Note: Spoilers from “Logan” below.
One of the funniest and most surprising moments of “Logan” is when Laura/X-23 finally speaks.
For most of the film, she is silent, with emotions shown only by the movement of her eyes, the occasional head nod and loud screams when she pops her claws. Laura seems like she may be mute — perhaps she is too damaged by a childhood in which she was trained to be a weapon. But she actually just doesn’t trust anyone yet (and the one person she did, Professor X, doesn’t make it to the end of the film).
But eventually, Laura learns to have faith in Wolverine/Logan, who is protecting her from the people who created her in the lab, and want her back under their control and off the books; she’s too much of a wild card.
Wolverine is in bad shape throughout the movie, and at one point passes out. Laura, knowing he needs medical attention, takes the unconscious Logan to a doctor’s office. When they leave, Logan tells her “thank you.”
Laura responds with “de nada.”
The scene is hilarious for two reasons: There’s the instant rage from Logan, who realizes that for all of their time on the run, Laura had the ability to speak and just chose not to. And then there is Laura, who understands Logan’s English, but answers back in her primary language, Spanish.
It’s a surprise that is right under the audience’s nose the entire time.
We know that Laura was created in a lab in Mexico. She and her young friends (who also play a major role in the film) were compassionately raised by Mexican women at the facility that felt creating children to be weapons was cruel.
So when Laura and the other experimentees escape, they are fluent in Spanish. And when she finally speaks, despite also knowing English, Laura refuses to try and blend in, deciding to speak the language she wants to, and not the language that would make things easier for her at that moment.
As Laura goes off in Español on Wolverine and he tells her that he doesn’t understand what she’s saying, we see why director James Mangold thought the need for a bilingual actress was important for pulling off this scene and giving it an authentic feel.
Any actress can learn to say “de nada” without being fluent in Spanish. But Dafne Keene, a Spanish actress born to a British father (Will Keen) and a Spanish mother (Maria Fernandez Ache) was allowed to speak her native tongue.
The Spanish spoken in Logan is given even more power due to the lack of subtitles on the screen while Laura is speaking. Either you understand what she’s saying or you don’t — which is part of the point. Laura doesn’t care if you don’t understand; she’s going to express herself the way she wants.
Hollywood doesn’t always get it right with Latinos: Even a wonderful performance by Keen doesn’t mask the fact that a young Spaniard is playing a Mexican girl. Why not just get a bilingual Mexican actress? (That’s not to take anything away from Deen, whose acting, much of it done in silence, is spectacular.)
But if you’re a Spanish speaker, X-23’s unleashing in Español was a rare moment by a major character in superhero cinema.
Listening to X-23 talk is a reminder to Spanish speakers of whoever it was in your upbringing that decided this tongue would be a part of your DNA. Or you start thinking of that relative every Latino family has that doesn’t habla Español because they never taught the language to their children for fear of them being discriminated against.
Laura’s outburst in another language doesn’t take over “Logan.” It isn’t a major plot point. Wolverine doesn’t have to Google translate the rest of the movie. But it was a surprising, brief and prideful moment for Spanish speakers. If you’ve ever watched a politician point to a television and say Americans should “speak American,” well, now you’ve got a young, adamantium-clawed rebel as a symbol to serve a hot steaming cup of a mi no me importa.
X-23 spent much of “Logan” on the run. But she never ran away from who she really is.