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Malcolm Spellman Discusses What It Means for a Black Man to Represent an Anti-Black America in ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ and More

Malcolm Spellman Discusses What It Means for a Black Man to Represent an Anti-Black America in ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ and More

With the season finale of Disney+’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier created by the multitalented writer and producer Malcolm Spellman right here, fans are waiting in anticipation for what Easter Eggs to expect and who will ultimately carry the Captain America mantle.

The series has catalyzed unique discussions of what it means to be Black in America while being asked to be Black and protect America.

As a Black man, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) has helped save the world over and over again but cannot even get a loan from the bank for his family. 

To add to the emotional labor of being a hero for a thankless nation, Wilson learns about the medical experimentation performed on Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly) and how it was swept under the rug, as the United States government literally sought to kill their legacy of medical apartheid

In the same lens as the 40 years of the historical Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments performed without medical consent on Black men beginning in the 1930s, Bradley was used for how his body could benefit America.

In addition to the cognitive dissonance of Wilson’s decision, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) also reckons with his own history of abuse from Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl).

BGN was able to catch up with Spellman on how he approached developing both Bucky and Sam with such thought-provoking and transformative character arcs.

When it came to Wilson’s apprehension towards taking the Captain America mantle, Spellman explained, “We wanted to hit it from two levels. Number one is going to be the obvious insecurity or doubt you would have taking on the mantle of the center of the Marvel Universe, which is Cap. Steve Rogers has huge shoes to fill, but obviously the thing we really wanted to pursue was the doubt, wondering if it were even appropriate to take it on because he is a Black man — him specifically and not by accident — a Black man from the South who comes from a certain background, working class.”

Channeling back to Wilson’s background in New Orleans, Spellman wanted authenticity for viewers to understand how Wilson’s story is true for others.

“We’ve done a bunch of research on how the banking industry has destroyed all those Black fishermen that Sam comes from. So even though you can’t see all that in the episode, there was a ton of research and thought put into that story,” Spellman explained.

Ultimately, he wanted audiences to understand that Wilson’s decision to take up the mantle is difficult, especially considering Bradley and the Super Soldier Serum. Spellman highlights how the insidiousness of medical apartheid extends so much further than the show’s clear connection to the Tuskegee experiments. 

He shared, “People always go to Tuskegee, and as awful as that was, when you start to do research, you hear stats of how much more likely African Americans are to be diabetic and many times more likely to be amputated for the exact same condition as a white counterpart. And, we found this awful stat on CNN that right now, Black babies are three times more likely to die in the hands of white doctors than if they had Black doctors. That topic is just such a big distrust of the medical industry by us, starting with Tuskegee.”

With rampant medical racism and the current epidemic of police brutality in the United States, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier arrived during a critical time.

Spellman provides more insight, saying, “That’s why I fought to get the project, to be involved, because it just felt like a massive opportunity to have that conversation through a narrative that’s big and loud and popcorn, and it was natural. The second you talk about making a Black man Captain America, there’s no way to hide from it. Marvel never hid from it when it was in the books and there was no way to hide from it on the screen.”

He continued, saying, “The primary reason I really wanted to be involved with the project was to be able to lend my voice and to bring Anthony and Sam’s voices out because everyone knows this is an inflection point. I don’t know where things are going to go but it’s a very, very serious time, and I think this was the right project, at the right time.”

The show delves into mental health with Barnes and how befriending Wilson is helping him to process his past.

“It’s hard to explain to people how much research and how much work and how many drafts before you get to what you see on screen. So much sh*t has been explored and then thrown away. But the DNA of it’s still there,” Spellman said.

“Sam’s history working with veterans was very, very alive in this project, so he’s uniquely qualified to connect with Bucky, just in general. It’s a thing he did. That’s a part of his life. I love the way Sebastian played that moment when he says, ‘I actually really had no idea, the burden Steve put on you as a Black man offering that shield.’”

The evolution of Barnes truly hits home when Spellman expressed, “The way Sebastian says that really tapped into the fact that Bucky in his own way, because he has not been in his right mind, and he’s been abused and manipulated, doesn’t feel the same guilt as many people would because he’s been through such awful sh*t. I do think that Sam, just because of where he comes from and then the fact that he was someone whose instinct in the MCU was to help veterans, was the perfect person to get Bucky to a place where he can or will or will not make amends and get over this hump that’s been haunting for almost 100 years.”

Spellman also shares the complexity of Barnes’s last interaction with Zemo before the Dora Milaje transported him to Wakanda. Some wonder why Barnes didn’t shoot Zemo, but Spellman presents another question to consider.

“Well, you know what the other question is, why didn’t Zemo decide to kill Bucky? Because that’s all there. It’s funny that I’m seeing in the comments section where fans are catching that Zemo’s considering this sh*t all the way through the series. Because he wants to exterminate these Super Soldiers. Zemo decides, even though Bucky’s maybe not the man in Zemo’s eyes that Steve was, Bucky did not pursue being a Super Soldier and is the one person that did not pursue it. It was imposed on him. So, in his mind, Bucky is actually a victim, despite having that serum in him. He’s a victim.”

Spellman referenced Barnes’s journey on the show when he couldn’t tell Yori that he killed his son as the Winter Soldier. Spellman explained that Barnes “couldn’t deal with it” then but is making progress.

“It’s a progression for him. Killing Zemo, who was part of probably one of the worst runs in his existence, would have been a backslide for him. And that’s an inch forward to where he’s still got the big one coming. I’m saying he still will have to confront some of the sh*t he did, and that will absolve or fail to absolve all the collection of his sins.”

He went on to add, “But I think that’s when he knew that it was personal with him and Zemo. For the thing he’s chasing, killing Zemo would have been the opposite, and Zemo saw Bucky as a victim.”

Spellman wanted to remind Marvel fans that what appears on screen is just a glimpse into a broad and expansive amount of work and footage that doesn’t make it on screen. 

We’re thankful for the work that our on-screen and off-screen MCU heroes bring to make The Falcon and the Winter Soldier epic and complex.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is available for streaming on Disney+.

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