Courtesy of Disney+

What would the state of entertainment be without Marvel? That’s not to say the Marvel Cinematic Universe is carrying Hollywood on its back, but creator Malcolm Spellman has surely utilized every possible tool to create superhero-centered television and films that represent most demographics. Marvel’s new series “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” takes the idea of representation in superhero stories up a notch. 

Throughout the hour-long pilot, the series delivers the usual Marvel tropes: action, witty dialogue and good guy vs. bad guy fight scenes. This could feel repetitive and tiresome, especially if one’s hoping for Marvel to tell their typical story a bit differently. Yet, there are a few themes beyond the action that work more subtly to keep the viewer invested. 

The series picks up after the festivities of “Avengers: Endgame” when Captain America (Chris Evans, “Defending Jacob”) passes the baton — or, in this case, his iconic shield — to Sam Wilson, the Falcon (Anthony Mackie, “Outside the Wire”). With the expectation that whoever holds the shield becomes the new Captain America, Wilson rejects the idea out of respect for his late friend and his feelings of unworthiness. Elsewhere, Bucky the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan, “The Devil All the Time”) deals with post-traumatic stress disorder from his time as a brainwashed assassin, and his main focus is to make amends for the pain he’s caused. 

Even though the first episode separates the main characters into their own storylines, the show opens up doors for conversations about both characters as it builds its plot. In particular, the creators made sure to illustrate the idea of a Black man becoming the face of America’s most beloved superhero and the underlying anxiety of taking on such a role due to the fear of the public’s possibly racist reaction. 

This isn’t as open and direct as it could have been, mainly because Marvel’s current role in the entertainment industry is to bring action and adventure to viewers, not discussions about serious topics. Nonetheless, it brings up two questions: Was this done on purpose? Was this done to help people understand what it means to be in the shoes of a Black man in America who has the opportunity to be in a position of extreme power? 

Because the show depicts the significant trials and tribulations that Black Americans often experience — like when Sam and his sister get denied a loan under suspicious circumstances — it’s one of Marvel’s most important projects ever. The fact that Marvel gets political within this story and somehow still manages to keep the younger demographic intrigued makes this show unlike the studio’s more apolitical blockbusters. It doesn’t shy away from portraying the internal and external forces Sam faces while also encouraging the audience to read between the lines. 

“The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” highlights one of the most significant themes of the current state of America, and this is what makes the show powerful. It allows you to see it from different perspectives and opens up doors for the viewer’s own interpretations and questions regarding the representation of the Black community in the world of superheroes.  

Daily Arts Writer Jessica Curney can be reached at jcurney@umich.edu