Captain America, a paramount Marvel character, is a hero that often seems to embody classic American values as he is a patriotic freedom fighter and a war hero that combats Nazis. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he was always portrayed as a blue-eyed, blonde man. Until now.
On Aug. 18, it was announced that Anthony Mackie had closed the deal to star in the fourth installment of Captain America. Mackie had previously played the role of Sam Wilson, also known by his superhero name of Falcon, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
This comes as no surprise after the ending of the critically and fan-acclaimed TV show Falcon and The Winter Soldier, in which Mackie’s character picks Captain America’s famous shield and title.
“It’s cool, Black man being Captain America. Makes me feel good inside,” said Austin Allen, a Communication student at the University of Southern California.
Falcon and the Winter Soldier dealt with current themes of racism, nationalism, displacement of people, and also talked about the historical mistreatment of African Americans in the U.S. The latter is done mostly through the storyline of Isaiah Bradley, a Black superhero, who gains his abilities by being part of a government experiment on African Americans, many of whom did not survive. Unlike Steve Rogers, Isaiah Bradley was not celebrated by the mainstream public and he was later unjustly incarcerated.
One of the questions raised in the series is, could there be a Black Captain America?
“I think that’s not really the true question. I think the real question is, would a Black person want to be Captain America?” said Justin John Samuel Hughes, a Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU) student and comic fan. Hughes often makes videos about Marvel and has gathered over 100,000 subscribers and over 11.1 million likes.
“Sam Wilson being Captain America, I think it’s a good arc on the story. He wasn’t recognized as his own character. He was kind of a side character. You notice that a lot of Black characters, they basically have small roles in movies but I think Marvel kinda established him as his own thing,” said Hughes. He added that while he does take after Steve Rogers, “he has his own personality, he has his own way of doing things.”
In the series, Bradley was never Captain America, despite his similar past with Steve Rogers, and he often presented the idea to Wilson that America was not going to accept a Black Captain. Wilson does not necessarily share this idea, as he later takes the title of Captain America.
“He has a different perspective (on) it but I think Isaiah’s Bradley perspective is also valid. We all have to pay attention to that,” Hughes said.
He also mentions how he would like to see Bradley in the new adaptation of Captain America.
Hughes is not the only one that has noticed that Black characters are often being kept on the story sidelines (much like Wilson in his first MCU appearances).
A 2019 report published by UCLA showed only two out of 10 lead actors in films were people of color. This rate is actually an increase from previous years, underscoring just how low representation and inclusivity rates are.
The same report mentioned that in 2016 only 13.9% of the studied films had a lead who was a racial minority, compared to 19.8% in 2017. “Though their 2017 share is the largest posted for the group thus far in the report series, it would have to double before people of color reached proportionate representation among film leads (39.4%),” it said.
This parallels Hughe’s opinions on Marvel’s diversity.
“It’s not perfect. Definitely not perfect,” said Hughes about Marvel’s diversity. He said that at the beginning of the MCU, “It’s mostly white men. It’s Thor, it’s Captain America, it’s Robert Downey Jr. [as]Iron Man. [In] the first group of the Avengers it’s all white people and a white woman.” This is something that is changing with Marvel’s recent and future projects.
“I think they are doing better. I just think that they should pull from things they [have] already done and bring those things to the light because they already have characters that are historically black and they already have characters that are historically LGBT, obviously women,” Hughes said.
Just like with all their other projects, Marvel is keeping quiet about the new developments of Captain America 4, but the public can expect a Black Captain America in the future.
“It’s good for the kids,” said Allen. “It’s like Black Panther, when the movie came out a lot of Black kids believed they could be Black Panther. Now, Captain America being Black is the same.”