Sam Wilson is the Best Part about The Winter Soldier

It’s no secret that we love Captain America: The Winter Soldier here at The Nerds of Color. Heck, we even dedicated a whole week’s worth of posts to it, remember?

On twitter last night, the Eisner-nominated writer Jeremy Whitley strung together an epic series of tweets explaining why Sam Wilson — as portrayed by Anthony Mackie — was the best part of the whole movie. Notice he says “Sam Wilson” and not “Falcon.” Because while most folks were dazzled by Falcon’s CGI-enhanced flying combat scenes, Whitley dives deep into the man inside the suit.

With Whitley’s permission, we’ve edited together the content of his tweets into the essay below. If you want to see the tweets in their original form, head over to this Storify or just follow him on twitter.

The most incredible thing about Winter Soldier is Sam Wilson. Captain America is the guy you want to believe exists, but Sam is the guy you know exists.

Sam Wilson is the veteran. He’s the guy that doesn’t have super powers, the guy that could die. But he suits up anyway because he’s needed. He saw his partner die right in front of him; he’s seen what the Winter Soldier is capable of, but he volunteers anyway. This is a guy who has been working at a V.A. Who knows all about the horrors of war. Who has night terrors and flashbacks. And is all in.

Cap says “This isn’t your fight. I won’t ask you to do this.” Sam says “You don’t have to ask. Captain America needs me. I’m in!” Because when Captain America needs you, you don’t make him ask, right? You just go save the world.

The wings are a perfect metaphor. He’s an average guy who will throw himself out of an airplane with no protection because someone needs to. That’s what sets him apart from Rhodey in the Cinematic Universe too, despite them both being military guys. Rhodey gets dragged along.

But dudes like Sam walk out into danger in places like Iraq and Afghanistan every day. Some are Americans; some are Afghans; some are Iraqis. I personally know dudes like Sam Wilson who have disarmed bombs and fought for friends with only a few inches of metal protecting them.

He is, in a way, the anti-Tony Stark. Tony suits up out of ego. He made himself a superhero because he thinks he knows what’s best. Sam Wilson, on the other hand, volunteers to fly headlong into a fight without anybody asking him.

That’s heroism.

8 thoughts on “Sam Wilson is the Best Part about The Winter Soldier

  1. The tension for me with characters like Sam Wilson doesn’t change. I know that Disney can’t provide an authentic, from the community racial characterization for a guy designed to play sidekick to Captain America’s steroid squarejaw. Since I know that going in, the only real obstacles Wilson’s characterization had to avoid were stereotypical insults. In this, Captain America: The Winter Soldier failed.

    Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson proves deferential to Steve Rogers in every scene. It’s not important whether Cap has devised the best plan of action or not: Wilson’s only stated interest is performing whatever task Cap sets out for him. I didn’t have Roots flashbacks, but Wilson’s scenes should be enough to spark unease in nerds of color who appreciate the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

    Let’s be clear: I’m biased. I despise the simple storytelling in which Marvel Studios excels. The Captain America sequel’s totally irrational plot did not allow me to just sit back and watch the explosions dull my higher brain functions. But one doesn’t have to share my distaste for Marvel movies to find the Steve Rogers-Sam Wilson friendship a throwback to a simpler time when men were men and Negroes knew their place. Frankly, I don’t recognize the Sam Wilson spoken of in this post with such eloquence. Was Falcon a Hero? Not really. Wilson was too content to stand three and one-quarter steps behind the Hero for that designation to take hold.

    Are nerds of color so starved to watch people who share their melanin in superhero movies that they will support anything, no matter how reminiscent of Jim Crow America? If so, then Marvel Studios never has to invest in minority headliners for their films. They just have to throw a minority actor in the lineup, every other release, three and one-quarter steps behind the Hero.

  2. Black Widow manages to disagree with and achieve some type of conflict with Captain America at least a couple of times during the movie. She has a few layers. But Sam Wilson is so completely (some say loyal – others say deferential) it erases his individuality. Who is Sam Wilson? Loyal and brave – yes – but what else? Anthony Mackie is always great but I wish he’d has a stronger script. I wish he’d have a true ‘hero’ moment.

  3. Well said, J. Lamb (Snoopy Jenkins).

    Every other character in Winter Soldier seemed to have a mind of their own, whether they agreed with Cap or not. The Black Widow on numerous occasions directly disobeyed Caps explicit directions. Whether her actions proved beneficial is inconsequential – it simply proved to add depth to the character. Sam Wilson/Falcon didn’t seem to have a mind of his own or even anything unique about his personality. In actuality, they really played it safe with his character.

    I applaud the filmmakers for adding diversity but do they really deserve special recognition? No.

