Chicana Writer Kayden Phoenix Talks Developing the First Latina Superhero Team Comic Series

Kayden Phoenix's A La Brava is a team of Latina heroines who celebrate their roots and fight for their communities

Kayden Phoenix - A La Brava

Photos courtesy of Kayden Phoenix

For many young Latinxs, seeing themselves represented in the media they consume regularly is affirming their multicultural identities and allowing them to view themselves in multifaceted and empowering ways. With the rise of Latinx superheroes like Miles Morales, Marvel’s first on-screen Afro-Latino superhero, America Chavez, the first LGBTQ+ Latina superhero in history, and Jaime Reyes aka Blue Beetle DC’s first on-screen Latino superhero, there has been a rise in representation for young Latinxs in superhero comics and films. As a lesbian Chicana writer and director from East LA, Kayden Phoenix saw a gap in Latinx representation when she noticed that there had never been an all-Latina superhero team; in 2020, she began creating A La Brava, the first Latina superhero team comic series, to uplift Latinx communities and highlight the issues they face across the diaspora. 

“I’m an independent screenwriter, and I was thinking if I can write anything for the big screen, and someone’s gonna buy it, what do I want to see on the big screen? And my first thought was a Latina superhero, so that’s where I thought of Jalisco, which was the first of my superheroes,” Phoenix tells HipLatina. “Afterwards, I was just like, ‘If I have one superhero, that’s fine, but if I had five superheroes, it increases my chances that one of those five will be on the big screen,’ so it was just like a probability thing. So I thought if I have five, they’re a team because that makes sense, and obviously if they’re a team, they’re in their own universe.”

A La Brava is the first Latina superhero team in comic history featuring the following heroines: Jalisco, a folklorico dancer with blades in her dress who takes on femicide in Mexico, Loquita, a supernatural Cuban-Boricua teen detective from Miami who fights demons and tackles teen suicide, Ruca, an East LA Chicana who fights against human trafficking to bring stolen kids home, Santa, a brawler with divine strength and deja vu who takes on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and detention centers, and Bandita, a Dominican-American gunslinger who combats domestic violence. Phoenix first began the series in 2020 after the release of the first graphic novel, Jalisco, followed by the 2021 releases of Santa and Loquita and more recent releases of Ruca and Bandita. Each Latina heroine’s background and story aims to highlight specific issues that affect the Latinx community, such as human trafficking, femicide, domestic violence, gun control, teen suicide, and immigration.

Phoenix, a third-generation queer Chicana from Boyle Heights, California, was always inspired by the strong matriarchs in her life like her mom and grandma. Growing up in East LA, she recalls the friendliness and richness of her majority Mexican/Chicanx community and her passion for classic movies, musicals, and TV, which was shaped by frequent weekend outings to the movie theater with her grandparents and brother. As a ’90s kid, she was inspired by strong female leads like Geena Davis (Thelma & Louise, A League of Their Own) and Sigourney Weaver (Alien, Ghostbusters) as well as many Disney princesses, but she felt that there was room for more strong female representation, especially for Latinas. 

“If you think of any superhero, all they do is save the city, save the world, save the universe, but nobody ever saves girls. That’s something that I realized watching animated Batman series, the X-Men series, and all the ones we’ve seen nowadays: no one cares to save a girl unless you’re the girlfriend. Unless you’re Lois Lane, or Mary Jane, they don’t care about you,” Phoenix explains. “That’s a problem because it reflects reality; storytelling reflects democracy. So who’s saving the girls in Mexico or in Chile, or literally all of Latin America? Nobody is. Who’s saving all the girls that are getting beat up and abused by their boyfriends or husbands? Nobody is.”

After pursuing a career in screenwriting to join the film industry, she decided to create a Latina superhero to pay homage to the memories of her childhood and celebrate Latinas’ power and strength. As her mom was a folklorico dancer throughout her childhood and her grandma was from Jalisco, she created a pitch deck for her first character Jalisco in honor of her family’s roots and heritage, writing a feature-length screenplay and shooting a short film. When everyone she presented the idea to suggested that she turn Jalisco into a comic book, she initially refused due to not growing up with comics, but eventually, she shifted gears to comic books, collaborated with her team of artists and editors, and worked hard until her vision was realized. 

