Alaqua Cox is used to being underestimated.
“Growing up an amputee, deaf and Native American, I was always overlooked, and I never saw someone on the big or small screen who looked like me,” she says via email.
But now she’s accomplished the Hollywood dream: landing a role in Disney+’s big-budget Marvel series Hawkeye with zero previous acting experience. In the series, which premiered November 24, she plays Maya Lopez. The Marvel Comics character is Indigenous and deaf while also possessed of phenomenal athletic abilities and the power to mimic other peoples’ movements.
She is not, however, portrayed in the comics as an amputee. Cox has one prosthetic leg. During the three-month audition process, she worried this might be a deterrent, even though, she says, “I can do almost anything with my prosthesis.”
So far, she says, it has been an inclusive experience, with Hawkeye creator–executive producer Jonathan Igla and others welcoming her input. Disney made sure she had an American Sign Language interpreter on set and hired a personal trainer who is also deaf to help her prepare for the role — a huge deal, she says, “because we need to see more deaf and disabled role models to inspire the next generation.”
A member of the Menominee and Mohican nations, Cox grew up on the Menominee Indian Reservation in Wisconsin. She enjoyed playing soccer, dancing and running track, and at high school at the Wisconsin School for the Deaf, she played volleyball (her favorite sport) and basketball with her prosthetic. She spent two-and-a-half years at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee but dropped out to live at home and work. Friends saw a social-media posting for the part of a deaf Indigenous woman in her twenties for a Disney+ show and encouraged her to go for it. Three months of Zoom auditions later, she booked the part.
Cox, who never envisioned herself being part of a superhero franchise, is prepared for strong reactions (both good and bad) from the genre’s dedicated fan base. “I may run into the stereotypical experiences of what mainstream people think a Native person is ‘supposed to look like,’ or not understanding the deaf culture,” she says. “I hope this initiates a conversation and opens up the audiences’ minds to the reality of both cultures.”
It’s a good thing she adapts fast. She is already set to star in another show from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Echo, now in development.
This story originally appeared in emmy magazine Issue 12, 2021.