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‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ Establishes the Importance of Sam Wilson as the New Captain America

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This review contains spoilers for the Disney+ miniseries “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.”

All episodes of Marvel’s latest hit series, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” are now available to watch exclusively on the Disney+ streaming service — with the sixth and final episode titled “One World, One People” introducing the world to a Black Captain America. 

From the first episode, it is evident that racism and trauma are some of the major themes throughout the series — themes that are so relevant in today’s society. With the heartbreaking deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others at the hands of law enforcement officers, the year 2020 alone serves as a reminder to the world that discrimination and violence towards people of color remain persistent. The final episode of the series was released at an appropriate time, with Captain America’s revered mantle being passed to a Black man. 

“The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” follows Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan) as they adjust to life after the Blip — the snap that wiped half of life from existence — and loss of their former best friend Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans). Both Stan and Mackie bring remarkable emotion and hilarity to their characters. In particular, Stan is able to veer past his character’s former cold and misunderstood exterior, delivering a side of Bucky that Marvel fans had yet to see — a man capable of freeing himself from his former demons. Mackie, on the other hand, succeeds at portraying the struggles of being a person of color in America while also representing Sam as a man that knows who he is and what he’s capable of without needing to prove himself to anybody. 

Photos provided by Marvel Studios @MarvelStudios/Twitter

The series can easily be summed up into one question — is the world prepared to accept and pass on the mantle of Captain America to a Black man? At the end of “Avengers: Endgame,” Steve Rogers had passed on Captain America’s shield not to a perfect soldier, but to a good man —  Sam Wilson — without giving mind to the daily struggles that people of color face in society. 

While Steve knew that Sam was the perfect candidate for being the next face of America, the first two episodes illustrate that Sam thinks otherwise, as he gives up the shield to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. This decision doesn’t stem from Sam assuming he isn’t as accomplished or capable of being the next owner of the shield, but rather from the feeling that Steve Rogers can never be replaced. 

The premise of the show moves with extremely important historical bigotries — the oppression and unfair treatment of a person based on social class and race. Sam is not only portrayed as a Black hero, but a man who faces the same everyday struggles as any other person of color. This is shown throughout each episode in the interactions between Sam and various government employees. The U.S. government undoubtedly highlights they are unwilling to accept a Black man as the nation’s hero as they manipulate Sam into giving up the shield and place the title of Captain America onto another blond haired, blue-eyed Army soldier named John Walker (Wyatt Russell). 

Unlike any other Marvel installation, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” takes viewers on a thought-provoking journey by using the character of Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly), a Korean War veteran, to dive into the corruption happening behind the scenes of the U.S. government. Bucky carries us to a murky chapter when bringing Sam to the Bradley household. Isaiah was recruited against his will alongside a dozen other African-American men and used as a means to test and recreate the Super Soldier Serum. As one of the only surviving victims, he embarked on secret missions and rescued soldiers from behind enemy lines only to be wrongfully imprisoned for 30 years for his heroic acts. 

“They will never let a Black man be Captain America, and even if they did, no self-respecting Black man would ever wanna be,” Isaiah tells Sam in the fifth episode. 

The entirety of the series seems to be leading up to Sam leaving his persona as the Falcon behind and becoming what Steve wanted him to be, the new Captain America. Within the first 10 minutes of the final episode, we see Sam dressed in his new red, white and blue suit, completely embodying Captain America. Despite Isaiah’s opinion, Sam fully accepts his new role, saying to a bystander, “I’m Captain America.” 

The finale is packed with action and surprise, working to set up the future for each of these characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), similar to the previous Disney+ Marvel series “WandaVision.” Sam, Bucky and Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) team up against the show’s antagonists, the Flag-Smashers, which ultimately ends in its leader, Karli Morgenthau’s (Erin Kellyman), death. Agent Carter is also revealed to be the Power Broker — the person single-handedly responsible for the uproar the Flag-Smashers caused. 

Photos provided by Marvel Studios @MarvelStudios/Twitter

With the first five episodes ending in cliffhangers, the show is able to keep viewers hooked. They actively work to set up the jaw-opening events shown in “One World, One People,” including the confrontation between Sam and various U.S. Senate members. After going head-to-head with the Flag-Smashers, Sam is bombarded by reporters and delivers an influential speech regarding systemic racism within society. 

“We finally have a common struggle now, think about that,” he says to the Senators. “I mean, this girl died trying to stop you and no one has stopped one second to ask why.” That scene further examines the motives behind Morgenthau’s cause, with emphasis on the resurgence of xenophobia. 

The infamous Blip wreaked havoc and forced tremendous change in the world. When Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) snapped everyone back into existence, the Global Repatriation Council was established to restore confusion among the world’s population and create resources for displaced refugees. This works to bring cultural diversity into the MCU, manifesting this as a key theme moving forward. 

Per usual, viewers are graced with the highly anticipated post-credit scene. Agent Carter is shown being pardoned for her crimes committed in “Captain America: Civil War” when she stole back Steve’s shield and Sam’s wings, only for her to make a phone call stating that she now has access to government files and weaponry. This could potentially be Marvel’s way of setting her up as a future MCU villain. 

As for Bucky, formally the Winter Soldier, the final episode reveals that he has finally found a way to forgive himself and take up the title of what the Wakandans call him — the White Wolf. No longer running from his past, the character is compelled to make amends with anyone he wronged during his time in Hydra, a terrorist organization. Over the course of the show, we see Stan deliver an accurate portrayal of someone whose background is full of trauma forgiving himself and moving forward. This is evident in Bucky’s relationship with Yori Nakajima (Ken Takemoto) when he tells him he was forced to kill his son as the Winter Soldier. 

Each episode works to bring forth the prominent themes of racism and trauma in order to fully grasp what it means for Sam Wilson, an African-American man, to become the next Captain America. This ground-breaking finale sets up the future for the MCU, with Marvel announcing that “Captain America 4” is currently in the works. Malcolm Spellman, head writer and creator of “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” is leading the development for the fourth Captain America installment — with the protagonist being the first and only Black Captain America, otherwise known as Sam Wilson. 

McKenzie Boney is an Entertainment Intern for the spring 2021 quarter. She can be reached at mboney@uci.edu