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The Untold Truth Of Alaqua Cox

Alaqua Cox has gone from zero to 60 in Hollywood over the course of a single year. This hitherto unknown actor was cast to play a major role in "Hawkeye" and bounded from obscurity to starring alongside Hollywood veterans like Jeremy Renner (who plays Hawkeye) and Hailee Steinfeld (who plays Kate Bishop). But that's only the beginning; after the first season of "Hawkeye" concludes, her character Echo will be getting her own series on Disney+. And, we might add, Alaqua Cox is still in her early 20s; as she told People magazine, "It's crazy how much my life has already changed."

Cox plays Maya Lopez (aka Echo), whose father was killed by Hawkeye (aka Clint Barton, aka Ronin — it's a long story). Now she wants revenge. Like the character she plays, Alaqua Cox is deaf and Native American, which marks a huge step forward for authentic representation at Marvel.

Here are the most tantalizing details we've uncovered about this new star.

Echo isn't the first deaf character in the MCU

As groundbreaking as Maya Lopez's character is, she is actually not the MCU's first representation of deaf culture. Lauren Ridloff (who plays the deaf character Makkari from "Eternals") beat Alaqua to the screen by less than a month. And if you want to get technical about it, there's also Clint Barton, who is shown in "Hawkeye" to be hard of hearing (which is usually considered to be part of deaf culture, according to the National Association of the Deaf). In fact, Renner himself is hard of hearing in real life, as he explained in an interview with Brandon Davis of ComicBook.com (via the Illuminerdi).

Nevertheless, Alaqua Cox crosses many milestones of her own. She is the first Native American character in the MCU, the first deaf character with a prosthetic limb, and the first deaf character to get her own spinoff.

In the first few episodes of "Hawkeye" alone, Cox's character depicts themes of deafness not typically explored in mainstream media. Seeing that Clint has a hearing aid, Echo tells him, "You rely too much on technology. You might find you're better off without it." This is significant, according to deaf writer Alison Stine. Speaking with Salon, she argued, "I'm not sure I've ever seen a story purportedly about deafness that includes this detail, nor even begins to make the argument, like Echo seems to be doing, as to why deaf people might not want to or need to physically hear all the time."

Here's how Alaqua reacted when she got the part

A few months after Cox started auditioning, a Marvel casting agent sent Alaqua a text marked as urgent, inviting her to a Zoom meeting. "I [saw] about 12 people, including the Marvel Studios president, Kevin Feige, doing the deaf clap where you wave both your hands," Cox explained (The Hollywood Reporter). At first, she was confused — until they informed her that she was now the newest member of "the Marvel family."

Upon hearing the news, Alaqua screamed and hurried to tell her grandfather and the rest of her family. When he heard she would be officially playing Echo, Cox's dad cried, "and it is rare to see my dad cry," she added in an interview for People. Meanwhile, Alaqua's mom "got the champagne."

All of a sudden, fans were flocking to Cox on social media. "My phone exploded with notifications," she told People, "and I was like, 'I gotta turn this off,' because it was so much for me." Still, she added that she was grateful for all the support.

The Marvel team welcomed Cox on her first day

"Hawkeye" is Alaqua's first foray into the realm of screen acting. In the behind-the-scenes featurette that Marvel released about Echo, Cox admitted, "I didn't know what to do, because this whole world of acting ... Everything was new to me." So her first day on set at Marvel Studios was understandably daunting.

Cox told Disney's D23 magazine (via The Direct), "I was a nervous wreck." But the welcome she got from Jeremy Renner eased her jitters. According to the same interview, Renner used American Sign Language (ASL) to give her a compliment. Meanwhile, during Cox's stunt training sessions, Hailee Steinfeld fingerspelled her name for her. According to Alaqua (via ET Online), Steinfeld assured her, "Don't worry about this. Take the scene very casually. You'll be fine."

In the D23 interview, Cox said, "I thought it was sweet of them putting in efforts to learn basic ASL to communicate with me. It means a lot to me as a Deaf person." She also said she was glad to see Marvel go the extra mile with cultural inclusivity. For example, according to TV Insider, directors Bert and Bertie said that Marvel hired deaf consultants and interpreters who coined new words in ASL to refer to things from the MCU. "[They] were inventing ASL names for different characters like Black Widow and the sign for what that was."

Before Marvel, Alaqua worked in a factory

You wouldn't know it by looking at Alaqua's outstanding performance as Maya Lopez, but her only previous acting experience was in a high school play — and even then, she was only a "background actor," as Cox admitted when she was featured in People's 2021 Ones to Watch.

