Chocktaw Culture Echoes in Marvel Miniseries


James Lapping (he/him) tunes into Indigenous representation in Marvel’s new show Echo

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Image by IMDb

By James Lapping

Meet Maya Lopez, aka Echo. The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first Indigenous superhero! 25 years after her first appearance in the Daredevil comics, Echo gets a dedicated miniseries on Disney+ that comes off the back of her previous cameos in the Hawkweye series.

Menominee actress Alaqua Cox reprises her role as Echo in this new Marvel show. Like the character herself, Cox is also deaf and an amputee. The use of American Sign Language is significant in the show and the rest of the supporting cast have done a wonderful job at learning ASL for their roles. By creating this series, Disney and Marvel have successfully bought to life a brutal and badass comic book character that exhibits the intersections between race, gender, and disability.

The story revolves around Maya Lopez’s conflicted relationship with Wilson Grant Fisk, the supervillain known as Kingpin. Their origin story is explored and we discover how Fisk initially acted like a father figure to the young Lopez. However, this exploration leads to highlighting Fisk’s manipulative characteristics and the series delves into the darker sides of domestic and emotional abuse that shaped Kingpin and his flawed relationship to Echo.

However, Lopez tries to rekindle relations with her family in the Chocktaw Nation, and whilst doing so, is faced with visions of her female ancestors. These begin with a magnificent depiction of the Chocktaw origin story from the clay people. Chafa (or Chahta), the first Chocktaw women, saves her people from Nanih Waiya, the Mother Mound. A scene set in pre-contact Alabama allows us to witness an example of the game Ishtaboli, also known as stickball and a precursor to lacrosse. Lowak must win the game or else her tribe is banished from the region forever. We also get to see Tuklo save members of the Lighthorse, a police force formed in the 19th century by tribes based in the Southeast of the United States. They tackled horse theft and other criminality which came to prominence during the period. These ancestors each possess individual strengths that Echo harnesses to form her powers and allow her to acknowledge who she truly is as a Chocktaw woman.

These wonderful flashbacks not only intertwine with the plot, but give Marvel the opportunity to display accurate examples of Chocktaw specific culture. The series was assisted by Indigenous consultants from the Chocktaw Nation who helped with historical depictions, costuming, traditional dress, and language. The Chocktaw language, which at one point almost died out, is now recovering and it is projects like Echo are helping with its rejuvenation. As such, the entirety of the series has been dubbed into Chocktaw. This makes Echo an excellent resource for Chocktaw people to witness their language and culture on such a huge platform. This follows Disney+ previously dubbing the Predator prequel Prey into Comanche and Star Wars into Navajo.

Echo is directed by Navajo filmmaker, Sydney Freeland, and Gunaikurnai filmmaker, Catriona McKenzie, who both wondrously capture the dark and gritty world of organised crime alongside the colour and vibrancy of Chocktaw culture. Furthermore, Echo boasts an array of Indigenous talent, old and new. Tantoo Cardinal and Graeme Greene, both of Dances With Wolves fame, play the roles of Maya’s grandparents. The cast includes those that have been making a name for themselves in more recent television projects too, such as Zahn McClarnon of AMC’s Dark Winds, Chaske Spencer from the BBC’s The English, and Devery Jacobs and Dallas Goldtooth who both star in the sensational Disney+ series, Reservation Dogs.

Unfortunately, at times during the five part series, the pacing feels slightly off and some scenes seem to be either cut short or unnecessarily long. With episode lengths varying between 35 to 50 minutes, it may be the case that Echo was the victim of heavy editing. The show may have benefited from consistent run times or further episodes. Some criticism has also suggested that the plot is lacking in substance. This may be the case to an extent. However, Echo provides us with a slice-of-life focus on the trials and tribulations of Maya Lopez dealing with her brutal past in New York City, the internal conflict of her role as heroine, antihero, or villain, and a desire to reconnect with her roots and her community. These aspects of the series are much more compelling than the crimefighting clichés.

With an open ending to the miniseries and the relentless production rate of Marvel currently saturating the market, hopefully we will see more of Echo in the future. Freeland is currently working on other projects too. Alongside Reservation Dogs creator Sterlin Harjo, she is producing the highly anticipated series Rez Ball for Netflix. As major production companies, studios, and streaming platforms continue to champion Native American representation, it is certain that the Indigenous renaissance continues to Echo through the film and TV industry.