An Authentic Depiction of Afro-Latinos Helps Marvel Win Best Animated Oscar
Sure, Black Panther is getting all the attention for its three Oscar wins. But running against Incredibles 2, Isle of Dogs, Mirai, and Ralph Breaks the Internet for the Best Animated Film category, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse also became one of the first Marvel superhero films to win an Oscar last night.
And that isn't the only significant breakthrough. The lead character of the movie, Miles Morales, is the first Afro-Latino superhero to ever hit theaters, and Peter Ramsey, the co-director who brought him to life, became the first African-American to win an Academy Award in the Best Animated Film category.
The Sony Pictures–produced project recently snagged a Golden Globe and has grossed a total of $359.7 million worldwide to date since its debut in December. Gizmodo Media's comic and sci-fi Io9 called it the best movie period of 2018, animated or not. These are big numbers but most importantly a big win for the Afro-Latino community, who have been rooting for Morales since his introduction in the comics in 2011.
Creators Sara Pichelli and Brian Michael Bandis were inspired by former president Barack Obama and rapper-actor Donald Glover (Childish Gambino) for the character. Born from a Puerto Rican mother and African-American father, he is the first black and second Latino person to assume the Spider-Man identity, formerly carried by Miguel O'Hara. His race and ethnicity aren't the only things that make Miles's identity interesting.
The hero has swagger and a Brooklyn-based storyline that's relatable to those who grew up as inner city kids. His trademarks are his red hoodie and Nike AJ1's — a sneaker synonymous with East Coast culture. During the month it premiered, Nike dropped the Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG Origin Story in honor of the character and film, matching the pair seen on the wall-crawler.
As co-director, Ramsey wanted to make Morales as relatable as possible to minority communities. In an interview with NPR, Ramsey explained why it's important: ”It means a lot for young black and Latino kids to see themselves up on screen in these iconic, heroic, mythic stories…. It's a need being fulfilled.”
As seen in the clip above, the film purposefully had no subtitles during the moments his mother, Rio Morales, is nagging him. Luna Lauren Velez is the voice behind Rio and is also a Brooklyn native with Puerto Rican roots. Cuban-American co-writer Phil Lord sought accuracy in representation. Growing up bilingual, hearing Spanish around him was nothing out of the ordinary, and he wanted the movie to portray that. Lord wanted the language and the experience to feel real, and as such, the audiences hears different Spanish accents. Miles's second-generation accent is different from his mother's, symbolizing the evolution of a family's Spanish the longer they're in the States.
But, as the Oscar win has proven, this movie isn't just a shoutout to Afro-Latinos and token of diversity, it's a well-crafted and executed story that just so happens to be an authentic look at an urban American community.