'Blue Beetle' actors may be sidelined by the strike, but their director is keeping focus on them

LOS ANGELES (AP) — In a normal summer, Friday's arrival of “Blue Beetle,” the first DC superhero movie to feature a Latino lead, would be a splashy, triumphant moment for its filmmakers and stars.

But with actors and screenwriters on strike, the film's promotional campaign has been without its lead cast.

That's left director Ángel Manuel Soto as the main voice promoting the film, a rare big-budget summer movie highlighting Latinos and Latino culture. Soto has taken the burden in stride and found clever ways to spotlight his cast.

At a film screening this week, Soto and his wife held a picture of “Blue Beetle” star Xolo Maridueña over their faces as photographers snapped them. For a series of promotional interviews, he wore a special shirt with the film's Latino cast represented as Mexican Loteria cards, a clever homage for a movie infused with Latino music and culture.

While Soto acknowledges some initial disappointment with the timing of the strike and his movie's release, he has come to terms with it and said he knows it happening for a good reason.

“You realize if it was for something banal, for something stupid, then I will get mad. But the truth is that our writers and actors are fighting for something 100% legit, and they are in the right side of history. And sure, the timing was off, why didn’t it happen a month later so that we can have our moment? But at the same time, I’m like, ‘If it happened today its because it had to happen today,’” Soto said.

“And my hope is that our actors are treated fairly, our writers are treated fairly, that they’re being compensated accordingly to their work," he said. "And if that happens, then that guarantees us more years of amazing stories to be told.”

Soto isn't alone in hoping “Blue Beetle” is a success so that more strong projects with Latino casts and stories are made.

Earlier this month, 27 Latino organizations including the National Hispanic Media Coalition, The Hispanic Federation, Latino Film Institute and more released an open letter urging the Latino community to support the film during its opening weekend.

“Our stories are universal and need to be told,” the letter said. “Together, we must continue to advocate for a more equitable and inclusive industry, one that respects and honors our storytellers and stories.”

A study released Thursday by University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative showed how invisible Latinos are in the top theatrical releases. Of the 100 top grossing movies of 2022, 46 didn’t include a Latino speaking character.

“Blue Beetle” has been praised for keeping the story of a Mexican American family — played by Maridueña as Jaime Reyes, who's transformed into the Blue Beetle; his sister Milagro (Belissa Escobedo); parents Alberto (Damián Alcázar) and Rocio (Elpidia Carrillo), Jaime's grandmother (Adriana Barraza) and his uncle (George Lopez) — as a focal point throughout the movie.

Soto said he hopes audiences will connect with the film and its actors, even if they haven't been able to conduct interviews or attend promo events.

“Hopefully people will watch the movie because it is a good movie and our cast killed it and they’re going to fall in love with them," Soto said. “And that will only probably ensure to see more of them in the future.”