First Look at Marvel Studios’ ‘Echo’ with Director Sydney Freeland 

In November 2021, Hawkeye debuted as a lovely Christmas present to fans. It continued the adventures of everyone’s favorite archer Avenger, introduced the world to Kate Bishop, gave closure to Yelena Belova, brought back the Kingpin, and introduced a formidable new villain in Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox). Now Maya is back, in her very own series: Echo!

Echo marks the first Marvel Studios project to center around a deaf, Native American character. Maya is a remarkable character, who has been through a lot of trauma, but kicks a lot of ass — all with one leg! And watching her rise as a villain, then quest for redemption will be incredibly compelling. It will be the first MCU show to get an TV-MA rating, and will be simultaneously available on both Disney+ and Hulu. And we got the first look at the series today, with the new trailer. Check that out right here:

Recently, The Nerds of Color was invited to participate in an extended preview of the series with Marvel Studios producer Brad Winderbaum and series director Sydney Freeland. We were treated to three new clips from the series, with Freeland expanding a bit more on what the overall focus of the series will be, and daringly revealing some really big secrets that will get fans so hyped for this series!

“What’s exciting for us is to tell smaller, intimate character stories too [in addition to giant, epic Avengers stories]. And Echo is a huge opportunity for us to do that,” stated Winderbaum. “It’s our first MA-rated show, so it’s a little on the on the grittier side for Marvel. And I think, again, shows kind of the breadth of what what Marvel’s capable of… If you know the comics and then the history feels very in line, but it’s kind of a new direction for the brand. Especially on Disney+. And to that end, it’s going to be… simultaneously released on Disney+ and Hulu.”

Winderbaum then introduced Freeland, who shared with us her background growing up reading Marvel comics, and the connection she felt with Echo, as she brought it to life. “I’m Native American, myself. Navajo group on the reservation in New Mexico. And I grew up reading Marvel comic books. Not Image. Not DC, Dark Horse, or Malibu. I grew up reading Marvel. And so when I first heard about this project, and I interviewed on it, I think one of the first things I said to Kevin was that I grew up reading comic books, and I grew up going to powwows. Powwows to me was like somebody in Anaheim going to Disneyland. Like that’s how common it was. So those are two things that I grew up with that were so integrated into me and my personality and my experience. But those two never overlapped. I think one of the most exciting things about this series is that we’re gonna link those things.” So it was a really, it was a really amazing experience.”

Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez in Marvel Studios’ Echo, releasing on Hulu and Disney+. Photo by Chuck Zlotnick. ©Marvel Studios 2023. All Rights Reserved.

Freeland was on hand to introduce all three clips. The first clip showcased the early life of Maya, and how grief and trauma transformed her and her father (once again played by the terrific Zahn McClarnon) into the criminals they became in Hawkeye.

The scene depicted a young Maya Lopez, playing with her cousin Bonnie, while her father, William, and her mother watch over them. Maya takes a trip with her mother to the grocery store, when her mother finds the brakes are cut on their truck, and they get hit by an on-coming vehicle. The accident incapacitates Maya’s mother, and leaves a giant metal shard stabbed into Maya’s leg. The scene cuts to Maya in the hospital, having had her leg removed, and William having to reveal to her that her mother didn’t make it, reassuring Maya it wasn’t her fault. Then the scene transitions to Maya and William packing up their things to move to New York, and Maya having to say goodbye to Bonnie.

“We’re operating a little more on the street level [for this show],” began Freeland. “You know, these aren’t cosmic consequences… this is the field of family. And what we’re going to see is sort of the beginnings and the origin for not only Maya Lopez, but also this sort of seismic fracturing event that’s going to affect her entire family, and that we’re going to see ripples and consequences throughout the entire show [from].”

Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez in Marvel Studios’ Echo, exclusively on Disney+. Photo by Chuck Zlotnick. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

The next clip was an action packed one that will make MCU and Marvel fans in general delighted with glee. Called “the birth of a villain” by Freeland, the scene showcases Maya going on her first mission for Wilson Fisk (aka The Kingpin) following the death of William at the hands of Hawkeye/Ronin (as depicted in Hawkeye). Maya is sent to a boxing gym run by a low-level thug that Fisk wants “taken care of.” She rendezvous with two of Fisk’s other men, as they go and shake down their former associate.

Right out of the gate, we see a bouncer shoot someone in the head, with blood splattering across a door, as he lets Maya and Fisk’s other men in. That really emphasizes the gritty Netflix-level brutality Echo is really going for. As the men and Maya make their way to the back, a gun fight ensues, with Fisk’s men battling tooth and nail to take down the various thugs. Maya gets caught into the mix and holds her own against the goons, eventually being able to get the upper hand on one of them, and snapping his neck. She goes back into the room to help out Fisk’s other men, when out of nowhere, a cable from a Billy Club shoots across the screen, almost hitting Maya. She looks up, and against the silhouette of the darkened room, illuminated only by a small glare of sunlight, is The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen himself: Daredevil!

Maya and Matt (yes! Played by Charlie Cox obviously!) get into a brutal fight, with DD just kicking the crap out of her. Knowing she’s outmatched, she runs into a storage cage, but Matt just hops over it with ease, and continues to battle her. He beats her down, and tells her to give a warning to Fisk. Which, in the following scene Maya does. Fisk commends her for holding her own against Daredevil, since so many of his men were killed in the process. This, naturally, strengthens the relationship between her and Fisk.

(L-R): Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk/Kingpin and Darnell Besaw as young Maya Lopez in Marvel Studios’ ECHO, releasing on Hulu and Disney+. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2023 MARVEL.

“We always talked about how [Kingpin’s super power] isn’t his strength,” started Freeland. “it’s his ability to psychologically manipulate people… Oh yeah, and Daredevil’s in this.”

