Food For Thought, or, Race in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

There are some mild spoilers ahead for Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Iron Man 2.

They said I couldn’t read too much into Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Well I sure proved them wrong, didn’t I? Now they say I can’t read too much into Captain America: The Winter Soldier even more, and I’m about to prove them wrong again.



Consider this an appendix to my thoughts on The Winter Soldier, as well as something of an addendum to my musings on the most recent episode of the Pony Tricks Comic Cast. I don’t hold the below theories as fact, nor do I whole-heartedly advocate them, but there are some things I’ve noticed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that I haven’t stopped pondering since seeing The Winter Soldier. I present them here as food for thought in the hopes that others might weigh in.

Let’s talk about sidekicks in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Going into Captain America: The Winter Soldier, one of the aspects of the film I found myself most excited for was Anthony Mackie (Hurt Locker, Gangster Squad, Pain and Gain) as Sam Wilson, a.k.a. the Falcon. And Mackie didn’t disappoint. Do I have a breadth of knowledge regarding The Falcon? Nope. In fact, I know exactly three things about Sam Wilson.

1. He’s a black guy.

2. He has a flying suit.

3. He was recruited into the Avengers with the express purpose of making the superhero outfit more racially diverse, wasn’t a fan of being labeled a token minority and straight up quit.



It’s that last one I’m most interested in, and while the Marvel films’ M.O. so far is to tread lightly in regards to most social issues, it’d be awesome if that actually got adapted into the movies. A gal can dream, no?

With that storyline in mind I couldn’t help but pick up on a few things in Captain America. I’ve already mentioned the fact that while Wilson and Steve Rogers discuss all the great strides America has made since World War II desegregation and civil rights are both absent – particularly blatant omissions considering in 1943, Captain America served in a military that would remain segregated for five more years. Just saying.

But let’s talk about something else.

Let’s talk about how Sam Wilson is relegated to a reliance on the white man for his power in The Winter Soldier.

Wilson has the skills to operate his Falcon flight suit, but is deprived of said suit as it is locked away in a vault somewhere. It isn’t until he mentions as much to Captain America and Black Widow that he is reunited with his suit, the implication being that Cap and Widow had to get it for him. Never mind that the suit itself was created by a white man, a product of Stark Industries.

One of the few black characters in the Marvel Universe gains his power from a suit created by a white man that has to be retrieved and given to him by another white man. Like I said, I’m proving them wrong again.

But what if I’m not reading too much into it?

Let’s take a look back at Iron Man 2. I know, I know, you don’t want too. But it wasn’t that bad you guys, c’mon. Remember Sam Rockwell?

I told you Iron Man 2 wasn't that bad. Remember this? Huh? Pretty awesome, huh?

I told you Iron Man 2 wasn’t that bad. Remember this? Huh? Pretty awesome, huh?

The circumstances under which James Rhodes becomes War Machine are eerily similar, if not identical to the circumstances under which Sam Wilson becomes Falcon.

James Rhodes is a pilot. He possess the skills already. But it takes a suit built by a white man, again Tony Stark, that he then must take from said white man, to elevate him to the status of superhero. And it’s later implied that Stark actively allowed Rhodes to take the suit.

There are a lot of superheroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Two of them are black. Both of them are sidekicks, and both of them are essentially bestowed their powers by white men.

Did Marvel actively set out to portray black superheroes as dependent upon white superheroes for their powers? Probably not. Is that even how they see themselves as portraying black superheroes? Probably not. But I find it problematic nonetheless.

Sure, Captain America had his powers bestowed on him by the federal government, but he also possesses an inherent goodness that made him the ideal candidate for the program. And the fact that the super soldier serum has never worked successfully on anyone else (Red Skull, The Abomination) implies Captain America does possess some sort of inherent difference that makes him unique.

Tony Stark creates his powers with his mind and his own two hands.

Bruce Banner turns himself into the Hulk as a result of his scientific prowess and research.

Thor is Thor by virtue of being Thor.

It’s true that Nick Fury is the man with all the answers, the glue that has thus far tied the Marvel Cinematic Universe together. But he isn’t a superhero. And as we discover in Winter Soldier, he was appointed to his position of power by a white guy.

With the arguable exception of Captain America, the Avengers are all self-made superheroes. But the same can’t be said for Falcon or War Machine. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but I couldn’t help but notice.

So what do you think? Am I on to something? Am I reading way too much into way too little? Do you agree? Do you disagree?

Like I said: food for thought.


One thought on “Food For Thought, or, Race in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

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