The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Wants to Tackle Big Issues, Fictional and Otherwise

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This is a key relationship in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Photo: Marvel Studios

All Disney+’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier needed to be was Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan talking shit and beating up bad guys. If it was that and only that, it would have been great—but Marvel Studios isn’t satisfied with just great. In a world where Sam Wilson has been given Captain America’s shield and half the galaxy’s population has just reappeared out of nowhere, obviously there are more interesting stories to tell, in addition to plenty of shit-talking and beating up bad guys.

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The first episode of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier will start streaming on Disney+ this Friday and with it, fans will get their best look yet at what the Marvel Cinematic Universe looks like after the events of Avengers: Endgame. That means no Iron Man and, more importantly, no Captain America. Unless Sam wants to step up to the shield.

That dilemma, and the aftermath of what’s come to be known in-universe as “the Blip,” is where you’ll find most of the drama in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Drama that’s being spearheaded by Malcolm Spellman, the show’s head writer and executive producer. Best known for his work on Fox’s Empire, Spellman spoke to io9 about the important issues the show deals with, how it initially developed at Marvel, and what excites him most about it all.


Illustration for article titled The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Wants to Tackle Big Issues, Fictional and Otherwise
Photo: Marvel Studios

Germain Lussier, io9: I’m curious about when you pitched the show and first got hired. How did that work? How many ideas were already in place? Were there any parameters or limits? Did they already have an ending in mind? How much freedom is there versus what Marvel already had planned?

Malcolm Spellman: All of that. I walked in, I say, “Kevin [Feige], this is how it’s going to go.” No. Marvel partners you with their creative execs. So I got lucky enough to be partnered with Nate Moore and his partner, Zoie Nagelhout, who grew up at Marvel. And they’re just in tune with Kevin and they present you with ideas to start a conversation.

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Almost everyone I’ve sat with thinks that [Marvel is] control freaks—and they’re not, because they know you’re working side by side with their creative team and they just want to get the conversation going. They want you to do the best you could do. So there was no ending. Like, there were definitely ideas. There was definitely a menu of characters. There were different arenas to play in. And then they make it clear that you’re free to change it. And of course, as we worked on this thing, it changed a million times. It is not preconceived notions. They want this stuff to be inspired and born from a truly fair and pure creative space, not from Marvel mandates on checking boxes. 

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Photo: Marvel Studios
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io9: So what were the main ideas that made you want to do it? I mean, obviously, you walk in and you know it’s going to be Falcon and the Winter Soldier. You know it’s after Endgame. You know Sam’s been handed the shield. Beyond that, what were the main things that got you excited about this?

Spellman: Number one, getting to unpack all that baggage that Bucky has accrued and all the fans being aware of it. And to present Bucky not as a tortured hero, but as a human being who has been burdened for so long. Basically, whether you have a friend who has a terrible spouse or a friend that has an addiction issue or a friend that’s dumping money into a house that they need to get rid of, we all have those people in our lives that we wish would break off the thing that’s weighing them down. And by doing that, I think Bucky became super relatable and super modern in that fans got to see him dealing with the same kind of stuff they do. Same holds true for Sam. We want both these heroes to emerge as people who have a real-life story that makes them relatable and makes them modern in how common their struggles are at home.

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io9: I love that. Now, this show is so ingrained in the idea of the Blip and after the Blip. More than the movies have so far, you really dig into the realities of the anger and division that that created. Was that an idea that kind of developed in your discussions? Was it already there? And what is it like coordinating that to make sure it lines up with anything else that comes after?

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Spellman: Yeah, I mean, we very early on knew that that was the thing we wanted. When you’re doing a buddy two-hander, one thing that genre does really well, people always think of the humor, but what buddy two-handers do is use humor to tackle real issues without ever boring the audience or losing the fun.

And so the Blip was just an issue that was so attractive to me because everybody, when we first started, was feeling out of sorts, you know what I’m saying? Everybody is feeling like things are changing. The Blip was the perfect embodiment of that. And then some magic happened, which is we got shut down because we had to deal with covid. And covid, obviously, is an international tragedy, but the magic of the shutdown was that we got to connect the Blip to that even more directly.

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Photo: Marvel Studios

io9: You mentioned real issues. One of the things that Kevin Feige has been saying in interviews is how the show is going to address social issues regarding race. And in the pilot, we get that with the scenes [spoiler redacted]. But I was wondering if you could explain a bit more about how real-world issues of racism are going to work into the framework of a superhero show.

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Spellman: I mean, there’s no way around it. The shield in Steve Rogers’ hands looks very, very different than the shield in Sam’s hand. And a Black man carrying that symbol is not a thing that is necessarily appropriate. And Sam’s got to deal with that because he was tasked with this great thing from Steve. Yet he is decidedly not only Black, but from the South, you know what I’m saying? And that’s not going nowhere, that issue. I can’t wait to see y’all...because the great thing about Marvel is you’re able to tackle those issues in ways that are left of obvious because there is always somebody that embodies an issue and then is able to bring it to life in a unique way.

io9: So do you think the fact that America would be such a shitty place for Black people plays into his debate to not immediately just take the mantle of Cap?

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Spellman: I think it’s right there on the surface. I mean, it’s not an accident that you see [spoiler redacted] talking in that first episode. They are the two...like again, T’Challa is African and does deal with issues—his point of view is Black, but it’s African. And not only is he African, he’s royalty, you know what I’m saying? I mean, as far as he’s concerned, he is top of the food chain wherever he goes. In America, the identity of Blackness is very, very different and the relationship with the Stars and Stripes is very, very different and Sam is not hiding from that and has to cope with it. Yeah, that’s right there.


The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is right here too. It’ll be on Disney+ Friday.

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Entertainment Reporter for io9/Gizmodo. Formerly of Premiere, EW, Us Weekly, and Slashfilm. AP Award-Winning Film Critic and CCA member. Loves Star Wars, posters, Legos, and often all three at once.

DISCUSSION

Really looking forward to this !

But spending time on the Blip ? I don’t think it is a good idea .

Frankly I think of it as a marvel mis-step.

All I think of every time it comes up are all the deaths it caused ....and the worst is the image in my mind when I think of all those airline passengers the blinked back into existence 5 years later

at 30,000 feet ....