“The Falcon and The Winter Soldier” Confronts Racism in America

Actors+Sebastian+Stan+and+Anthony+Mackie%2C+who+portray+the+Winter+Soldier+and+Falcon%2C+speak+at+San+Diego+Comic-Con.

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Actors Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie, who portray the Winter Soldier and Falcon, speak at San Diego Comic-Con.

By Jack O'Connor, San Juan Hills High School

Marvel has come a long way since their first genre defining hit film, Iron Man. Following its release, Marvel has become bolder and more adventurous with the characters and stories they’re willing to tell. Their latest foray into bold storytelling is in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier which both explicitly and subtly analyzes the racial reckoning of America.

The show follows the superheroes Falcon, AKA Sam Wilson, and Winter Soldier, AKA Bucky Barnes, as they are forced to deal with the consequences following the end of Avengers: Endgame as well as Wilson’s unwillingness to take up the mantra as the new Captain America. However, beneath the main plot is an attempt to start a discussion regarding America’s history of racism both past and present. 

The show’s most explicit look into modern racism in America is most clearly seen in Wilson’s interaction with the public. In Episode 2 viewers watch Wilson and Barnes arguing in public, causing two police officers to approach Barnes asking him if Wilson (a man of color), is “bothering” him. The officers only stand down once they remember the superhero identity of Wilson. This direct link to police harassment and profiling is the exact situation that advocates of the Black Lives Matter movement have called out in recent years.

Such an interaction being shown on television, as well as on the child-oriented Disney+, is highly important in showing audiences how racism manifests in more than just the blatant examples like the use of racial slurs and derogatory remarks towards minorities.

The added note of the officers only listening to Wilson’s pleas because of his superhero identity is a subtle way of showing how the officers’ hostility towards Wilson was not done with malicious intent since they were willing to hear him out despite him still being African American. Showing this confrontation highlights how individuals are still subject to implicit bias regardless of whether they know or not.

While he was just as much of a hero as Rogers, his story was left in the shadows of his White counterpart.”

In the same episode Wilson has a conversation with a young child where the child refers to him as “Black Falcon” causing Wilson to respond by asking whether or not he should call the child “Black Kid”. Wilson uses this encounter to teach the child, and the audience, that while his race is a part of his identity, it is not his entire identity.

However, my personal favorite and the most powerful exhibit of the show covering racism is how the show contrasts the treatment of Steve Rogers with the treatment of Isiah Bradley. 

Rogers is given the Super Soldier Serum in order to heighten his strength, making him a hero and  symbol for American hope. Meanwhile, Bradley is given the Serum as a guinea pig. Instead of praising him for his war efforts, the US government imprisoned him and used him for further testing against his will. Rogers was the great war hero who saved America and Bradley was completely unknown, abused, and left to die alone.

Bradley’s unfair treatment mimics the unfair treatment many Black soldiers faced during the World Wars. While he was just as much of a hero as Rogers, his story was left in the shadows of his White counterpart.

Bradley is given a chance to expand on his understandable bitterness towards both the government and the symbol of Captain America. “They will never let a Black man be Captain America. And even if they did, no self respecting Black man would want to be,” said Bradley. 

While some may argue that Wilson eventually taking up the mantle of Captain America hurts the overall message of the show since it contradicts Bradley’s message, the reality is that the ending adds further depth in showing how members of the same oppressed community can have differing opinions on how to counter the discrimination they face. 

Without such disagreement, the show would unintentionally contribute to the stereotype that members of the same racial community all hold the same exact views like a hive mind.”

For Bradley, Wilson taking the mantle of Captain America means participating in the same institution that subjugates African Americans which in essence is equivalent to supporting the oppression that afflicts his community. For a real world comparison, it would mean believing African American police officers hurt their own community since they’re participating in the same system that assists in oppressing their own community.

For Wilson, taking the mantle of Captain America means changing the outlook of being Captain America and at the same time being able to assist his community from the inside. For a real world comparison, it would mean believing African American police officers help their own community since they can change the culture and outlook of the policing institution.

Regardless of which side is “objectively right,” having them disagree is highly important since without such disagreement, the show would unintentionally contribute to the stereotype that members of the same racial community all hold the same exact views like a hive mind.

By connecting popular culture’s outlook on American racism through the lens of the superhero genre, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is able to amplify the discussion surrounding the past and present racial reckoning of America.

This story was originally published on The Express on April 29, 2021.