of one day working with legendary thespian Rita Moreno, as well as rising star Yalitza Aparicio of Roma fame, who also just became the first indigenous Mexican actress to receive an Oscar nod. The record-breaking and mega-successful Black Panther film recently received an Oscar nomination for best picture, becoming the first superhero film to receive such recognition. Meanwhile, Captain Marvel itself has already made history as the first Marvel film to be directed by a woman.
“I think this world needs more equality between men and women and this film is a great example of that, not only because it’s the first Marvel superhero female with a solo movie, she’ll also be the stronger character in the MCU [Marvel Cinematic Universe].”