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How Sony’s El Muerto Could Hurt Marvel Studios

Over the years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has shifted its gaze toward diversity, equality and inclusion. With characters such as Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Shang-Chi, the Eternals and now Moon Knight, Marvel Studios is embracing people of color, feminism and even integrating religions such as Judaism to paint a more cosmopolitan picture. It’s poised to continue with Kamala Khan’s journey from her as a Muslim teen in Ms Marvel, reflecting reality today and allowing folks to see themselves in their favorite superheroes. However, Marvel Studios’ big mission of unity could be hampered if Sony makes a misstep with the planned The dead movie.


Bad Bunny, the stage name for Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, is poised to star in the film based on a wrestler from the Spider-Man Universe. Created by Peter David and Roger Cruz, El Muerto first appeared in 2006’s Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #6 as a fighter whose mystical mask grants him extraordinary strength, endurance and speed. His real name is Juan-Carlos Sanchez, and he’s part of a long line of Mexican wrestlers endowed with powers by this mask that’s been handed down for generations.

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Now, fans are concerned that with El Muerto making only a handful of appearances, this might not be a genuine attempt at bringing the character to life. After all, Sony has struggled with character spinoffs such as Black Cat, Silver Sable and many other Spidey-related properties in the past. In fact, it was only when Marvel Studios partnered with Sony for the new Peter Parker movies that characters of color got more prominence, and a cohesive vision was mapped out. As such, folks have wondered if Sony will stick to the character’s roots or if the story will be transplanted into an American wrestling setting, which could detract from the Lucha libre essence of El Muerto.


Now, Bad Bunny is Puerto Rican, and that country has a strong connection to the art form, not to mention he’s worked with WWE over the last year. Wrestlers such as the Colón family, the Invaders and now WWE’s Damian Priest are prime examples of wrestling pride from there, too, so even if Bad Bunny is playing a Mexican — which he has done in Narcos: Mexico and Bullet Train — some leeway can be given. However, it would feel like appropriation if the journey isn’t authentically Mexican. It just can’t be seen as ticking diversity boxes because that’ll be a clear cash grab. More so, it should connect somehow to the larger picture, akin to Kraven the Hunter, Venom and Morbius, to show there’s a plan for the wrestler. This would prove he’s not just a vehicle to seem like Sony’s capitalizing on a fad with minorities who aren’t given much screen time in mainstream Hollywood.


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A prime example of how to do this right is what Disney did with Charm and Coconutappealing to Latinx audiences but also educating the world. The dead can follow the same path, detailing Mexican culture and how revered wrestling is there — to the point that it goes beyond spirituality. Even if the character’s mostly in New York, there has to be a connection to his roots from him and how both worlds mesh, which goes way beyond a best friend who’s also Mexican or just items from his ancestors’ homeland in his house from him. If not, The dead will struggle to resonate and will feel like a generic American story with a Mexican as the lead rather than a nuanced Mexican story that’s been transplanted and told in America.


Ultimately, the cause for concern is valid because Morbius cut the big arc involving its characters of color, and the Venom movies have been predominantly white. In that sense, if Sony botches The dead‘s journey, no matter what, the attachment to Marvel will have people wondering why Kevin Feige and company didn’t interject since both brands share common DNA. And while the MCU can currently brush off Sony not making great movies in terms of action and narrative, it’ll be hard to wash the stench off of something that isn’t genuine or respectful of other cultures.

El Muerto is scheduled for a theatrical release on January 12, 2024.


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