It’s been weird watching The Falcon and the Winter Soldier over the last six weeks because, when I see the complaints about the show, I have that dread that *I* must be the one who’s watching it the wrong way. As I wade through the discourse about the Flag Smashers not being a great villain or that some of the individual episodes seem slow, my first instinct is to think, well, obviously there’s something wrong with me because I’m enjoying the series quite a bit. But then I kind of figured out I was watching the show a different way. And I’m still open to the fact it is the wrong way, but I never cared about any of the Flag Smashers stuff and I didn’t care about the mystery of what they were up to. (And to be fair, over the years, this is what the MCU has trained its audience to do.) The only thing I cared about was Sam Wilson. And Sam Wilson finally got his day.
All of the pomp and circumstance was, yes, mostly filler to insulate what was really going on. And, again, to be fair, that’s not usually how the Marvel properties operate. In reality The Falcon and The Winter Soldier was a six-episode meditation about a Black man struggling with the idea of being the face of the United States and all the repercussions that would entail. And coming from Malcolm Spellman and his writing staff, this is something they’ve obviously thought about a lot. How would this go down in real life? Would someone like Sam actually decide to become Captain America when virtually everyone he trusts is telling him it’s a bad idea and he’ll be hated for doing so? How do we sell white America on the idea of a Black Captain America? And I’m sure they also knew if they tried to sell it as “a meditation about a Black man struggling with the idea of being the face of the United States,” that probably wouldn’t go over particularity well.
Look, I love Sam Wilson. Sam was literally the first comic book character I ever read so he’s always had a special place for me. When I was old enough to start appreciating comics, I busted into my dad’s stash and he had a plethora of Captain America and the Falcon comics from the early 1970s. I remember thinking Steve Rogers was boring, but his buddy, Sam Wilson, now this guy was cool. And on top of that, he had a cool pet. When my parents started getting me my own new comics in the early to mid-1980s, I was shocked Falcon just wasn’t around that much anymore. (Back in 2012 when the first Avengers movie came out, I interviewed Kevin Feige and out of the blue asked if Falcon would be in the next Captain America movie, which wound up being Captain America and the Winter Soldier. In retrospect his answers are pretty funny, doing everything he could to say “Yes” without saying, “Yes.”) But even part of the MCU, Sam kind of got lumped in as a sidekick with not much to do. Mackie can be such an electric actor that you could see the potential bursting out, even though it never quite happened until now. Often Sam was relegated to dumb scenes like the one where Tony Stark shot him in Captain America: Civil War for no reason after Rhodey got hurt. That scene always bothered me: that Falcon was expendable enough in the story to just be used as someone for Tony to use his temper on.
I think a lot about true north superheroes and how we don’t really get those much anymore, or what that even means these days. If 1978’s Superman came out today, would audiences even like it? I used to think they would, but now I’m not as sure. A lot of Superman’s dialogue could be written off as corny. Chris Evans’s Captain America captured some of that. And the first Wonder Woman movie had some of that, too. But things have changed. And if the last few years of reality has taught us anything, it’s that a modern true north hero isn’t going to look like the past examples. The new true north hero is going to look like someone like Sam Wilson. And it’s going to be Sam Wilson giving a kind half corny speech about how global powers should settle their differences with refugees in mind. All the white heroes got to do that in the past, well now it’s Sam’s turn. But interlaced in all that was some truly heavy words. The idea of a Black man, dressed as Captain America for the first time in a public setting, admitting he knows people hate him for it, shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s a remarkable moment that is easily dismissed as corny (as I half did) but there’s a lot going on in that corn. There are a lot of Black writers behind those words saying some stuff they want to say, now through the cipher of Captain America for the first time. I think it might be a good idea to listen. Anyway, that’s how I watched this show. That’s the arc I cared about.
And, through those words, yes, Sam Wilson, and Anthony Mackie, finally got his day.
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