The New Mutants might mostly focus on Marvel mutants we haven’t seen before on screen, but you might not be aware that a familiar X-Men face is among them.
In the long-delayed spin-off, Henry Zaga plays Roberto da Costa, AKA Sunspot, a super-strong Brazilian mutant powered by the sun. He’s one of the founding members of the New Mutants in the comics, so it makes sense he’s in the movie.
However, it’s not Sunspot’s first X-Men appearance on the big screen as he was in X-Men: Days of Future Past – although you might not remember him.
Designated Survivor star Adan Canto played Sunspot in the opening sequence of Days of Future Past that was set in the future. Sunspot was one of the remaining mutants trying to hold back the Sentinels, and he didn’t last long.
But it’s OK, because Kitty managed to send Bishop back in time to warn them of the attack and Sunspot lives to fight another day. Well, until the Sentinels tracked the X-Men down again in the future and Sunspot dies again trying to stop the Sentinels getting to Wolverine.
Given that we only really saw this version of Sunspot during action scenes, you didn’t really get a sense of his personality. But according to Zaga, The New Mutants will change all of that.
“You really see all his colours in this. You get a feel of his full arc, it’s not just an action scene. It’s very character-driven,” he told Digital Spy and other press at a set visit for The New Mutants in August 2017.
“We’re trying to honour as much as possible what was written before, and also the new content that Josh [Trank] and Knate [Lee] wrote. I think you’re going to see his colours, his emotional colours in this.”
While they might be different takes on the same character, the two versions of Sunspot do share one similarity: casting controversy.
In the comics, Roberto da Costa is Afro-Latino with a white American mother and a black Brazilian father.
In his first appearance, we learn that Roberto experienced a racist attack when he was younger and playing football. He’s attacked by group of white players, with one taunting him: “Your father’s wealth can’t change the colour of your skin. You’re still black.”
Over the years though, Roberto’s appearance in the comics has changed and led to criticisms of whitewashing.
If you weren’t aware of the character’s original look and backstory, you can see why the likes of Adan Canto and Henry Zaga were cast in the role. Canto is Mexican and Zaga is Brazilian, but isn’t Afro-Latino.
Talking to Digital Spy and other press on set, Zaga wouldn’t be drawn into the controversy over his casting.
“What I can say is I did an audition for a character I thought I was right for, and they picked me, so that’s all I can say. I can’t really say how I feel about being black or not black. That’s as far as I can go, I think,” he noted.
It will be interesting to see how The New Mutants deals with Roberto’s backstory as they can still include a racist attack, even though Zaga isn’t Afro-Latino.
However, if they decide to change the origin story entirely and skip over what is a defining moment for the character in the comic books, then the whitewashing debate will continue once the movie is released.
The New Mutants is released in the US on April 3 and in the UK on April 8.
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