The Falcon and the Winter Soldier showrunner Malcolm Spellman on keeping Endgame and the black experience intactGrace
The pandemic may have put a pause on movie-going, but Marvel and Disney+ are making sure that fans and viewers alike don’t miss out. And going by the explosively first episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which boasts an aerial dogfighting… er, falconfighting scene… the six-episode series has been meticulously crafted to keep audiences at the edge of their seats.
Several months after the events of Avengers: Endgame, the mismatched duo and former partners of the one and only Steve “Captain America” Rogers have to team up in a post-Thanos world for a global adventure that will test their survival skills as well as their patience.
Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan return to their roles as Sam Wilson/The Falcon and Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier and while both have gone through hell and back, nothing beats coming home and facing up to reality.
Behind all the bickering, action and unorganised missions between the superheroes, showrunner Malcolm Spellman always had a plan when he was offered the job. In fact, it was his meticulous design of life that got him the role as showrunner and head writer of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which also explains why his laser focus has enabled him to tell his story in six episodes, compared to nine on WandaVision.
“I knew I wanted to take a shot at trying to be involved with the Marvel Universe and you know, I was really strategic about when I raised my hand and I competed hard. I can’t tell you… it was like an out of body experience [during] the first day up there on Marvel’s second floor,” said Spellman in an exclusive interview with Geek Culture.
Unlike WandaVision’s showrunner Jac Schaeffer who’s had multiple runs with Marvel and other Disney films, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is Spellman’s first-ever rodeo at Marvel. However, he is not to be underestimated as he wasn’t hired just for his knowledge of the MCU.
One of Spellman’s most renowned works is the musical-drama series Empire, a series about the founding family behind a hip-hop music and entertainment company that went on for six seasons, and won numerous awards.
Maybe it’s not a coincidence that Spellman is making his MCU debut with a show that focuses on the heroic results of a Black man who took on the mantle of Captain America in the comic books, but The Falcon and the Winter Soldier also focuses on legacy and living up to a legend, as it attempts to answer one of the key questions that was asked in Avengers: Endgame – Who is the next Captain America?”
Spellman cooly replies that viewers will get their answer in the end but he won’t spoil it for anyone, especially given that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is about a journey taken that focuses on providing a slice of life insight into the two leads, so all viewers have to do is sit along for the ride, no matter how smooth or bumpy it may be.
“We were very judicious in making this. We never, we don’t let our foot off the gas,” said Spellman. “At the same time, this series really spends a lot of time with these characters and it does it in a way that the time you spend with the characters also manifests and progresses through the actual moment.”
Spellman’s “I got this” attitude speaks volume on how the series will turn out. From the looks of it (and as per our review), The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is an action-packed spectacle that’s going to remind fans why Marvel is the superhero franchise superhero fans should be paying attention to.
Likening the 6-episode series to Avengers: Endgame, Spellman thinks that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier not only shares the same level of action and excitement, but it also aims to tackle elements from the mega-movie that never got addressed. After all, just because Captain America says The Falcon is the next to wield the shield doesn’t mean it will be true. Still, the team behind the series are incredibly confident of what they’re putting out, so much so that Mackie has even taunted the team behind Loki.
“The whole world of Endgame is very alive in our series because once Thanos is dispatched, and 3.5 billion people, give or take, reappear after five years, it sends the world into chaos. We knew that a world in chaos felt very much like the world today, particularly dealing with this global pandemic so you know, that was the governing principle from where our stories came from,” said Spellman.
“The action happens organically, and it is action packed for sure. We weren’t showing up with that agenda. We just let the story unfold naturally, if that makes sense.”
Another element that Spellman aims to tackle in the series is whether or not Sam will take up the mantle as Captain America. As fans would know, the end of Endgame saw an old Steve Rogers hand over his shield to Sam. Spellman knew that he didn’t want to take his time and went straight into addressing the big question mark.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will delve deep into what it means to be a Black man in America through the lens of Sam in a manner that is accurate and sensitive. Spellman, being a Black creative himself points out that whilst The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has no intentions of being political, Sam’s challenges as a Black man is something one cannot overlook because it is a key central part of his identity and actively impacts his motivations, his decisions and how the world perceives and interacts with him as a superhero.
“It’s right there at the surface like you see it immediately in that first episode and it goes deeper and deeper and deeper. Sam being a Black man, can’t in good conscience just accept that symbol, without serious consideration to both sides of whether it’s appropriate for him to don it and we wanted that argument about not doing it to be legitimate,” addressed Spellman.
“If you’re going to tell an honest story – it’s not even about politics. You can’t write a character who’s a woman, you can’t write a character who’s Muslim or Catholic, or Jewish and just ignore that. Sam is a Black man and that is going to be at the forefront with those stars and stripes. And like I said, it just gets more and more intensive as the series continues and it does not end in an obvious place.”
Keeping and writing Sam’s positionality at the forefront means a heavy deal of responsibility for Spellman who is bringing this big conversation of race into the MCU for the first time. This responsibility is also further amplified by the heartbreaking passing of actor Chadwick Boseman where kids, especially Black kids, have one less superhero to look up to.
Boseman, who’s best known for his role as T’Challa/Black Panther, passed away from cancer. Black Panther was a major movie for the African diaspora and the Black community when it first released in 2018, and still remains so years after.
“My nephew Kingston wears his Black Panther costume all the time. These icons are crucial for the world to see and I felt a tremendous responsibility in doing this. And I know Anthony did too. And you know, we made sure…. we hope we got it right and it was definitely our greatest intention to be really thoughtful about it and not just be frivolous or superficial,” said Spellman.
Again, as Spellman presses, emphasising the Black experience is something one cannot ignore, especially since Black culture made pop culture, and continues to inspire art in the industry till this day. The mass effect of Black culture’s influence has also made it a relatable and recognisable experience for those who aren’t part of the community too.
“I would say one of the crucial things is we are preeminent in pop culture, in sports, music, entertainment in general, because our story is the core of American, and the American story is the big loud story in the world still to this day and our experience is a concentrated version for our struggles and our triumphs that people of all races can relate to because ours is so intense.
”And so I just think it’s gonna be uplifting and good for people to hear us have a voice because very human in everything we do, that you’ll be able to relate to no matter what race or religion you are.”
Whether viewers are in to catch the Endgame-like action or to see a reflection of themselves in the struggles of Sam and Bucky, showrunner Spellman is confident that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is for every superhero fan and the everyday man.
Catch an episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier on Disney+ every Friday.