Representation has been a hot topic in recent years in Hollywood. Not only representation in front of the screen but behind-the-scenes. Blue Beetle is the first Latino superhero coming to life in the DC Universe and it was more than fitting to find a Latino director to write and direct this groundbreaking moment. While creatives of any background should not be boxed in to only creating stories that they know, in the case of Blue Beetle it needed to be told from within and from folks who understand that Latinos are not a monolith and the commonality that tie all of them together to bring to life something everyone can be proud of and see themselves in.
Ángel Manuel Soto had no easy task in bringing not only a new superhero film to life but the added burden of getting Latino representation right. Soto was born in Puerto Rico and started directing and writing short films in 2011. His feature film, La Granja premiered at Fantastic Fest in 2015. He then directed Charm City Kings in 2020 and now Blue Beetle.
I chatted with Soto at the place where it all started in 2015, at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar Highball room in Austin, Texas. It was nice to connect about La Granja and the review I had only remembered I did when he mentioned it in his introduction to the Blue Beetle screening the night prior. When talking to Soto, I could feel the care and thoughtfulness that was put into the film and making sure to get it right and it was fun to get to dive into his film festival origins and some of the Blue Beetle homages to films that inspired him growing up as a child.
Catherine Gonzales: Congrats on Blue Beetle! In your intro to the film, you mentioned being in Austin at Fantastic Fest 2015 with La Granja. I remembered reviewing that film. It was also my first time attending Fantastic Fest.
Ángel Manuel Soto: Yeah!! I remember Shuffle Online.
CG: I read it again before this interview and was like, what did I say? (laughs) It was all good things, luckily.
AMS: It was good. I remember. Yeah, that was my first experience dealing with reviews was with La Granja. And I remember your review. It was an encouraging review.
CG: From that experience, can you talk about how important festivals are for an indie filmmaker starting off and what you took away from that experience?
AMS: Well, 100% it would be impossible for me to say that where I am today wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for festivals, like Fantastic Fest. It was the world premiere of my movie. It was my first movie ever, made without much resources, done in Puerto Rico and in Spanish. It was very like ours and realized that there was an outlet outside of Puerto Rico that exists in these types of festivals. And having the opportunity also to have met my manager and agents here, meant a lot to me. So, coming back full circle and being in the same place where I had my World Premiere means a lot to me. Especially because Austin has been so kind.
CG: Yeah. And you got Franklin’s barbecue experience with the Blue Beetle event in Austin. How was that?
AMS: Oh, yeah. That was so good. So good. I didn’t know how hard it was to get in there. I’ve heard a lot, so being able to have it all for ourselves and have a good barbecue. That was worth it.
CG: You mentioned in other interviews that Blue Beetle is a stand alone film and is its own story. I couldn’t help to hear the 80s retro vibe with the synth music. And I don’t know if it was an homage to Sarah Connor but Jenny Kord’s outfit with her sweat pants and white tank felt in the spirit of that character. Did you grow up on 80s films and infused it into building the Blue Beetle style?
AMS: One hundred percent. All the things that we had a lot of fun with, especially the writer and I, was figuring out how we can tell a story because everything tries to be so focused on the future, right? And trying to honor a legacy and where we come from? We were like, how can we pay homage to the films that made us and have some fun through creating that. Growing up I remember when I first watched Indiana Jones, that was the first movie I saw in the theater. I just wanted to do Indiana Jones but in the fortress of Puerto Rico. Right. Now you fast forward 30 years or something. And we were able to shoot in El Morro, Puerto Rico adventure-action sequences that are homages to those films that made us.
Same thing with the music. We wanted to create this warmth feel with a soundtrack that felt nostalgic, but also felt cozy when it comes to homes we grew up in. So you have those needle drops that are references to the music our parents used to listen to mixed in with the stuff that we listen to today. Then creating an original score from Bobby Krlic who killed it and played homage to the Tangerine Dream synth wave era of the 80s and tried to apply it to what a superhero would look like that happens to be Latino. Us Latinos consume all types of music. We don’t just listen to the stuff that’s from our particular countries. We do, but we also consume everything else. I feel like bringing all that into this melting pot made for a very exciting experience.
CG: Yeah, it’s nice to hear “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” and also have the 80s synth. So it felt very new and fresh, but also homey. Very different.
AMS: Everybody’s different, every home is different. And every experience is different. This is just a snippet of the whole Latino collective. So hopefully we can see more stories and hear more of our flavors.
CG:I loved when you said that the Latino representation and specificity in culture is universal. What has the reaction been from the people who have seen it with this in mind?
AMS: It’s been connecting with people. One of the things that we believed in and actually bet on was the fact that being authentically who we are is more appealing than faking something else. This generation especially has had enough with the whole idea of trying to mold yourself to what society expects of you and embrace who you truly are. Latinos have often been put in a box or have been told this is the Latino we accept. And I don’t vibe with that.
I wanted this to feel like this is authentically ourselves. And because we’re being authentically ourselves, people respond to that more. I think there’s better respect. I respect when somebody’s not trying to be fake. So, by being authentic it connects with other people because emotions are universal. What we say what we don’t say, sure that changes, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that we are humans and that we have the capacity to connect. So by embracing who we truly are, whether you know it or not, it either will feel like oh, this is part of me, or you’re either going to be drawn by curiosity. So if somebody ever feels repelled by being authentically ourselves, there’s bridges to make through conversation, research and understanding because we’re all a big family.
CG: Well, I think that’s all the time we have. Thank you so much.
AMS: Thank you. Thank you for your time. That means a lot and great questions.
Warner Brothers will release Blue Beetle only in theaters on August 18.