  4. I think what J Lamb’s assessment fails to recognize is that Sam Wilson, the sidekick, is the audience surrogate in this movie – he agrees with Cap because we do. He defers to Cap because we would. The power dynamic in their relationship isn’t racial, it’s appropriate for someone in the military with a lower rank interacting with a living legend and someone with whom he agrees. If Agent Coulson were a black character and behaved towards Cap the way he did in Avengers, you’d take issue with it on racial grounds too. If Sam Wilson were a white character he wouldn’t have an argument, or at least wouldn’t be invoking slavery and segregation. That’s a flawed approach to analysing the characters, let alone the representation of non-white characters in a movie which presents Fury quite differently.

    1. DNWilliams – Hypotheticals that change the race of MCU characters are not relevant. In these films, Agent Coulson is White and Sam Wilson is Black, and Sam Wilson’s deference toward Captain America finds no reasonable justification. Living legend or no, Cap’s scorched earth plan to excise the metastasizing cancer cell that is HYDRA from the ranks of loyal SHIELD agents by crippling SHIELD is a bad plan.

      At least Col. Nick Fury, still injured, questions the total destruction of the organization he spent a lifetime building. Sam Wilson at no point in the film verbally or non-verbally expresses the barest hint of disagreement from or even independent thought toward Captain America. Again, I don’t want to make an overly inflammatory metaphor here – this wasn’t Solomon Northup’s thirteenth year. But I disagree that Wilson was a useful surrogate for the audience, since many in the audience could not blindly support Cap’s wanton destruction. Cap’s plan is ridiculous on it’s face – waste billions of taxpayer dollars and neutralize America’s global strategic advantage to publicly highlight enemy infiltration at high levels – and Sam Wilson emerges as his biggest cheerleader because … what, that’s we we’re supposed to do?


      Look, the racial politics of Captain America stories have always been Greatest Generation fantasyland. We’re supposed to accept that a steroid abusing infantryman from WWII would emerge in modern America with all manner of moral certainty about government secrecy in pursuit of national security objectives, and no qualms whatsoever about working with Black men and White women in combat situations.

      To accomplish this, Steve Rogers has to embody the wide-eyed optimism associated with the Americans who fought back from the Depression with enough strength to topple the Third Reich, and and express a natural affinity for modern America’s interracial institutions. Maybe this makes sense for some after they retcon the Howling Commandos into Cap & Bucky’s United Colors of Marvel house band, but it’s still a hard sell. Remember, President Truman didn’t issue Executive Order 9981 to integrate the Armed Forces until 1948.

      It’s never more telling than in that elevator scene with Cap and Fury, where Fury relates the tale of his grandfather, an elevator operator during Cap’s era. The story racializes Fury’s secrecy in a manner that a really open-minded Cap should understand. But the lesson is rejected, because here, the Hero’s libertarian opposition to government secrecy is all that should matter, not the perspectives of minorities who might have reason to distrust a White world they may serve, but from which they may never derive justice. Where Nick Fury attempts to broaden Cap’s horizons about human nature and practical defense, Sam Wilson plays the sidekick, a guy with no other motivation outside of existing in the Hero’s orbit and carrying out his wishes.

      At best, this is an unreasonable characterization; at worst, it re-enacts Jim Crow social relations. I can’t think of another Black male Marvel character depicted with such plantation flavor, so when people marvel at the CGI flying sequences and respect Sam Wilson’s nod to Black serviceman heroism, I wonder how they can ignore Wilson’s blatant disregard for the lessons Black servicemen of the Greatest generation employed after WWII to combat systemic racism in the North and South. Black men who killed White men in Europe and Japanese men in Asia saw no reason to accept disrespect, unequal pay, and domestic terrorism from White men at home. They disagreed, ever more openly, with White male certainty. We call open disagreement the Civil Rights Movement.

      If Sam Wilson knows Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man, it’s not logical that he’d somehow avoid all this history. Sam Wilson’s illogical deference to Steve Rogers in this film deserves no support from nerds of color. At least, if the ‘of color’ part means anything.

      1. Sam Wilson’s deference toward Captain America absolutely finds reasonable justification – there is no logical reason for him to oppose Cap. He’s a soldier, and a citizen of the MCU, where cap is the embodiment of idealism – a philosophical abstract without true political allegiance, and they’re fast friends. Within the context of the film you are not supposed to consider the plan that Cap has to be a bad one, and I don’t need to tell you that you’re an atypical viewer in thinking that it is one.

        I used I hypothetical to illustrate how you’re limiting the capacity for characters to behave in certain ways based on their race. That’s very relevant. You’re essentially saying you’re not happy to see a black guy defer to a white guy simply because of their respective races, and that black characters shouldn’t be written that way. I’d understand your issue if Fury was characterised the same way as Sam Wilson, or if Wilson were the only black guy in the movie, but he is not. Fury and Wilson are different characters, and they’re allowed to be because their race isn’t determining their characterisation, and their characterisation does not reflect poorly on their race.

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