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‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ Is Not Afraid to Lean Into Uncomfortable Racial Politics

”Sam Wilson is a Black man, and those Stars and Stripes are something that you can’t just forgive,“ head writer Malcolm Spellman tells TheWrap

You don’t need to remind Malcolm Spellman, head writer of Marvel’s “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” about the importance of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s very few prominent Black characters. His family already does that.

“My nephew wears a Black Panther costume every other week,” Spellman told TheWrap. “It doesn’t even fit him anymore.”

Now Spellman gets to chart the future of one of those prominent Black heroes during an inflection point in the country’s history as it comes to matters of race and inequality.

“The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” debuts Friday, just two weeks after “WandaVision” successfully brought the MCU into the streaming era. The six-episode “buddy two-hander” (as Spellman describes it) is set up to be Marvel Studios’ most overt political commentary on race and extremism. It not only sees Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) team up to fight a group of anti-patriotism radicals, but asks the question: Is the world ready to accept a Black Captain America?

“This series is super, super relevant. I’m not gonna have fake humility and act like that is by accident,” Spellman said, pointing out that the writers room for “Falcon and the Winter Soldier” is mostly Black. “When you get people of color, particularly Black folk who are masters of pop culture, in a room together, they understand society in a very specific way. So I felt like we were connected to the times right off the bat.”

Besides, Spellman argues, they’re not doing anything that Marvel’s long comics history didn’t attempt, even if it didn’t always hit the mark.

“I think what Marvel did well in the comics — by the way, sometimes they messed up in the comics, too, because the wrong people were creating these characters — but Marvel always wanted to be of the day. And this show is of 2020,” he says. “Sam Wilson is a Black man, and those Stars and Stripes are something that you can’t just forgive on his face. And that’s just allowed to exist, for better or for worse, as it goes. We didn’t show up with an agenda. You still want it to be fun and muscular, but you’re not going to be dishonest either.”

Sam Wilson taking over the mantle of Captain America from his buddy Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is rooted in comics history. In 2014, Sam first appeared as the new Captain America, complete with a new red, white and blue costume that incorporated elements of his old Falcon look. Though his run as Cap would last only a few years, his turn as the Star-Spangled Avenger was notable for his much more openly activist stance compared to Rogers’ version (more on that here).

When “Avengers: Endgame” ended in 2019 with an elderly Steve passing on his shield to Sam, Marvel had already confirmed that “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” would be one of its first Disney+ series. The main antagonists are a group of extremists called The Flag Smashers, who essentially are against the idea that that the world should even have countries at all.

Production on the series began in October of 2019, before getting halted last March because of the pandemic. By the time it resumed later that fall, the world was flipped on its side in much the same way that the post-Blip world of the Avengers has been forever changed.

Last summer, the largest protest movement in the country’s history was sparked by the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd at the hands of police. It forced a swell of reckoning and introspection, including from those in Hollywood. The summer would end in heartbreak when Chadwick Boseman, T’Challa himself, died following his secret four-year battle with cancer. It robbed Marvel fans, including Spellman’s nephew, of one of the few Black superheroes.

“When Chadwick did pass, we felt a huge burden. Because that dude, that character were iconic,” Spellman said. “It’s massive and we knew we had to honor that.”

“The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” premieres Friday on Disney+.