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Anthony Mackie on the importance of black superheroes

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Anthony Mackie always says what’s on his mind, without holding back. And when he’s playing Falcon in a Marvel movie, usually what’s on his mind is: GET ME DOWN FROM THESE WIRES.

The actor, who co-starred in The Hurt Locker and plays Martin Luther King Jr. opposite Bryan Cranston’s LBJ in the upcoming HBO film All the Way, also has deeper thoughts — especially about the importance of including more actors of color amongst the superhero ranks.

During a break between shots on Captain America: Civil War, Mackie was able to detach from Falcon’s robotic wings and come down to Earth for a conversation about what comic book movies say about friendship, his rivalry with Robert Downey Jr., and why it matters so much to have the comic book world’s first black superhero (Black Panther) and the first African-American superhero (Falcon) sharing the screen at last.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So today, you’ve been dangling a lot…

ANTHONY MACKIE: All day. Yeah, it was painfully hot — but fun, I mean I love doing it, so I’ve been fighting with my stuntman because he’s been doing all the wire work. So they finally let me do a day of it.

Do you enjoy that, or is it still kind of a pain to be up there?

No, no, well the funny thing is, on Cap 2, I wasn’t ready for it, so it was just painful. I couldn’t enjoy it. Nobody tells you, “Hey, we’re gonna hang you from a wire and ask you to act like a bird.”  But I worked out really hard for four months leading up to this movie, so now I can do it all day.

I remember talking to you on Winter Soldier and you said they asked you to stop screaming when they swung you from the wires. And you were like, “There’s no way I’m can stop screaming on this.”

[Laughs] Well, that’s the thing, I mean, there’s nothing natural about what they ask you to do, you know? And when they drop you face first into the concrete, you have to have faith that they’re gonna not kill you.

No flinching.

[Gestures at the crew] I mean look at these dudes, man! [Laughs] So I don’t have that faith yet.

Yeah, well stuntwork broke Robert Downey Jr.’s ankle on Iron Man 3.

See what I mean? And if you break Robert imagine what you will do to me!

The last time we saw Falcon, he was in Age of Ultron working on Cap’s “missing person’s case,” basically hunting for the Winter Soldier, a.k.a. Bucky Barnes. Then we saw you in Ant-Man. Where is Falcon/Sam Wilson as Civil War begins?

In this movie, we find Sam on the track still looking for Bucky. After everything went down in the last Avengers, I basically have to get [Cap] back on track to find Bucky. So that’s where we start off in this one.

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The Russo brothers described Civil War as a family fight at a wedding.

I would say more like a schoolyard fight. You have the two big bullies, and then you have all their minions. And one minion says something to the other minion and the big bully steps in and then that big bully started going at it. So it was just, it’s a free-for-all; but I think they’ve structured it really well because everyone has their counter superhero on the other side that they have to deal with.

So who’s yours?

I’ve been saying for three years that it’s Tony Stark. But, I don’t know. I would stick with Tony Stark being my nemesis because there can only be one Flying Avenger. So, he’s going down.

What about War Machine?

War Machine don’t count. War Machine don’t count. Either Tony Stark goes down, or I go down.

Give me a context for the scene we’re seeing here.

So basically, the scene that we’re seeing now, you have the separation between basically the two sanctions of Avengers. They are telling [Falcon and Cap] that we’re in trouble because we went against their jurisdiction, their accords. So, we have to meet with Tony to explain why we went against the accords.

It’s kind of like getting sent to the principal’s office?

Exactly! And you never want a principal like Tony.

Why is that?

He’s just… He’s really into being the principal. [Laughs] You never, you don’t want Tony to get mad at you because he becomes someone who is not your friend very quickly.

Things are still good between Sam and Steve? You’re #TeamCap all the way?

Oh, yeah. Since our relationship was formed on respect, and we had that mutual military bond, our relationship is always good. We trust each other, we look out for each other. So it’s never become an issue of you know, whether I can trust you or are you good or bad.

How does Falcon feel about Bucky?

Well, I think with Sam, he still thinks the Winter Soldier’s a lunatic.

He doesn’t see what Steve sees.

Nothing about it. He’s like, look, dude, we need to leave him alone. You know, but with Steve the relationship is so deep and Steve is such a loyal guy from their history, their past, and their bond, and kinship that Steve sees more. But I think with Sam, it’s pretty much, keep him over there and I’m over here.

Which is how it is when you have a friend from high school and then you go to college and you get a new friend; those two rarely become friends.

They will never interact the way you interact; but you’re always the glue in the middle. I’ll talk to Steve but I’ll be damned if Bucky’s invited over for my barbecue. It’s not happening.

Black Panther is also in this scene, as T’Challa – how does the prince of Wakanda fit into this scene?

You have all these global leaders that put together the Accords and he’s one of the guys.

Black Panther is the first black superhero, of course, and Falcon is historic because he’s the first African-American hero. That’s an important distinction, right? T’Challa’s not American, he’s from Wakanda…

[Laughs] And that ain’t in Brooklyn.

With Captain America: Civil War a little over two months away, Marvel Studios has released some new stills from the May 6 film — which will feature Chris Evans’ Cap clashing with his Avengers ally Iron Man in a fight over who controls the actions of the world’s superheroes. In this shot, Cap and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) are called in to answer for a mission gone wrong, and T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the prince of Wakanda — a.k.a. Black Panther — is among those evaluating their actions.

 

What’s your point of view on the significance of having broader diversity and representation in these movies?

I think it’s massive. I think everyone deserves someone to look up to and admire. I think we live in a day in age and we live in a country where people look up to people who only look like them, you know? When I was a kid, I would watch the Superman movies and I would say, wow, I really want to be Superman. Or I would watch He-Man and I would be like, wow, I really want to be He-Man.

But I think we live in a day in age now where little black kids feel like they can’t connect to a character who doesn’t look like them. Or little girls feel like they can’t connect to a character who’s a guy, because they’re just different. You know, everybody’s so personal nowadays, it’s not so much about connecting to an emotion or…

Just an idea?

An idea. It’s more so connecting about someone who looks like you, you know? That’s why Black Widow is so important. That’s why Scarlet Witch is so important. I think the fact that they’re making all these movies now, they’re coming out with the Captain Marvel movie. They’re coming out with the Black Panther movie. I think that’s monumental because the people who go see Marvel movies will never say, “Oh, I’m not gonna see that movie ‘cause that guy’s black.”

Or “I’m not gonna see that movie because that superhero’s a woman.” They’ll never say that, you know, so you broaden your audience and you give everybody something to be excited about. So now you can go see how your favorite superhero ties into the story. It blows my mind how many little white kids and Asian kids come up to me and say, “Oh my God, you’re the Falcon, and I love you!” I think that’s, especially where we are nowadays, that’s very important because as a country we need to realize that, you know, if you’re racist, you’re just a really…

You’re isolated.

Obsolete, yeah. And that’s the scary part.

Seems like the value of this is it doesn’t matter who you are; a hero can look like anybody.

I feel like that’s the way it used to be, I mean, you know, I used to run around and say that I wanted to be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle! [Laughs] And they were green, you know, so…

For more Marvel news, follow @Breznican.

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