The Cultural Importance of Robbie Reyes in the MCU

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I was at the panel at San Diego Comic Con in July when Robbie Reyes was announced as the Ghost Rider and, at the time, the only Ghost Rider I knew was Johnny Blaze. I did some research and found it encouraging that Reyes, a Latinx character, would be shown on Agents of SHIELD but was skeptical of the potential tropes that might follow.

In the MCU, Robbie is a young Latino man from the streets of East L.A. The location of his origin alone is one full of cultural significance to the Latino community, and I feel that Agents of SHIELD does a wonderful job of portraying certain aspects of Latinx culture on television without treading into trope territory.

I was born and raised in inner-city San Antonio – a predominately Hispanic city. The high school that I graduated from was 94% Hispanic/Latino and the high school I currently teach at is 96% Hispanic/Latino. In college, I studied media, pop culture, and the representation of women and minorities in the media. and, as a self-professed geek, I find it personally important that the media we consume be a reflection of our society. Agents of SHIELD has always, in my opinion, been the trailblazer of diversity in the MCU. The show introduced our first Asian-American superhero to television, frequently passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors, and does a wonderful job including people of various identities in prominent roles. Because of the show’s history of inclusivity, I was immediately excited about Robbie’s addition, but skeptical of Latino tropes frequently seen on television (think the sitcom George Lopez).

Murales

Walk around the streets of West San Antonio or East Los Angeles and one thing might be evident to you – there are plenty of murals. Everywhere. I grew up in a neighborhood where murals were on the walls of gas stations and laundromats and didn’t pay much attention to them until I was in college when I revisited many of them and learned about their origins. Art is meant to provoke. It’s meant to stir and to make you ask questions. In the Latinx culture, it’s common for activists to team up with artists to create murals not just for the sake of aesthetic, but to say something. No paint stroke is an accident.

There was something very organic about this mural being included in the show. It shows the urban legend of the Rider and his supposed kill count as shown in the crossbones. The skull is not just any skull – it’s a distinctly Latinx skull – decorated with designs not dissimilar from sugar skulls, which are shared on holidays like Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). The Los Angeles cityscape in the background is shrouded by the dominance of the skull in the foreground, and the cars in behind the skull could represent Robbie’s own hot rod or the car culture of East LA, which I’ll talk about next.

Car Culture

In films and literature, the “car culture” is often shown as being an important aspect of Latinx culture. It’s not uncommon to see scenes of hot rods, races, mechanic shops, or gatherings around swap meets or car shows in films in which the setting is in a predominately Latinx location. The credit here is due a lot to the writer, Felipe Smith, of Robbie Reyes in his comic. (Read more about Felipe Smith here.) Robbie’s transportation isn’t a flaming motorcycle or even a flaming horse. His ride is a flaming classic muscle car – a 1969 Dodge Charger.

Robbie is shown as being compassionate in his caring for his physically disabled brother. He’s bilingual without a forced accent. He’s powerful and strong, yet tormented internally. His innocent intentions are overshadowed by his guilt. He’s complex in desires and internal drive to take control of what is inherently evil and use it for good. The show runners have done a tremendous job allowing Robbie to be a representation of Latinx culture and not a caricature.

The cultural importance of Robbie Reyes as the MCU’s current Ghost Rider seems obvious due to the discussion of inclusion at the forefront of Hollywood right now, but while the discussion is there, it still seems that the fight for diversity remains an uphill battle on screen. Rogue One‘s Diego Luna recently tweeted a touching story about the representation of Latinx people on the big screen.

What do you think of Robbie Reyes on Agents of SHIELD? What are your thoughts on the portrayal of Latinx culture (or of a Latinx Ghost Rider) in the MCU? Sound off in the comments below and use #WeWantGhostRider when discussing on social media!

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