Mexican ‘Black Panther’ star fights racism at home
In Hollywood, he is the rising star of the sequel to “Black Panther”, the first major black superhero film. In his native Mexico, Tenoch Huerta leads a fight against racism on screen.
The 41-year-old aims to use his growing fame to break the tradition of indigenous Mexican actors being cast as thieves and villains.
Playing the character of Namor the Submarine in Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” Huerta joins a small club of international Mexican stars such as Salma Hayek, Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna.
The road to Hollywood has been rocky for Huerta, who hails from a working class suburb of Mexico City.
“Like thousands of dark-skinned people, I was called names” such as “dirty Indian,” he writes in his new book “Orgullo Prieto” (Brown Pride).
“Mexico is a racist country and denies it,” he added.
Huerta said it’s a myth that Mexico today is a mixed country where skin color doesn’t matter.
“This is how we deny the cultural and linguistic diversity of all indigenous nations, communities of African descent, Asians,” he wrote.
Huerta, who also played infamous drug dealer Rafael Caro Quintero in Netflix hit ‘Narcos: Mexico’, criticized the way of thinking ‘that puts white, modern, western, on a higher level’ .
Even before “Black Panther”, Huerta was the figurehead of “Poder Prieto” (Brown Power), a collective of actresses and actors who feel discriminated against because of their origin and skin color.
“We are only given characters of delinquents, domestic workers or poor people,” said Christel Klitbo, 40, of Danish, African and Lebanese descent.
Aware of the powerful influence of the media, Huerta said he and the other members of the group see a “compelling need to change racist narratives and practices, which have been normalized, reproduced and perpetuated in the audiovisual industry”.
Huerta hopes her appearance in “Black Panther” – which also stars Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o, who was born in Mexico to Kenyan parents – will help their fight.
“The perception changes if we have these dark-skinned actors, of clearly indigenous descent, in positions of power and influence, who are kings and great warriors,” he said.
Huerta also wants to see changes in broader Mexican customs, such as the popular saying still heard in some homes that girls should marry a white man to “improve the race.”
While in favor of anti-racism laws, Huerta avoids commenting on the politics of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s party, which has pledged to “restore the dignity” of indigenous peoples.
“I believe that the claims of indigenous peoples have not been met. But this is a subject that does not concern me, because I am not indigenous,” he said Friday at the launch of his book.
“As just an outside observer, I believe we could do more and better,” he added.
Mexico is home to 23.2 million people over the age of three who identify as indigenous, representing 19.4% of the population, according to national statistics agency INEGI.
About one in five Mexican adults said they had experienced discrimination in the past year, mostly because of their skin color, in the first national survey on the topic in 2O17.
And three-quarters of Indigenous people felt undervalued by Mexican society.
“We are a new link in a chain that goes back 500 years. All struggles have been the same for 500 years,” Huerta concluded, referring to the Spanish conquest and the fall of the Aztec Empire in 1521.