Tessa Thompson considers herself Afro-Latina, a black woman, a person of color, and Latinx. But when fans go to see the sci-fi action blockbuster “Men in Black: International” this weekend, she hopes that they will only see her character, Agent M, on the silver screen.
“I hope we can get to the space in Hollywood where it’s not noteworthy for a woman, and particularly a woman of color, to top line a franchise film,” Thompson, who has Afro-Panamanian and Mexican roots, told NBC News. “I hope we can get to a place where we don’t have to congratulate it, or comment on it because it happens with such frequency. But we are still really far away from there.”
“Men in Black: International” partners Agent M with Agent H (played by Chris Hemsworth) in a globetrotting mission that will take viewers on a fun and exciting adventure through Western Europe and Northern Africa to find a murderer, expose a mole, and ultimately save the world.
Fans first meet M as the six-year-old Molly who has an unexpected encounter with an alien. This exposes her to a new world that is inhabited by unearthly beings. And after the Men in Black erase her parents’ memory, M dedicates her life to tracking down the organization and pursuing the truth.
“Memory is huge for M,” Thompson said. “She doesn’t want to live a lie, and she feels that because there’s this organization [Men in Black] that can go around wiping out memories, the only way to relive the truth in terms of the universe and its underpinnings is to be a part of this organization.”
In playing Agent M, the critically acclaimed actress tapped into her gender and ethnicity as a way to understand what drove and tested her character.
“If you’re a woman, and particularly a woman of color, and you’re trying to get access to any space that has been historically white and male, you have to work harder,” Thompson said. “This was an inspiration for me when I was thinking about M because she’s so ambitious. She wants to be good, but she also knows that she has to be good — especially if she wants to get to where she wants to go.”
While the agents must face off against a new alien threat that can take on different forms, Thompson says that the movie keeps true to the values that are encoded in the DNA of the franchise, and defuses tensions between humans and aliens, insiders and outsiders, us and them.
“The first movies show us that no matter what our differences, we can learn to cohabitate. We can learn to live in harmony,” Thompson said. “And this movie promotes curiosity over fear, the idea of not being afraid of others.”
Arturo Conde is an editor and a bilingual freelance journalist. He writes for La Opinión A Coruña and has been published in Fusion, Univision and City Limits.