The Case For a Latino Superman
As DC prepares to relaunch the Man of Steel, it’s time for a new take on the original superhero.
Superman has always been an immigrant story. An alien refugee who chooses to protect his adoptive homeland even when it doesn’t accept him, Kal-El (aka, Clark Kent) symbolizes the experiences of countless people who found a new home in the United States. But his story falls short in one major way.
For almost his entire 90-year history, Superman has been portrayed as a classic all-American man: blue-eyed, dark-haired, broad-shouldered, and white.
But the immigrant experience (whether it be Hispanic, Black, Jewish, or any other group) is written into the fabric of Superman’s origin story. So now, as DC prepares to launch a new era of its cinematic universe, the company has a chance to try something new.
The announcement that DC Studios and Henry Cavill had parted ways came as a shock to many. The broad-chested (and somewhat controversially British actor) had come to symbolize Superman just as much as that big red “S.” But with new leadership at the helm in the form of James Gunn and Peter Safran, the decision was made to start fresh with a brand new Clark Kent in the upcoming 2025 film Superman: Legacy.
No one will be shocked if Gunn (who’s writing and possibly directing the movie) casts another white actor. But perhaps it's time to look beyond that stereotypical “all-American” portrayal. DC has the chance to cast an actor who reflects the aspects of Superman’s origin story and inner conflict that rings true with the lived experiences of so many immigrants today: a Latino or Hispanic man.
Here’s why the next Superman movie should star a Latino or Hispanic actor — and how one previous attempt to do just that fell short.
Superman, “illegal alien”
When I hear Superman’s origin story, I recognize my family’s own journey to the United States. My paternal grandfather grew up on a banana plantation in Honduras in the midst of the country’s revolutions and could barely afford the 3 pesos it cost to attend university there each semester. When his mother (my great-grandmother) was unable to get a divorce, she left Honduras for California with her sisters to find a job and a better life. My grandfather came later, but only after he was forced to leave university on suspicion of his political beliefs in 1963.
And I’m not the only one to draw this connection. In an essay titled “Why Superman is Obviously A Mexican-American Character,” Mexican-American writer and podcaster Sebastian Sanchez lays out his immigrant experience. Then he compares it to Superman’s story:
“Superman fits all of those experiences. He was sent from Krypton, a failing dangerous planet, to a place where he would be able to flourish and be safe. He became a farmer. While growing up he could not tell anyone of his powers or where he came from, for fear of being taken away, or being treated differently. Lastly there has been various comic book storylines and adaptations where people rally against literal illegal aliens, ultimately making them feel as outsiders even if they come in peace.”
Like plenty of real-life immigrants, Superman’s identity has also been used against him. In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Batman reasons that because Superman is an “illegal alien,” he can’t be trusted.
Even Clark’s childhood embodies the reality of growing up Hispanic or Latine in a mostly-white community. He’s told to hide his powers and alien birth, a practice that continues even into his adulthood with his job at the Daily Planet. Watching Superman conceal his true identity so he can live a regular life reflects the assimilation of Hispanic and Latine kids, who are often taught to avoid casual discrimination or outright persecution. Superman very specifically embodies the DREAMers who immigrated as children and whose legality is always in flux.
But while the connections between Superman and the immigrant experience are undeniable, creating a Latino version of Clark Kent is easier said than done.
The story of Hernan Guerra
In 2015, DC actually gave fans a Hispanic Superman, but like with so many ambitious superhero stories, this one came with a multiversal catch. In Gods and Monsters, an animated movie from Batman: The Animated Series creator Bruce Timm set in an alternate reality, Superman isn’t a corn-fed farm boy who grew up in Kansas. Instead, the movie presents us with Hernan Guerra, who came to Earth the same way as Clark Kent but was adopted by Mexican migrant workers instead of white Midwesterners. Guerra (née Lor-Zod) is also notably the son of DC supervillain General Zod, rather than Clark’s heroic father Jor-El.
“He’s not like Clark Kent; brought up in the heartland of America, basically in a WASP culture,” Timm told Polygon in a 2015 interview. “He was raised by a Mexican couple in the Southwest, and he’s exposed to a lot of prejudice and bigotry. His people are not exactly treated with the same respect that the rest of America [is].”
Because of his upbringing and the injustices he witnesses, Hernan Guerra doesn’t see the U.S. as a land of hope or opportunity. And when he announces himself as “Superman,” it doesn’t go over well. (For context, this is an alternate reality where Batman is an actual vampire. So they’re not exactly setting up Superman and the rest of the Justice League as beacons of goodness.)
But for all its creativity, Hernan Guerra’s character (and his association with General Zod) echoes the way our culture portrays Latino and Hispanic men as inherently illegal, criminal, and dangerous. While some critics praised this reimagining of Superman (the movie has an 88 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), I can’t help but see further villain-coding and maligning of Hispanic and Latine folks and immigrants. I hear echoes of what nativist and right-wing pundits like Tucker Carlson say about the recent waves of immigrants he believes make the country “poorer and dirtier and more divided.” And while it’s fantastic to see DC canonically recognize how Superman’s story mirrors the lived experience of Hispanic and Latino immigrants in the U.S., the company still appears reluctant to portray the official iteration of their all-American hero as anything other than white.
It’s important to note that Superman isn’t just a reflection of the Hispanic immigrant experience. Over the years, DC’s Man of Steel has represented various ethnic groups struggling to find their footing in America. The character was created by a pair of first-generation Jewish Americans (Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster) who imbued him with their own customs and traditions. In the years since, we’ve gotten various iterations of the character, including multiple Black Supermen — a movie from Ta-Nehisi Coates and J.J. Abrams is reportedly in the works at DC, though its current status seems shaky at best.
But with Superman: Legacy set to reintroduce fans to the world’s first superhero once again, it’s time for DC to give us a Man of Steel who represents the current American immigrant experience. Casting a Latino or Hispanic actor wouldn’t be a hollow pledge to diversity from a franchise that consistently prioritizes white stories. It would be a recognition that Superman’s story resonates with the Hispanic and Latine experience, and that a man from those communities can, in fact, be an all-American hero.