**** SPOILER ALERT**** THIS PIECE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER
For the last couple of days, Facebook’s memory reminders have shown me pictures of when I attended both Infinity War and Endgame premiers at the theaters. In fact, I saw Endgame three times by the end of the first weekend. I have been an MCU fan from day one and I continue to “marvel” (see what I did there?) at the studio’s ability to intertwine dozens of stories into a single somewhat cohesive story.
When Disney announced that Marvel Studios was going to be producing numerous series on Disney+, I was certainly reserved. Wandavision particularly concerned me as I didn’t have a clue as to what a 50s sitcom had to do with Wanda and her very deceased android partner. Those concerns were almost immediately resolved when Wandavision tied in aspects from several of the MCU movies and even led us down a weird (previously owned by Fox) X-men trail. Overall, the production value from Wandavision set a very high bar for Falcon and the Winter Soldier (FATWS), which I had been looking forward to since it was announced. The series was pumped full of action, a compelling story (which kinda crapped all over Antifa), and yes, some narrative about race and ethnicity. As I watched the show, yes, I eye-rolled at some of the lines/scenes, but overall, I felt they handled it well.
On Twitter last Friday morning, I saw a tweet the ripped FATWS finale released that day as “propaganda” and criticized the finale as a hat-tip to BLM. Of course, knowing that I had seen glancing pokes at the subject before, I felt there was going to be some preachy message about how America is so racist and that Steve Rogers was a representation of white supremacy.
But it wasn’t.
In fact, I found the message to be one of hope and one that actually painted our country as an amazing place.
Hear me out:
During the season of FATWS, we were introduced to Isaiah Bradley, a super-soldier who was living his life as a hermit in a pretty rough neighborhood in Baltimore. Bradley had been given a synthesized version (as close to it as they could get) of the same serum that changed Steve Rogers from a 100-pound weakling into the hero he is through the rest of his years. Bradley however, did not receive the attention that the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Rogers had received. Quite the contrary. Bradley was actually assigned to defeat The Winter Soldier in Korea during the Korean War, however, failed to do so. Instead of Bradley returning to cheers from Americans, grateful for his sacrificial service, Bradley was imprisoned and experimented on by the US Government for 30 years, before being released (after they faked his death). Bradley’s isolation in his home in Baltimore was more than him not liking people. He hated the US Government for what they had done to him. Steve Rogers was a poster boy while Bradley was an object to be manipulated.
During Sam Wilson’s visits to Bradley, Bradley would often talk about how a “black man will never be Captain America.” While Rogers had left his shield to Wilson at the end of Avengers: Endgame, Wilson felt that he could never live up to Rogers’ goodness and presumed perfection. Wilson turned the shield over to the Government who appeased Wilson’s concerns by placing the shield in a museum. That was until, absent any consultation from any of the Avengers (or Wilson), the US Government suddenly announced a new Captain America in seasoned military veteran John Walker. Remember, Wilson didn’t question whether or not Cap could be black, but rather his own struggles with self-worth. Bradley’s negativity only compounded that problem as Wilson struggled with the question, can Captain America be a black man?
Yet Wilson didn’t struggle with the question of whether or not a black man could fight a new iteration of super-soldiers found in the Flag-Smashers, or whether or not a black man could control the evil Baron Zemo. He just went and did. When John Walker bloodily beheaded a Flag-Smasher super-soldier in front of a crowd, the title of Captain America was again up in the air. Except for this time, Wilson knew that no one else would bring the spirit of Steve Rogers to the role more than him. After seeking the help of his Wakandan friends, Wilson ends up with a new set of wings and an absolutely amazing new uniform. Wilson didn’t check with anyone on whether or not he could take on the mantle of Cap; He just did it.
Of course, there were the preachy moments, but they were overshadowed by the amazingness that was the moment, when instead of asking for permission, Wilson put aside race and just became the role he now knew he was obligated to fill. Wilson knew that it was his calling. After kicking a little ass and with a crowd gathered around, Wilson confronted members of the Global Repatriation Council, not pointing out the fact that a black man was now Captain America and how “groundbreaking and brave” he was in assuming the role, but rather taking the time to point out the legitimacy of some of the motivations behind the actions of the Flag-smashers. It was then, at that moment, that I realized how poignant that scene was.
Think about it. Like it or not, there’s no debate that our nation has made significant mistakes in its past. Slavery and the Civil Rights Era proved that we had a lot of things we had to change. The US Government had institutionalized, racist policies that victimized black people throughout the country. (i.e. Tuskegee, both the airmen and the experiment). Isaiah Bradley’s experience as a super-soldier wasn’t too far off what could have been expected as actions of the US Government at that time. As a result, his anger and hatred are completely justified.
We have, however, made strides to rectify some of those wrongs since that time. While Bradley had experienced some of the worst treatment a Government has to offer, alternatively, Sam Wilson had served in an integrated unit, with a white partner, without virtually any reference to his race. Their experiences highlight the generational shift that has occurred over the last 75 years. I am sure you can imagine why Bradley, having endured what he did, would genuinely believe that it could never change. To him, the system was irreparably broken.
Wilson saw it differently. He approached his role as Captain America through the same words uttered by Dr. King over 50 years ago. Wilson was less concerned about the color of his skin and more concerned with the content of his character. That was what he was bringing to the table. Certainly, Wilson had his concerns with race and how it could affect the mantle he was assuming but it was secondary to his greater concern: That a man of integrity wields Steve Rogers’ shield.
Wilson proved to Bradley what he thought impossible. Gone was the label of “Black Falcon,” replaced with the powerful title of Captain America (notice I didn’t preface the latter with “black”). Anyone upset by this change is silly (especially in light of the fact this already happened in the comics). Wilson, though, realized that while things had changed for him, things were very different and very real for the elder, Bradley. As a close to the season, Wilson takes Bradley through the Smithsonian’s Captain America exhibit, visibly annoying Bradley. Wilson then guides Bradley as they enter a new exhibit: One containing a tribute, honoring Bradley’s forgotten service to his country. While it didn’t change what had happened to Bradley, it certainly made strides toward rectifying that wrong.
That is our lesson to take away from this. Certainly, the conditions for minorities in the United States are better than they were 75 years ago, but they still aren’t perfect. We can simultaneously criticize negative actions taken by BLM (see: looting and rioting) (same as Wilson’s Cap defeating the Flag Smashers) and legitimize some of their complaints (as Wilson did through confronting the members of the Global Repatriation Council). Anyone that says that the issues we face are over is in denial. We still have work to do.