DC Comics' HHM Error Reflects a Larger Issue in Latinx Marketing

Carelessness toward Hispanic fans and creators is all too common when compared to the multicultural landscape

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In recent months, there has been a great deal of discussion about the progress of diverse representation in entertainment, in particular within fictional genres including sci-fi, superheroes and fantasy. At times, this public discussion on progress has come to feel like a pendulum, moving back and forth between the forward swings of creative new stories that incorporate diverse experiences and the backward swings ranging from stereotypes to erasure.

The recent release of variant images by DC Comics of well-known characters eating tacos, serving up fried plantain and holding a bag of tamales as a “celebration” of Hispanic Heritage Month, without a doubt, felt like a heavy backward swing to many Latinx comic book fans.

The fact that these variant covers were in such stark contrast to DC’s current and past collaborations with creators such as Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez’s La Borinqueña and the recently relaunched Milestone imprint—the legendary Black comic book company now headed by film producer and TV executive Reginald Hudlin—seemed to add insult to injury for many comic book fans and artists alike, including Miranda-Rodriguez who spoke out about it on multiple platforms.

To further the irony of the situation, one of the main pillars of the recent Milestone relaunch was the formation of the Milestone Initiative in partnership with DC and Ally Bank, a program that was designed to bring more diverse voices into comics.

Within this context, it is easy to understand how this attempt from DC can be viewed, at best, as “lacking creativity,” and at worst, completely “tone-deaf.” The release of the images in celebration of the heritage was akin to the type of microaggressions that so many fans of color face daily in their workplaces.

In fact, one of the variant images featured a member of the Green Lantern core holding a plastic bag full of tamales, which according to the artist, Jorge Molina, had never been signed off for public release. Molina explained via Twitter that the official image was meant to pay homage to Mexican muralist Jorge González Camarena, while the variant image was never meant to see the light of day.

This type of carelessness toward Latinx fans and creators is all too common when compared to the multicultural marketing landscape.

Lack of due diligence

Too often, brands fail to give Latinx consumers the same attention they would give to most other “new” targets. This includes the basic due diligence of research, focus groups and expert consultation.

Many brands choose to skip over many of these elementary steps when it comes to Latinx consumers. Instead, they choose to circumvent the typical planning process in favor of the same tired tropes year in and year out.

To put it into perspective, imagine a brand like Whirlpool launching a new product campaign targeting young parents by forgoing any market research and just simply asking a room full of single, childless male employees, “What do we know young mothers love?” This situation might feel like a scene from Mad Men, but it is all too familiar to Latinx marketers when it comes to Hispanic Heritage Month.

How to ‘swing forward’

How can brands avoid these types of errors? The answer is easier than you might think: Do the research and listen. Don’t make the mistake of bringing in diverse partners only to put all of their expertise and hard work aside in favor of the quick, easy and budget-friendly options.

One example of a brand that seems to truly be doing the work is DC’s direct competitor. Marvel enlisted professor Frederick Luis Aldama, also known as Professor Latinx, who has written extensively on Latinx representation in comics, to edit its 2021 Comunidades edition in the Marvel’s Voices series. Voices is both a comic and podcast series dedicated to telling the stories of the Black, Asian, Indigenous, Latinx and LGBTQ+ creators and heroes of the Marvel universe.

On-screen Marvel also recently gave us a stunningly beautiful preview of Indigenous and Latinx inclusion in the highly anticipated Black Panther sequel, Wakanda Forever. The film’s incorporation of Mesoamerican themes and designs can be compared to the futuristic interpretation of pan-African cultures in the groundbreaking original film. The film also breaks new ground with the casting of Indigenous Mexican actors in principal roles.

As many fans continue to crave new and diverse stories of characters like themselves existing in a world beyond their own, we can only hope that marketers and brands like DC learn to listen to the diverse voices around them so that their unfortunate backward motion results in an even bigger swing forward.