Mabel Cadena Talks Representation & Portraying Namora in ‘Wakanda Forever’

By Virginia Isaad

Mabel Cadena was once told that people of color couldn’t be superheroes but this past summer she along with the rest of the cast of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever proved them wrong. Cadena plays Namora, the right-hand woman to Namor (Tenoch Huerta), the feathered serpent God K’uk’ulkan aka Namor of Talokan, the underwater kingdom near the Yucatán. The film, which is out on DVD/Blue-Ray today, earned critical acclaim and was praised for Indigenous representation. Cadena, who was born in Mexico and learned English while working on this film, previously worked primarily on TV before the role of Namora catapulted her career. The unprecedented representation in a major film, and a superhero film at that, made viewers feel seen and that’s something Cadena also resonated with.

“I’m very proud… [because] Black Panther doesn’t mean [isn’t just] a superhero movie. Black Panther means different things for different people. I talked with my little [inner] kid, my little Mabel and told her, you’re here so you need to believe this,” she tells HipLatina. “You need to believe this story, you need to believe you deserve to be here. And that to me is the more [most] important thing.”

She spent month studying English and preparing for the role and fully immersing herself in the experience of being a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Amid the training for the film, she says they had fun and says the cast was very welcoming, She recalls celebrating her birthday during filming and experiencing swimming underwater with the machines used in the movie.  Though she initially struggled with communicating with castmates since she only spoke Spanish, she says that they praised her for learning English so quickly.

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“That’s so beautiful. Because that was my process, Mabel process, but Namora process was like ‘okay, you need to talk different, you need swim underwater, you need act underwater,’ but all the time I just want to have fun.”

Namora is Namor’s cousin and a loyal servant of his who fights against the Wakandans as a fierce and proud Talokanil. The 32-year-old actress alongside Huerta, who is also from Mexico, Venezuelan actor Alex Livinalli (Attuma), and Guatemalan actress of Kaqchikel Maya descent Maria Mercedes Coroy (Princess Fen) trained, learned to speak the Mayan language, and beautifully brought to life powerful Indigenous characters. She recalls the reactions to the film and, by extension, the Latinx cast as “overwhelming, in a good way”. And it wasn’t just the fellow cast members from LATAM that she bonded with, she also shares that Lupita Nyong’o (Nakia), who was born in Mexico to Kenyan parents, welcomed her warmly to the “family” when they first met. The duo, along with Huerta, went viral during the Wakanda Forever promotional tour dancing to “Mambo Lupita” and often celebrated their shared love of Mexico and Mexican culture. It was during the making of the film that she learned about Lupita’s roots in Mexico and they shared stories which was part of the beauty of the experience for her.

“I think that’s the best thing about Wakanda Forever because we can [teach] each other about our own stories and for what reason Black Panther is not just a superhero movie for us and for the rest of the people. And that was beautiful,” she says about her experience working on the film.

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The blockbuster film grossed more than $800 million in worldwide box office and is now available to stream on Disney+ and on digital, Blu-ray and DVD.

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Image: Marvel Studios

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