Marvel's 'Echo' star breaks barriers in the deaf, indigenous and amputee communities

Alaqua Cox was born deaf and is also an amputee with a prosthetic leg.

ByAlicia Vitarelli WPVI logo
Monday, January 8, 2024
Star of new Disney+ Marvel series 'Echo' breaking barriers
'Echo' star Alaqua Cox is breaking barriers for representation as a deaf, indigenous, amputee superhero in the new Marvel series 'Echo,' streaming on Disney+.

The highly-anticipated debut of Marvel's latest series, "Echo," is almost here.

It's the latest project in the Marvel Cinematic Universe's Phase Five and the five-episode series streams Tuesday on both Disney+ and Hulu.

The audience first met the main character Maya Lopez, also known as Echo, in 2021's "Hawkeye."

She's now the star of her own standalone series.

The star playing her is not only making waves for the fact that this is her first-ever acting role, but Alaqua Cox is also breaking barriers as a deaf, indigenous, amputee superhero.

"It's been a great journey so far," Cox said. "It's been a wild ride because I didn't have any acting experience before this."

Cox, 26, was working in an Amazon warehouse when a friend told her about the casting call for Marvel's new superhero: a deaf, indigenous woman from the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

Cox had only ever acted in a high school play.

"I just am so grateful for this huge opportunity that I've been given," she said. "It's surreal."

It seems this role was custom-made for her. Cox is from the Menominee Indian Reservation in Wisconsin.

She was born deaf and is also an amputee with a prosthetic leg.

"I have a lot of communities that I can advocate for, and most of them are underrepresented," she said.

"I'm excited for them to be able to see themselves through me on the screen. Hopefully, they will think they can do anything that they put their minds to, and they can achieve anything," she added.

To accurately capture all of those communities on screen, director and Navajo filmmaker Sydney Freeland was very specific about her team.

"The first thing that we did is that we made sure that we had deaf writers in the writer's room," Freeland says. "We made sure we had deaf consultants behind the scenes. We had an ASL master who would translate our scripts from English to ASL because one of the things that I learned is that the two languages are actually very different from each other."

She also cast multiple deaf indigenous actors to work alongside Cox.

"On the Native side, we had Choctaw cultural experts, we had Choctaw writers in the writer's room and Choctaw actors in front of the camera," Freeland said.

Alaqua's character, Maya Lopez/Echo, is a crime fighter who turns disabilities into abilities.

"She's a kind of a cross between a villain and a superhero," Cox said.

Cox is Marvel's second deaf front woman, alongside Lauren Ridloff in 'Eternals.'

When Alaqua found out she was joining the MCU, the young comic book lover in her called the moment "crazy."

"She has a different kind of superpower compared to other Marvel heroes," Cox explained. "It's definitely not just like you're shooting lasers or you fly around kind of powers. She has these powers that are more related to her indigenous roots."

In this series, Cox reconnects with a figure from her past: Wilson Fisk, or Kingpin, a fearsome crime lord in New York City.

"There's a feeling of grittiness to it," said Vincent D'Onofrio, who plays Kingpin. "So you get this kind of iconic good-versus-evil thing. It gets quite intense and, at times, it can be violent."

Marvel's 'Echo' star breaks barriers in the deaf, indigenous and amputee communities

That's precisely how the series earned Marvel Studios' first TV-MA rating, for Mature Audiences.

"People die, people get killed, bones get broken," Freeland says. "If you want some spoilers for our series. Because she's in the New York City criminal underworld, bad things happen. We didn't want to shy away from that so that the rating actually came from the story."

The story also takes Echo back home to the Choctaw Nation to reconnect with her roots, in a raw kind of way.

"This series is hard-hitting," said Chaske Spencer, who plays Henry.

"I think that 'Echo' is brutal," said Devery Jacobs, who plays Bonnie. "I think it's emotional. I think it's beautiful."

From the writing team to the cast, the Native American voices are authentic.

"It's about time that Native people are in the MCU," Jacobs said. "That we're able to showcase stories from our communities, and in a really gritty, family drama."

Alaqua is a longtime Marvel fan, and she's proud to be an advocate for people like her.

"From the indigenous community to the deaf community, the amputee community, I wish I had that experience when I was little," Cox said. "I'm happy to be that experience for them now."

Disney is the parent company of Marvel, Disney+, Hulu and this station.