CDMX.- It was during one summer, when he was 17 years old, that Tenoch Huerta Mejía attended his first acting workshop. His father had enrolled him, and just as he had played football since he was 5 years old, Huerta thought of acting as another hobby.
“Becoming an actor was as far away as becoming a professional football player from Mexico,” Huerta said during a phone conversation. “You can’t dream about what you can’t see. I didn’t see people my skin color on the screen.”
But today, the 41-year-old star, from Ecatepec, has turned that first contact with the dramatic arts into a flourishing career that landed him the role of Namor, leader of the Talokan underwater kingdom, in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. . This performance, which represents his first major international role, has earned him critical acclaim.
For as long as Huerta can remember, the Mexican film and television industry “seems to be made for Scandinavians,” in his own words. The productions mostly feature white Mexican or Latin American stars, while brown-skinned actors like him are often relegated to subservient, criminal, or generally derogatory roles.
Fortunately, even when he was not included in the narrative, Huerta was encouraged by his father’s confidence. When he asked her why he had signed him up for acting classes, his response struck a chord with her.
“He told me: ‘I saw you something,'” he recalled. “But, to me, what was significant about that sentence was that my father was seeing me completely, that my father had his eyes on me.”
Before making the leap to Hollywood
Long before Marvel Studios put wings at his feet, the actor had already made merit working for more than 15 years on independent titles such as Sin Nombre, Güeros and Hijo de Monarcas.
However, Huerta admitted that he often suffered from impostor syndrome, a result of the hostility faced by brown-skinned actors in the Mexican entertainment industry.
A pivotal moment was when he was cast in the lead role in Días de Gracia, the 2011 film directed by Everardo Gout. In order to prepare for the role of a police officer who gets lost in the violence, he enlisted in the Ecatepec police academy without his fellow cadets knowing that he was researching for a character.
The visceral performance not only earned him his first Ariel for Best Actor, but convinced him of his own hard-won talent.
“That movie changed my life because it was there that I first assumed myself as an actor and began to build my life around the fact that I was an actor,” he said.
Gout, who first worked with Huerta on a music video several years earlier, sees his friend’s rising profile as a victory.
“Finally people see in him what I saw as 15 years ago. His success validates all my decisions to have fought to have him in many of my projects,” he said.
In Wakanda Forever, director Ryan Coogler witnessed both Huerta’s devotion to the process and the solemnity of his screen presence.
“Tenoch was working in two languages that were not his native languages, English and Yucatec Mayan, while performing with make-up prosthetics fifteen feet underwater,” Coogler said. “He is a true chameleon and one of the most amazing actors I have ever worked with.”
Life beyond the cinema
Off-screen, Huerta is a prominent anti-racism activist who uses his celebrity to demand compensation for brown-skinned Mexicans. The actor deeply connected with the pride with which Namor represents and protects his Mayan origins.
The prevailing racism in Mexican society, he affirmed, is the living consequence of the cultural genocide that European colonizers perpetrated against the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Through the intercultural mix, they tried to break the ties of the population with their indigenous ancestors.
“They taught us to be ashamed of our brown skin, to despise the brown, to mistreat the indigenous people, to be ashamed of our ancestors, and for me that is something that I no longer tolerate,” he said. “There was nothing wrong with us. They didn’t have to force us to speak Spanish. They didn’t have to try to westernize us.”
Huerta addressed these issues in the book “Orgullo Prieto”, which aims to empower young readers.
That Wakanda Forever features brown-skinned indigenous characters with supernatural abilities in a fascinating realm allows anyone who connects with Huerta’s principles to finally feel respectfully represented. The film also challenges media companies and artists in Latin America to rethink their representations.
“The success of this film comes to destroy the arguments of racists and white supremacists in Mexico, and everywhere, that brown skin does not sell or that representations do not sell,” said Huerta. “It’s beautiful to see us represented in other ways.”