“Jalisco is my easiest and also my favorite, and that’s because it’s most familial since my mom is my superhero and danced folklorico growing up… My other grandma’s de Chihuahua from Juarez, and so that’s the femicide primarily right? So I was like, she can fight for the females there,” Phoenix explains. “Then I was like, ‘Okay, what other kinds of superheroes do we have that we need?’ We’re all different heritages within Latinidad. We have to have a Puerto Rican/Cuban; that’s Loquita from Miami because there’s a lot of Puerto Ricans and Cubans from Miami. We have the New York Latinas as well; Dominicans don’t really get seen as much, so that’s Bandita. Obviously, we have a Tejana because that’s another big group of Latinas, and so that is Santa; she goes up against ICE because ICE is also primarily in Texas. Obviously I have a East LA Chicana, Ruca; she’s my East LA Boyle Heights chola, but they say it as an insult, and I was like, ‘No, here’s a superhero that is a Chicana, and she happens to be a chola; deal with it.’”

When Phoenix first entered the film industry, she noticed how the industry standard was full of generalizations about women and BIPOC. As a result, she began advocating for diversity both in front of and behind the camera to amplify the stories and experiences of marginalized communities. Through her own company, Phoenix Studios, she’s worked to create multifaceted stories to represent the Latinx community’s diversity in the real world. While she’s certainly faced hurdles as a queer Chicana in the industry, the risks she took to put herself out there have certainly been worth it. In addition to A La Brava, she is also the creator of The Majestics, a graphic novel series about Indigenous and Latina princesses, and writer of Lip Stick Cliqa, a three-book series about Chicana vampires that is slated by Sony to be made into a feature film. 

One of Phoenix’s greatest moments was being featured by the Los Angeles Times both in the paper and online just before A La Brava had its 2021 Comic-Con debut in San Diego, where it was officially the first Latina superhero universe. Phoenix describes how because of this exposure, she was approached by a management company to represent her and was brought into Warner Animation Group and Disney Television Animation. 

“That was really cool, just like the power of the press, so that was one of very proud moments in that sense in regards to getting established per se in the industry and being seen,” Phoenix recalls. “It told me that there was a need and that they were looking for it. Like every Latina knows that we have a need for representation, but that the industry is aware of the need and that they are actually looking for it was really amazing to hear and to see and experience that they were actually very much open to it as well.”

In light of her growing success and recognition in the entertainment industry, Phoenix’s family, especially her grandma, are proud and supportive of her work. Despite struggling at first with how to read a comic book, Phoenix’s abuela has read her graphic novels and learned along the way about her work and the world she’s created as well as the industry she’s now a part of.

Seeing how women, especially those in marginalized communities, face discrimination, injustice, and danger on a global scale, it was important to Phoenix that all of the superheroes in A La Brava fought against threats and issues that affect women in the real world like domestic abuse, immigration justice, femicide, and human trafficking. Both in the U.S. and across the globe, governments are slow to address these issues and protect women, if at all, so Phoenix wanted each of her characters to tackle these systemic and societal issues in order to show her audience and the next generation of Latinas that they too can speak up and take them on.

“I hope that they can see themselves as superheroes. They can see themselves as princesses; they can see themselves as lead characters in their own stories,” she says. “You don’t have to go and save the world, but you have to go and use your voice because you have it. For that reason, if you can see yourself onscreen or on the paper… of course you can protect those girls being bullied and of course you can do whatever you want. That was actually my mission statement for Phoenix Studios is to create a superior mindset in every marginalized individual.” 

As Latinxs have often been stereotyped and underrepresented in traditional media and have generally grown up with gender roles imposed on them, Phoenix hopes that A La Brava can inspire young Latinas to believe in themselves and break out of the boxes that sexism and stereotyping can place them in. Through her nonprofit, Chicana Director’s Initiative, she works to introduce Latina screenwriters, directors, and more into the entertainment industry by helping them create a portfolio and bolstering community amongst Latinas in the industry.

“We don’t grow up thinking we’re princesses. We grow up thinking we’re gonna be moms and maids, and it’s just like that’s fine, but you can be that and more at the same time. That’s hopefully the mindset that it instills,” Phoenix explains. “You’re more than what society makes you out to be, you’re much more than the negative stereotypes that we always get in old media, whether it’s film, TV, or books, and that you can rise above it.”

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A La Brava Bandita Chicana Chicana director Chicana writer comic books Comics Jalisco Kayden Phoenix Latina hero Latina heroes latina power Latina representation Latina superhero Loquita Phoenix Studios representation Ruca Santa
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