The character Echo, a deaf Indigenous woman, throws a kick with her prosthetic leg at an attacking thug inside the arcade of a bowling alley.

Review by Jennifer Gómez Menjívar

The Echo (2024) series was released on January 9, 2024, on Disney+ and Hulu, setting a major streaming record despite the show’s TV-MA rating. Featuring established characters like the Kingpin and Daredevil only briefly, the series instead focuses on the titular character and takes viewers to her homeland.

[Contains spoilers.] 

In the print comics version, Echo’s supervillain power is the imitation of her opponent’s fighting. She has photographic reflexes, so her opponents’ agility and skill are swiftly copied and outdone. She is Cheyenne, is fueled by her father’s murder, and is the adopted daughter of the notorious Kingpin. Echo is one of the many BIPOC comics characters created by outsiders to the represented community, and she undergoes many transformations, including taking on a different identity (Ronin) to better fit into the do-good Avengers group. Despite her unmatched ability to copy what she sees in her opponents, Echo is haunted, unanchored, and never quite finds a home to call her own.

That’s the Echo of ink and paper. On the screen, Echo is much more.

Echo sits astride her motorcycle wearing a leather jacket, jeans, and a backpack beside a road next to an open field with trees in the distance.

Yes, she is still an Indigenous ASL speaker and amputee whose father was murdered by the Kingpin and who was subsequently raised by the master villain. In director/producer Sydney Freeland (Navajo) and director Catriona McKenzie’s (Gunai/Kurnai) hands, however, she becomes the legacy of her people, a descendant of a long line of Indigenous women who have used their extraordinary gifts to protect their community. She is physically and emotionally wounded when she arrives in her hometown of Tamaha, Oklahoma and slowly begins to cross paths with the members of her family she hasn’t seen since childhood. Specifically, she returns to her childhood home, which has been preserved by her grandmother just as it was before Echo and her father left for New York. She hardly resembles the unmoored character in print.

Echo (2024) contains all the good stuff that audiences expect in superhero flicks: origin stories, double identities, fight scenes, and the struggle between good and evil. Like the Black Panther films (2018, 2022) and the Ms. Marvel (2022) series, however, the work to develop characters into the legacies of communities with rich cultural traditions translates into superhero flicks that are attuned to issues of representation through all stages of project development. Critical to Echo’s work was the commitment to truly ground the title character in her Indigenous community and for the faithful rendition of that community to come from the experience of the Choctaw screenwriters in the writing room. The writers were told that they did not need to adhere to the cross-matched Indigenous iconography of the comics, and that they could instead delve into their own backgrounds as members of the Choctaw nation to give the character a new beginning. As director/producer Freeland states in a January 2024 interview with respect to the steps she took during pre-production of the Echo series:

“Authenticity and representation are extremely important…it’s not just who I am. I don’t try to be representation; I am representation. So, when I came on board, the first thing that I wanted to do was engage the Choctaw Nation. When we traveled to Oklahoma to present the project to them, we basically asked them two things: One, for permission, and two, for a dialogue. And they were great collaborators, even now.”

As a result of this collaboration, there are culturally-resonant details in the execution of the project that could not have been crafted without the Choctaw Nation’s blessing: the origin story of the Chahta people, the Biskinik (woodpecker) as messenger, the use of the game of ishtaboli (stickball) in political affairs, the history of the Lighthorse tribal police during settler expansion, birthing ceremonies and healing practices, traditional Chahta dress and regalia, and the stunning grand entry at powwows today.

Language is another key element that lends legitimacy to the series. The Choctaw language is used from the first episode to the last among the members of Echo’s community, but it is American Sign Language (ASL) that features most prominently throughout the five episodes. That is because the Echo that viewers meet on screen is played by Alaqua Cox (Menomini), an Indigenous woman who is a member of the deaf community and single amputee, just like her character. The synchronicity results in a rich portrayal of the character, emphasizing the powerful sense of sight possessed by ASL speakers.

A column of hands performing American Sign Language (ASL) against a black background.

The moments when voices recede completely, and viewers see only what Echo sees and hear only her beating heart, are powerful sound design choices to more effectively center Echo and magnify her abilities. The lasting impression of her astute eyes taking in every single detail of a scene is what will remain with viewers long after they have finished watching the episodes. Noting the historic importance of her character, Cox states in an interview with Nerds of Color:

“I’m hoping that the audience will get a taste of the deaf perspective because, you know, deaf people feel that there’s no, there’s not much awareness of the deaf community. Maybe they’ll feel like, “Oh, is this what it’s like?” Maybe hearing people will realize that we do have a gift. Because, actually, deaf people will rely on their eyes a lot because we have such good eyesight. So, they’re able to see a lot more and take in a lot more and pay attention to the screen a lot better with no sound on, so our eyesight is impeccable, so maybe the hearing people will pick up on that.”

ASL is the language that Echo speaks with the loved ones who know her as “Maya,” a girl who was removed from her community and has returned. It is the language her loved ones use to communicate with each other when Kingpin’s henchmen launch an assault on Choctaw land. And it is the language that Echo reminds Kingpin he has never bothered to learn, despite repeatedly professing his love for her as a daughter. Indeed, it is the language that separates those who truly love Maya from those who use Echo for their own ends.  

The final episode in the series vividly emphasizes that despite her removal from her community, Maya has not been abandoned by her ancestors. It is a conclusion that has been hinted at throughout the series, especially with respect to the source of Echo/Maya’s powers, but it is most clearly manifested in the dialogue and cinematography of the final scenes. Perhaps most importantly, it embedded in the series’ very structure, as every episode eschews the tendency of a snappy title and uses instead the name of a woman: “Chafa,” “Lowak,” “Tuklo,” “Taloa,” and “Maya” herself. In its final moments, Echo/Maya realizes that she has always been an echo of her female ancestors. She is, as she says in the scene, their legacy.

To sum up: Echo finally has a chance to be accurately represented on the screen, and she finally has a chance to echo much more than the movements of her enemies. It is a series that is not to be missed. Check it out.  


Dr. Jennifer Gómez Menjívar is associate professor of Media Arts at UNT. She works on Indigenous media sovereignty as well as media linguistics, and she collects bobbleheads of superheroes with good hearts. 

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