- By Kaili Berg
Echo, the latest Disney+ series from Marvel Studios, tells the story of a Native American woman, Maya Lopez, who rises to become boss of the New York street gang Tracksuit Mafia under the tutelage of crime lord Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio), all while being deaf and a leg amputee.
Alaqua Cox (Menominee), who is also an amputee and deaf, reprises her character from Hawkeye, torn between the criminal underworld and the Choctaw family that shaped her childhood, leading her to return to her hometown where she must come to terms with her past, reconnect with her Native American roots, and embrace her family and community.
Native News Online spoke with director Sydney Freeland as she discussed Marvel's partnership with the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Maya’s superpowers and what she is excited about for audiences to learn about Indian Country. We also spoke to Cox about her starring role.
All episodes of Echo will be available to stream on Disney+ and Hulu on January 10, and will be available on Hulu until April 9, 2024.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Native News Online: How is the show different from other shows that you have previously written and directed?
Sydney Freeland: I am so excited that we get to have the MCU’s (Marvel Cinematic Universe) first Native Indigenous badass. We say that because she is not a hero but a villain, and that is one of the things that I find so interesting about the character. What was so great about Hawkeye was the fact that she was a villain and criminal. We really leaned into that. I am really excited for audiences to see different corners of the MCU but also for Marvel fans to be introduced to Indian Country.
NNO: While Maya’s identity in the comics is traditionally associated with the Blackfeet Tribe, why did the creative team behind the scenes make the change to Choctaw?
Freeland: We have deaf representation and Indigenous representation. In the first comic book run, the character Maya Lopez is Blackfeet, and Daredevil is beautifully illustrated, and there is a bunch of Native American iconography and imagery, but it's arbitrary. There are things from the ancestral Pueblos in the Southwest, and it's like, “Oh, that’s Inuit from Alaska, and that's Six Nations from New York.” That's not the fault of the illustrators, but it was just the resource they had at the time when making this. We wanted it to be as authentic as possible because we had Choctaw writers in the writing room. I think that it came about organically being able to engage the Choctaw Nation and their input and advice on things that sealed the deal for us.
NNO: Can you explain Maya's superpowers within the show and why they differ from her comic book counterpart?
Freeland: On the deaf perspective side in the comic books, Maya Lopez is also an expert lip reader. “I am Indigenous, but I am not deaf”, is one of the things we really worked hard to do. [We had] deaf writers in the writer's room, deaf consultants behind the scenes, an ASL [American Sign Language] master who translated scripts from English to ASL, and also deaf-Indigeous actors playing deaf-Indigneous roles. One of the things that we all learned along the way was that even the best lip readers in the world can only understand about 30 percent of everything that is being said. In our efforts for authenticity we decided to deviate from that in the comic books in order for it to be more authentic to the deaf experience. As far as Maya’s powers and how they differ in the series, you will just have to watch and find out how it all comes together.
NNO: What did you love about playing your character Maya Lopez?
Alaqua Cox: “I loved playing her because she is just a really challenging character to become. I had to have an acting coach help me become and use her emotions to be able to become her. She’s full of rage, and when I look at that kind of character, I am able to slowly become her by watching her more and more and thinking about her. She is also stubborn, which I am as well, and that helped me become and embody her.”
We wanted it to be as authentic as possible because we had Choctaw writers in the writing room. I think that it came about organically being able to engage the Choctaw Nation and their input and advice on things that sealed the deal for us. — Sydney Freeland, Director of Marvel Studios' Echo
NNO: What influenced you to pursue your career as an actor?
Cox: I never actually ever thought of acting as a career at first. I was sent the casting call from a friend on social media that they were looking for an Indigenous deaf woman in their twenties. At first I said no, but then I had two other people send it to me so I thought I would give it a shot and here we are. Now I have the role, could you imagine if I said no at first, I wouldn’t even be here, but so grateful to be here now.
NNO: How did you go about preparing to play Maya Lopez? Were there lessons from your own background or family history that were brought in to add details into your role?
Cox: I prepared myself by meeting with the director beforehand. She helped me develop the character, rehearsed lines together, and wanted to bring Maya to life, which really helped me a lot. I had an acting coach and a deaf consultant who helped me on set that would translate all of my lines from English to ASL, and that is how we became Maya with the help of all those people.
NNO: What do you hope audiences will take away from your character, especially within the Indigenous community?
Cox: I think about the importance of family and community because when you think about Maya opening up to her blood family, she struggles with that. She then realizes that she needs to open up somehow and find the understanding of what family means, and I am hoping the audience will be able to see that throughout this series.
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