In fact, it never even occurred to her to become a professional actor. "I was a college dropout [...] I worked at a factory." Cox told People. According to The Hollywood Reporter, her previous jobs couldn't have been further from the silver screen; Cox has worked for Amazon and FedEx, as well as at a nursing home.

It wasn't until she saw Marvel's casting call for a deaf Native American actor that Cox discovered her calling. After reading the role description, all of Alaqua's friends all assured her, "This is you!" Cox applied, of course, as she explained in a Marvel Studios featurette, and "The rest of it is history."

Alaqua Cox got a 'new toy' after filming Hawkeye

As a kid, Alaqua Cox used to spend hours "playing in the woods with four-wheelers and snowmobiles," alongside her four siblings, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Now, as an adult, she has upgraded to bigger playthings. On Instagram, Cox posted to announce her "new toy," an all-terrain jeep. Knowing that Marvel had just finished shooting "Hawkeye" the week before Alaqua posted this, we're guessing that the Jeep might have been Alaqua's treat to herself after a job well done.

Two months later, Cox displayed her Jeep in another Instagram post. This time, the back hatch was open, and Alaqua was posing inside. The actor had personalized her new vehicle, furnishing the interior with a laptop, string lights, and a blanket. Of course, she admitted that having such a fancy vehicle wasn't all it was cracked up to be. As she put it, "Having a Jeep is fun until you're filling up your tank 3 times a week."

There's a reason young Maya Lopez looks familiar

If you're wondering why the actor who plays young Maya Lopez (Darnell Besaw) looks so familiar, it isn't because you've seen her in another movie or show. This is Darnell's first time acting, same as Alaqua. That face is familiar because Darnell is Alaqua's real-life cousin, as Alaqua confirmed on Instagram. Cox explained that her cousin is not deaf but learned ASL in order to play young Maya. She also posted photos of herself hugging Darnell; seeing them standing side by side only underscores how much they look alike.

Bertie, one of the show's directors, told ET Online that Marvel found Darnell through Alaqua, and Darnell's strong resemblance to Alaqua convinced them she would be perfect for the part. "She just came in and learned ASL" said Bertie. "And there's just such a wonderful naivety and charm to her that sets up the character in exactly the right way."

Both Cox and Besaw belong to the Menominee Nation. On Facebook, the Menominee Tribal Enterprises (the workplace of Darnell's father) celebrated the accomplishments of both young stars. "MTE salutes these two members and their families. We are very proud of you all!"

Cox brings a unique perspective to the role

Echo has the superhuman ability to copy the fighting style of everyone she encounters, even if she has only seen them do it once. This superpower is fitting for her, because it's not all that different from Alaqua's special talent for learning by watching. "Deaf people have really good visual skills. I can easily catch things," she told Entertainment Weekly. According to Cox, her colleagues at Marvel were always praising her for being such a fast learner, but in response, she would just shrug it off and say, "Well, I just watched you."

Bert and Bertie talked about Cox's unique observational skills in an interview for The Playlist Podcast. Anytime Alaqua walks into a room, says Bert, "she's clocking different things that we, as just mortal people, we don't pick up on [...] body languages, how people are looking at other people or not looking at other people." The filmmakers watched Cox and took their cues from her. They paid attention to "where she would look at someone when speaking to them — it wasn't always the lips or the face, it was body language as well."

Alaqua approached her performance as a deaf person, offering a perspective that the hearing directors might have otherwise overlooked.

Cox can lift more than her own body weight

Marvel finished filming "Hawkeye" in April of 2021, but even after production ended, Cox continued keeping up with her physical training — which makes sense, since she's most likely working out so she'll be ready to play Echo in her upcoming TV series. In September 2021, Cox shared her progress by posting a video on Instagram in which she hoisted up a gigantic barbell and announced, "I can now dead lift more than my body weight." By CBR's estimate, she seems to be lifting 235 pounds, and her prosthetic leg doesn't slow her one bit.

According to TV Line, Maya Lopez's prosthetic wasn't in the original script, but after casting Alaqua, directors Bert and Bertie decided to embrace it as part of Maya's character. They described it as almost like a "superpower" in the interview. "Everything that she's learned in life comes from what we see as a disability ... but that's the reason she kicks ass."

Alaqua is proud to be a role model for young people with disabilities, she said in an interview for People magazine. "People with a disability like me can do anything: We can fight, we can flip, we can fall," she told Entertainment Weekly. "I'm excited for people to say, 'Wow, she can do that?'"