Though The Falcon and The Winter Soldier’s unabashedly the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first attempt at something akin to a buddy-cop action series, the show’s also been very pointed in its rather lacking, though still important, exploration of issues relating to race and class as real elements that shape Sam and Bucky’s worlds.
In its first two episodes, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier got right to one of its points by bringing audiences closer to Sam Wilson’s everyday life, and showing you that his being an (apparently only semi-famous) Avenger doesn’t shield him from overt instances of anti-Black racism. While one’s opinion on the effectiveness and thoughtfulness of the series’ social commentary is subjective, it’s hard to deny that it’s laid on rather thick and frequently in ways meant to make sure that viewers understand the points being made.
In a recent interview for Empire magazine’s film podcast, head writer Malcolm Spellman and director Kari Skogland went into quite a bit of interesting detail about their creative process and shed light on how moments from the first two episodes came to be. Obviously, the tones in moments like the bank loan scene and Sam’s decision to give up the shield were things the show’s writers discussed at length, and the awkwardness you’re sometimes left with is intentional.
“So in every scene like that, including the bank scene with Sam and Sarah, you know, that was again, it was ironic humor, but it was so uncomfortable,” Skogland said. “And the racism that was embedded in the DNA of the character became very uncomfortable, and that was intentional, but yet you’re kind of smiling your way through and then you go, ‘Wow, this is so...you know.’”
Skogland also explained that one of her biggest desires was to craft the show in an experiential way, meaning that viewers felt as if they were on an adventure similar to Sam and Bucky as the season progresses. Sam’s seeming lack of experience with governmental underhandedness is one of the other curious things about his characterization in these past two episodes, and it’s something that Spellman may also have considered in alternate drafts where things played out a bit differently.
While Sam ultimately decided to give the vibranium shield to the Smithsonian in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier’s first episode, only to watch in genuine horror when—shocker—the government gives the shield to John Walker, Spellman also considered a scenario in which the military left Sam with no choice. The change, Spellman explained, came from the collaborative process that goes into many Marvel projects where producers like Nate Moore come in to hone ideas. “Marvel partners you with a creative producer, and you work with them directly the whole way through,” Spellman said. “And I could be wrong, but I feel like my initial instinct was to have the government take it, and Nate wanted to put it on character.”
Spellman elaborated that from his perspective, this process made The Falcon and The Winter Soldier a much stronger series reflective of the multiple viewpoints and perspectives present within the show’s writing staff. “Every single one of those moments comes from a tremendous amount of thought,” he said. “We have an entire writers room, you know, in America, you have one writer per episode, and we have the Marvel partners who are equally creative all sitting in a room for eight to 12 hours a day, five, six days a week. The government taking [the shield] was also discussed, but in my opinion, the spirit of that is there, anyway, the betrayal is there no matter what.”
Everything that Spellman and Skogland are saying about the show tracks pretty well with what’s been seen of other Marvel writers’ rooms, which are all pieces of a larger organization that puts out interconnected stories based on shared IP. It’s interesting to consider, though, how this process takes into account minute differences in tone and optics that can carry rather outsized significance when put on screen. In addition to The Falcon and The Winter Soldier needing to be something of a hero’s journey, it’s meant to be a continuation of Bucky and Sam’s stories. In Sam’s case, Avengers: Endgame left him stating pretty clearly that he was going to try to become the next Captain America, but the new series quickly backtracked in a way that the show’s yet to address.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier very well could have a solid reason for having its first Black Captain America-to-be swoop into his series with a “haha, jk” that’s borne out in the build-up to the finale. As much ground as the show still has to cover though, it’d be a wonder if it pulled that off.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is now streaming on Disney+.
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