‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ takes on labels, racism and the future of Marvel
It has long been widely understood that art – may it be paintings, music, cinema or television – can impact people regardless of the differences in culture, although we do interpret them uniquely.
Marvel’s latest series, “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier,” (TFATWS) may just be the first project in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) to tackle quite deeply issues such as racism, particularly in the United States. With a cinematic franchise this big, dabbling in such issues will always have a huge impact, whether you agree with it or not.
While the social commentary undoubtedly resonates more with Americans, especially during these times, “TFATWS” introduced – or reiterated – some points that people from all over the world can relate to as well.
Before anything else, however, I personally would like to admit that I enjoyed the series. And as a long-time MCU fan, I, for one, appreciate what Marvel is trying to do.
The show did a good job of capturing that Marvel movie feel and split them across a six-episode series, especially with what I would consider a consistent portrayal of the show’s titular protagonists. However, it also had its fair share of confusing and somewhat forced moments.
Captain America and the White Wolf
I am not going to pretend to be an expert in trauma or mental health in general, but the show was able to pick up from where past films left off regarding Bucky Barnes’ struggles as a former mind-controlled assassin.
In the series, Bucky, played by Sebastian Stan, had been pardoned by the U.S. government for his past crimes as the Winter Soldier. As part of the deal, he was required to attend therapy and to “make amends.”
It was established in past films that Wakanda helped Bucky free himself from the code words that turn him into the Winter Soldier, although the series showed that he was not that free after all. Bucky still struggled and admittedly was still haunted by the Winter Soldier’s memories back then that come in the form of nightmares.
While the show’s therapist didn’t seem to have helped Bucky too much, it was Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson who was able to get through to him. Being a former counselor for U.S. veterans suffering from PTSD, Sam’s knowledge and genuine goodness as a person shone throughout the series.
Aside from helping Bucky, Sam consistently showed his willingness to understand and help others – much like how he offered to help Steve Rogers back in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”
While he’s a soldier, Sam refused to directly resort to violence as he was willing to talk to the Flag Smashers’ leader Karli Morgenthau, played by Erin Kellyman, to try to subdue her peacefully while also understanding her cause.
On another note, it was enjoyable to witness Sam and Bucky banter — something the show was also able to take and improve from the previous movies.
Black Captain America, Flag Smashers and labels
“TFATWS” is mainly about how Sam takes up the mantle of Captain America and be worthy of his shield, although it is centered around the much bigger subjects of racism and politics.
With the introduction of an old Isaiah Bradley in the show, Marvel held nothing back in showing how racism has long been a deep-rooted issue in society.
This was a point that was further pushed when Sam and Bucky, who were having an argument on the street, were approached by police who immediately check on Bucky to ask if Sam was bothering him — something fans considered to be a bold move by Marvel.
This was the very thing Sam was concerned about when he was still considering whether to be the next Captain America or not, more so after being advised by Isaiah, who was understandably against the idea.
In Sam’s big speech in the finale, however, he emphasized that he knows “millions of people out there [are] going to hate [him]” for carrying the shield just because of his skin color, but that doesn’t stop him from doing so.
“No super serum, no blonde hair or blue eyes,” but Sam has the power of believing that “we can do better.”
While Sam’s speech is overall a great one and worthy to be said from someone called Captain America, there were a few points in the finale that I admittedly just couldn’t fully grasp.
While I understand the Flag Smashers’ disdain over the world governments for apparently forgetting about them after the victims of The Blip returned, I just couldn’t fully absorb their violent ways of getting what they want, which may be attributed to a deficiency in exposition.
Karli maintains that they are not supremacists like Baron Zemo brands them to be, but I just can’t sympathize with her completely because of her seeming disregard of killing other people — something her own comrades obviously didn’t support too.
Her skewed beliefs, however, may be explained by the super-soldier serum, which often corrupts those who receive it (with the exception of Steve Rogers, of course). “Good becomes great. Bad becomes worse,” its original creator Dr. Abraham Erskine explained in the first “Captain America” film.
With Flag Smashers killing people left and right and blowing places up, Sam still refused to fight Karli, even though she tried to kill the Global Repatriation Council members several times in the finale. I sometimes felt that the show was forcing me to sympathize with the Flag Smashers, then show them doing something bad right after — making me feel undecided on what to feel, although this may have been the showrunners’ intention.
Moreover, that may just prove why Sam deserves to be Captain America, as he possesses a heightened level of understanding and sympathy than the average person. This is why even if I understand why the senators referred to the Flag Smashers as “terrorists,” I agree with Sam noting how using these labels are just often “used to get around the question ‘why.’”
For a Filipino viewer, like me, this can be easily compared to the way our government and law enforcement officials easily red-tag those who oppose them, and how labels such as “activist” are quickly demonized.
Others may consider Sam’s speech a little too optimistic, but I still hope that those in power who watched the show were also moved, or at least nudged, by Sam’s point on decision-making. While it is obviously not an easy task to run a country, it is important to realize that every decision must be for the citizens, not for “more people like you” — with “you” being politicians.
Marvel just opened up a whole new world of storytelling for its superhero franchise by tackling such issues. While I know that not every MCU film or show should focus on such things from now on, it is safe to say that Marvel may be open to doing it again in future projects. JB