Kari Skogland wanted to explore "what it means for a Black man to pick up such an iconic historically white symbol."

By Nick Romano
April 16, 2021 at 10:30 AM EDT
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Warning: Spoilers from The Falcon and the Winter Soldier season 1, episode 5 are discussed in this article.

All season long on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Anthony Mackie's Sam Wilson has had to face the realities of what picking up Captain America's shield would mean. At first, the righthand man of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) opted to let it rest in the Smithsonian, feeling as though it didn't belong to him despite Steve naming him as its successor. But since the government took it upon themselves to bestow the shield to John Walker (Wyatt Russell), thereby dubbing him the next Cap, Sam grappled with his decision and the complicated legacy that comes with the shield.

Now, in the penultimate episode of the first season, Sam finally takes over as its new owner.

After John, enhanced by the super-soldier serum, used the shield to kill a member of the Flag-Smashers in broad daylight out of rage and vengeance, Sam and Bucky (Sebastian Stan) decided to take the weapon from him. And, of course, Cap wouldn't give it up without a fight. The battle left John shieldless, but also Sam wingless; John breaks his suit during the battle.

John is later stripped of his rank as Captain America by the government for his actions, and Sam heads to his Louisiana home to train with the shield. Does this mean Sam will now declare himself the next Captain America? It seems likely. Falcon assumes the role in the comics, after all, and the final moments (mid-credits scene aside) sees Sam opening a case containing what seems to be a new uniform for himself. For now, Kari Skogland, who directed all six episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, explains the impact of Sam picking up the shield even without the Captain America moniker.

"We wanted Sam to engage in both a public and private conversation of what it means for a Black man to pick up such an iconic historically white symbol," she tells EW. "By starting off with his acknowledgement of how important it is as a symbol, and that it is connected to a bygone era, Sam opens the door to the idea that what defines a hero today is not the same ideal as it was when Steve first picked up the shield."

By the same token, Skogland felt it was important for the viewer to go on this journey with Sam "because the shield means different things to different people."

"It is important that we explore all sides to its future as a symbol, given it represents the American flag and the deep history that comes with something that represents equality and freedom," she continues. "It needs to be an ongoing discussion because those very coveted ideas that are the core to the American Dream are actually fragile and need to be protected from those that go down a slippery slope, no matter how well intentioned, that actually puts freedom and equality in the crosshairs."

THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER
Anthony Mackie in 'The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.'
| Credit: Marvel Studios

What a slippery slope it has been, and not just for John. Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman) and the Flag-Smashers' mission to create a world without borders and support those people displaced by the Blip escalated to killing. Karli intentionally killed guards at a GRC supply depot in Lithuania with a bomb, and then she inadvertently took the life of John's friend and comrade-in-arms Lemar (Clé Bennett) during a fight.

The revelation of Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly), a Black soldier who was made into a super soldier through secret, horrible experiments, further complicated any thought Sam had of carrying the shield.

"The legacy of that shield is complicated to say the least," Sam tells Bucky.

"When Steve told me what he was planning I don't think either of us really understood what it felt like for a Black man to be handed the shield. How could we?" he replied.

"I wanted the show to explore the redefinition of a hero who has traditionally been seen as a warrior/soldier to being a first responder and front line worker," Skogland says, considering Sam to be a first responder. "To see a hero who has a strong moral fiber and yet is not rigid so is able to conciliate, include and discuss with the opposition with an eye to solving global issues because they are ultimately interconnected to our universal quality of life."

Malcolm Spellman, the lead writer on the show, says he fought to work on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier because of what it would mean to chronicle the journey of a Black superhero.

"I always say this: my nephew, Kingston, dresses every single Halloween as Black Panther because he grew up having that hero," he says. "The idea of exploring a decidedly Black, decidedly American hero in the current climate of things, it's why I got up every day and it's why I fought so hard to get the gig. Marvel was really generous. As long as you don't show up with an agenda, as long as you make the storytelling great and open, they don't put restraints on you."

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier season finale will premiere next Friday on Disney+.

Check out our daily must-see picks — plus news, celeb interviews, trivia, and more — in EW's What to Watch podcast, hosted by Gerrad Hall.

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The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

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