FLYING THE FLAG
SFX|March 2021
THE MCU’S ODD COUPLE GET THEIR OWN DISNEY+ SERIES TO EXPLORE WHO’LL BE THE EXT CAPTAIN AMERICA IN THE FRLGON WINTER SOLDIER
TARA BENNETT

IF THERE’S ONE THING you can be certain about with Marvel Studios, it’s that it’s always 10 steps ahead of its audience. That’s not easy considering that it has made six of the 20 biggest-grossing films ever, its fandom includes more than 30 million social media followers, and it has spawned a cottage industry revolving around trying to unearth spoilers about forthcoming titles. Yet it continues to keep most of its secrets locked down, in order to surprise and delight. Case in point: when Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios, announced at San Diego Comic-Con 2019 the slate for Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – including, for the first time, series-based storytelling to air exclusively on Disney+ – the studio had already been developing all of it since 2018, including WandaVision and The Falcon And The Winter Soldier.

Knowing the value of their wide range of supporting Avengers characters, Feige and the creatives at Marvel Studios saw Disney+ as an opportunity to finally give focused attention to the stories the films haven’t been able to dig into. The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, a six-part one-off series, will honor a deeper exploration of the baton pass from the end of Avengers: Endgame – where Old Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) gives his Captain America shield to Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and a rehabilitated Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) – and what those two men do with it next.

CASTING THE SPELLMAN

Initially developed by Captain America: Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War executive producer Nate Moore and his co-executive producer Zoie Nagelhout, the series was always envisioned as a two-hander in which Sam and Bucky are given the space to explore who they are – and who they want to be – without Steve Rogers directly influencing their destinies.

Under a veil of secrecy, Marvel Studios approached writers. Some were already on their radar – like Malcolm Spellman, who’d previously met Moore about a potential Deathlok script that never happened. “I won’t approach any project unless I feel like I have a connection to it. When this one came up, I went for it,” Spellman says enthusiastically, via a Zoom call from his LA office. With his 20 years of experience in film and television with shows like Empire and his love for the characters, he knew he was uniquely positioned for the challenge.

“They wanted to do a buddy two-hander, and that’s one of the things I came to Hollywood to write. I love them on all spectrums. And [Marvel Studios] can smell out the BS very quickly,” Spellman chuckles. “They knew that I got the [writing] samples, right? But then most importantly, having a black man confront whether or not to take on the mantle of that shield was why I pushed so hard to get it.”

While race relations in America came to another boiling point in 2020, igniting a global conversation, anyone of color in the US is painfully aware of the ever-simmering problems that flare up even regarding something as joyful as Sam being handed Cap’s shield. Spellman was enthusiastic about folding that American reality into Falcon’s decision about what to do with the mantle he’s been handed. Of the Black Lives Matter protests last year, he says, “It’s funny, because if someone asked me, ‘In a million years, could you have ever predicted what was going on?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m black,’” he deadpans. “We are uniquely qualified to diagnose this country and have a sense of where it’s going. And Nate is black and he’s one of their most senior execs, so he was the perfect partner for me.”

What’s also become more apparent in the making of the series is the potent parallel between the reality of the Covid-19 pandemic and the MCU’s “Blip”, which saw half the universe’s population wiped out, only to return five years later. Spellman says that the fact that humanity is living through an extended state of stasis has made The Falcon And The Winter Soldier’s narrative more pointed.

“There’s no hiding from the fact that four billion people in the MCU disappeared for five years, and then came back. And our show picks up from there and directly talks about what the world feels like to be in flux and dealing with one global issue,” he shares. “When the pandemic hits, and the entire planet has to come together and deal with it, the synergy there is perfect.

“The same thing with the issues of a black man confronting that shield,” he continues. “The stories have been out there. They’ve been in our faces forever. There’s no avoiding it, and Marvel doesn’t ask you to avoid it. What they do ask you to do is never burden the storytelling. Let the storytelling be energetic and fun and aspirational, and within that, be honest and be truthful.”

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