The third clip they showed features the reunion of Bonnie and Maya. Bonnie, now an adult in Oklahoma, visiting her father (William’s brother) Henry at a roller rink. Henry is being held hostage by some thugs thanks to his shady dealings, and is doing his best to warn Bonnie away, but Bonnie is captured, and taken to a storage room, where Maya is there also captured. Maya manages to break loose and sets Bonnie free as well, and they discuss how Maya essentially ghosted Bonnie for 20 years.

It’s a quieter scene, really emphasizing the family drama and character relationships between the two cousins. Ultimately this showcases how Echo will not just be a slam-bang run of the mill action show, but one about human characters with complex emotions and traumas. “We’re going to delve further into this the drama with his family, and they’re sort of how they’ve all dealt with this situation of past 20 years,” stated Freeland. “And then the other one other thread that I haven’t mentioned thus far, which is that we’re also going to have this sort of like two-pronged approach to the series. It’s like family drama driving everything, but then there’s this undercurrent of this sort of fantastical side, which is that we are going to be visiting Maya’s matrilineal ancestors going all the way going quite a bit backwards in time… There’s family drama and there’s these ancestral stories that we’re going to see, that come head to head.”

Following the showcase of the clips, Freeland spent a few minutes answering some burning questions from the press about the series.

Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez in Marvel Studios’ Echo, releasing on Hulu and Disney+. Photo by Chuck Zlotnick. ©Marvel Studios 2023. All Rights Reserved.

When asked about what her cultural must-haves were being a Native American executive producer and director working on a series centered around Native American culture, Freeland had this to say:

“Authenticity… It’s very much it’s a multi pronged approach, right? Had to have native representation. That was a must. We had Deaf representation. That was a must. So it really started with our within our writers room. And then I think with obviously when I came onboard, then we tried to keep that kind of that energy going. So we had Native people throughout behind the scenes and in-front of cameras too. But I think another big thing that was important the Choctaw are the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma… early on in the process, once we kind of had our pilot script we all we took a trip. It was myself and my department heads, And one of the great things is that I none of them have ever been to a powwow before. So two years ago, in December of 2021, we all took a trip out to the annual Choctaw Powow… My production designer had to see it through his eyes. My first CD had to see it through his eyes… My costume designer had to see it through her eyes [so we could build everything from the ground up]… The other thing too was it was extremely important to have the partnership with the Choctaw Nation. And so we had a meeting with them early on, and basically presented the series to them in the same way. I have a pitch deck and I pitched them the project and you know said like, ‘Hey, this is what the show is…. It’s not going to hold your hand. It’s not going to be earnest. It’s going to be a lot more violent but we feel like there’s a great story behind it… it was crickets. I was at a table and basically I said like, ‘No, no, we’re here. We’re not here to tell you what we’re going to do. We’re here to create a dialogue, so that we can get your input and create a more authentic portrayal of the Choctaw people culture.”

When asked about the tone of the series being more in line with the Netflix Marvel shows than the rest of the MCU, and whether that was intentional or not, Freeland said this:

“Yes or no. I mean, I think the story kind of dictated our approach. We find something that again, like if you’re coming off of Hawkeye, and she’s a villain. And tonally we wanted to lean into that I think in our approach… I love the Netflix series… We certainly took a little bit of a nod to those series. But then also we wanted very adamantly to show that these are people that die, get killed, and that there are real world consequences. Again, it’s not the fate of the universe at stake, because I think to go that broad, you can certainly lose sight a little bit. And so that kind of dictated the tone a little bit.”

Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk/Kingpin in Marvel Studios’ ECHO, releasing on Hulu and Disney+. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2023 MARVEL.

When asked about what it was like to work within the MCU, and with Marvel Studios, Freeland responded by saying:

“My experience was overwhelmingly positive. I’ve got my producing partners in the back and our executive team… and the one thing I can say is they protect the s**t out of their creators. I felt absolutely protected and empowered. Which is rare for a project of this scope and size… [I had] an incredible amount of creative power.”

When asked about the challenges of having a lead character who does not speak, Freeland had this to say:

Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez in Marvel Studios’ Echo, releasing on Hulu and Disney+. Photo by Chuck Zlotnick. ©Marvel Studios 2023. All Rights Reserved.

“For myself it was terrifying, initially. And then exhilarating. To find out how do we portray this? How do we go about with a lead character that doesn’t speak? I think the more we got into it, the more excited we got, you know? And so our visual approach and our visual style is built around Alaqua Cox… ASL was something that was extremely important to me and having the deaf perspective and experience represented… I’m also not deaf. So one of the things we all did was we took ASL classes… It was important that I just needed to have some basic language, where I could talk to her and look her in the eye. And say, ‘more emotional.’ Just some basic words for her. And it’s sort of had this sort of positive reinforcement cycle… The more we sort of took ASL and the more conversation I had with Alaqua, the more it kind of influenced our visual approach. And so it was like initiative, stylistic. And can we sustain a six minute scene with two characters that don’t [verbally] say anything? And do we have to cut around stuff to protect her? And the answer to all of that was no. We don’t. And so what we kind of landed on was that are our visual approaches that we want to embrace ESL! So in our show, [signing] is a close up, and the reason is that so you can see the sign. So what we’ve kind of found is that the signing is a text and then the face is a subtext. We need the pairing of those two things to get the full emotional intent of what a character is doing or saying… It ended up being a very straightforward, relatively simplistic approach to portraying deaf character.”

Overall, it was a wonderful, exciting walkthrough of a very complex character, from a show that looks incredibly exciting already! Special thanks to Freeland for taking us into this journey with Maya Lopez!

Echo debuts on Disney+ and Hulu in January 10, 2024

ECHO, releasing on Disney+ & Hulu. © 2023 MARVEL.