A highly astute, sociopolitical mindset permeates Soto’s “Blue Beetle,” flowing through the narrative like a steady river. The film is a refreshing breath of unexpected air, guided by the fiery, intelligent, and deeply compassionate Puerto Rican director, Soto.
The storyline follows Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña) as he is chosen by an ancient scarab from an alien planet, transforming him into a super-powered being. Notably, Maridueña portrays the first-ever Latino superhero. The celebration of this achievement stands in stark contrast to the persisting and thriving racism within Hollywood—a complex issue to navigate.
The movie introduces us to a predominantly Latino cast, featuring George Lopez as Reyes’ uncle and Damián Alcázar as his father. Recognizable non-Latino faces also appear, such as Susan Sarandon as the film’s antagonist, who embodies the theme of imperialism masked as democracy.
Blue Beetle’s character has undergone three distinct iterations since his introduction to DC Comics in 1939.
Turning our attention to one of my favorite directors, Soto’s roots trace back to the Santurce neighborhood of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Self-taught in the art of directing through voracious reading, he views the world through a distinctive lens—a result of his politically engaged upbringing by his father.
In 2015, Soto directed the microbudget gem “La Granja,” which delves into the lives of a trio of struggling characters in his homeland. Among them is a teenage boxer, driven to win a match and settle his father’s debts. His trajectory led him to briefly work in LA before landing “Charmed City King,” a film that thrusts the dirt bike scene into focus. The work premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2020.
Fast-forwarding three years from those early days, here we stand. Here is what the gifted, articulate, and passionate director, Ángel Manuel Soto, had to share. They gave us five minutes. Here’s his perspective.
NJ URBAN NEWS: What surprised you most, so far, from preview audiences?
Ángel Manuel Soto: “The most surprising response aligns with what I had hoped for—connecting people from various corners of our beautiful culture. Their resonance with the story spans familial bonds, cultural ties, nostalgia for simpler times, and the long-awaited representation. This inclusivity celebrates those who share similarities with the characters, finally seeing themselves or people they know within our communities.”
NJ URBAN NEWS: It’s undeniably more captivating to portray multi-dimensional characters rather than resorting to clichés. These characters possess emotions and freedom, authentically inhabiting the screen. How do you perceive their role in this grand world-building and larger-than-life action sequences, typically reserved for individuals different from us?
Ángel Manuel Soto: “Exactly. These heroes embody emotions, joy, and authenticity, contributing to the expansive world-building, colossal action sequences, and significant genres that have historically been dominated by those outside our communities.”
NJ URBAN NEWS: I had reservations about George Lopez’s role, considering it as mere “stunt casting.” However, my perspective shifted.
Ángel Manuel Soto: (Chuckling) Yes, I’ve heard similar sentiments. At the outset, many thought it might be “too Latino.”
NJ URBAN NEWS: As the saying goes, ‘he understood the assignment.’ Moreover, we all have an uncle like that in our own family.
Ángel Manuel Soto: (Laughter) Absolutely. I had an uncle just like that, although he’s no longer with us.