Since the day it was first announced, we’ve known (or at least strongly suspected) that the upcoming Disney+ miniseries The Falcon And The Winter Soldier will tackle some very controversial topics, that are likely to rile up certain viewers: the series will follow Sam Wilson, a black man, as he goes up against a white southern conservative “hometown hero” in a battle for the metaphorical mantle of Captain America. That alone is going to be enough to send social media into a frenzy when the show premieres this August. But a new rumor hints that Wilson might not want the mantle anyway (at least not initially) – and the reason why will rock the MCU to its foundations.
This rumor, tied into the recent casting of Supergirl actor Carl Lumbly in a key role, indicates that a dark and troubling secret about Captain America’s origins will be unearthed in the six-part series, and that this secret could deeply affect Sam Wilson. Imagine, for a moment, that the super soldier serum that turned Steve Rogers, a scrawny white kid from Brooklyn, into the massive, muscular guardian of American values, had been used on other men during the same time period, but with very different results. Imagine if these men had been injured, both physically and mentally, by the strenuous tests and experiments they went through, some to the point of death or suicide, and had received no compensation – much less recognition – for their sacrifices. Imagine if these men, who would of course be covered up by the government and kept secret for decades, were black.
In the comics, this is exactly what happens to men like Isaiah Bradley, who gave up their lives and livelihoods to become unknowing test subjects for the dangerous super soldier serum. 1940’s America being 1940’s America, these tests were carried out on people of color. Bradley’s character is based off the men who barely survived the unethical Tuskegee syphilis experiment, after being exposed to a then-untreatable virus and withheld medical aid for years. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Bradley can become the representative of these men, and their families and loved ones – at least metaphorically. He will also expose the horrific truth behind the creation of America’s most glorified hero.
In the comics, the experiments on Bradley and other African-American men were initiated after Steve Rogers’ creation, meaning that despite having nearly identical powers, Bradley is still considered the “Black Captain America” on the page. In the MCU, it’s unclear whether Marvel will go with that version of the story, or instead rewrite history still further and reveal that Bradley’s transformation happened before Rogers’, making Bradley Captain America, period. Either way, unless Bradley’s story occurs in flashbacks, it’s likely that the side effects of the serum will explain how he survives into the present day. We have no idea yet whether Bradley, as in the comics, will be left paralyzed and brain-damaged by the serum.
Additionally, the introduction of Isaiah Bradley will open the door to another important Marvel character: Bradley’s grandson, Elijah, who possesses powers very similar to the two Captain Americas, and is the only member of the Young Avengers team still unaccounted for in the MCU.
The uncovering of all these secrets is certain to cause ripples – not only does it force us, the audience, to retrospectively re-evaluate all of Steve’s accomplishments, but it forces Sam Wilson to rethink what he wants to do with the Captain America legacy: in particular, the star-spangled shield that will likely pass through several different hands over the duration of the show. Either he can give it up willingly, in light of the new revelations, or he can fight to reinvent the symbol and what it stands for.
What would you do, in Sam’s place, and what do you think he will do, assuming this rumor turns out to be true? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!