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Mabel Cadena and Alex Livinalli

Alex Livinalli and Mabel Cadena

Image: Sabina Graves/Gizmodo

In Marvel‘s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, audiences will be introduced to the underwater civilization of the Talokan (inspired by the ancient Aztec paradise Tlālōcān), which reimagines the Atlantean villain Namor (Tenoch Huerta) and his armies as more complex antagonists.

During the film’s press day, we sat down with two of the film’s Talokan warriors: Namor’s cousin and second in command, Namora, played by Mabel Cadena (Dance of the 41), and the mighty Attuma, portrayed by Alex Livinalli (Alita: Battle Angel). Being from Iindigenous ancestry myself, it was exciting to discuss the care taken with including Latin American talent in the creation of another fictional civilization—like Wakanda, but infused with real cultural touchstones and languages. “To me, it’s crazy because I can find in the movie the little things from my Mexican culture. And if you hear the Mayan language it’s like, ‘Oh my God, can you believe we have representation for the first time in a movie like this?'” Cadena explained, noting that the underwater civilization incorporates real Yucatec Maya language and draws direct inspiration from that heritage. “And I think it’s the perfect movie to have made this space.”

Livinalli agreed. “It is a perfect time because we would not be here without it Black Panther. you know Black Panther opened so many doors, broke down so many doors for so many people, that it’s just the right time for it,he said.I’m very excited to be able to show these characters based on a Mesoamerican culture for other people to say, ‘Hey, he looks like me. He has an accent like me. Perhaps that could be me.’ So that’s very exciting.”

The actors give credit to the leadership of director Ryan Coogler, whose team worked with cultural consultants to make sure that all decisions were made with thoughtfulness, part of a commitment to authentically represent the Mesoamerican culture. He also closely collaborated with the actors to bring their truth to their performances. “It’s amazing because Ryan [will] always have a word for you and always try to hear you,” Cadena’s like, ‘Okay, what do you need to say about this? About your culture?’” She’d freely give input in those moments, responding, “Okay, ‘Well, as a Mexican. I need to say this.’ And he’s like, ‘Let’s do it.’ So all the time Ryan [would] give the opportunity to work around your thoughts and your beliefs. So it’s amazing.”

Livinalli had a similar experience. “Ryan, he brings the humanity out of each one of us, out of each character. He finds a very specific way to communicate differently with each one of us,” he said.One of our first meetings, you know, we talked about our food, ‘Where are you from?’, sports, ‘Wwhat do you like?’ And the one language that he used to communicate with me during the shoot was basketball. He’s a Golden State Warriors fan. I’m a Miami Heat fan. So a lot of our communication was through like basketball analogies. ‘In this scene, you’re doing this and it’s kind of like that moment when the championship...’ kind of thing. So I felt very special that he took the time to find out how to communicate with me in that sense. And it just made the whole shoot so easygoing. So just very grateful for that. And Ryan doesn’t miss anything he does, you know? Nothing but net.”

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever opens November 11.

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