With the embargo on Avengers: Endgame spoilers officially lifted, fans have begun to discuss and debate the finer points of the film, particularly the ending. While certain deaths have certainly rocked the MCU, it’s a passing of the torch that is giving many fans pause.
In a very emotional closing scene, Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America (played by Chris Evans), returns from his journey through time to place the Infinity Stones back in their respective timelines. But while he was out playing a cosmic game of Bejeweled, Steve took some time — literally — to live a full life with his soul mate, Peggy Carter.
In doing so, he embraces his mortality and ages considerably by the time he returns to the present day. Though clearly at retirement age, he knows that there is still a need for Captain America. (Living through the ’60s and ’70s will do that to you.) Steve then hands his shield (which we presume he acquired from the past since his was destroyed in the battle with Thanos) to none other than Sam Wilson, a.k.a. Falcon, played by Anthony Mackie. Initially, even Sam insists that “it feels like someone else’s” as he holds the disc of Vibranium, but graciously accepts the gift pledging to “do his best.”
We first meet Mackie’s Falcon in 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. He is quickly established as being a loyal and brave soldier who develops a strong friendship with Cap, so his choice to be the next Captain America is not odd. Furthermore, in the Marvel Comics, there has been a Black Captain American named Isaiah Bradley and Sam Wilson does assume the mantle of Captain America (coincidentally in the same year as The Winter Soldier film), so the move is not without precedent.
“It means a lot for my sons to see Captain America as a Black dude,” Mackie said in an interview with IMDB.com. “And for me to be that dude to my sons. It’s exciting.”
However, some fans have expressed hesitation at the transition, not because Mackie is not a capable actor (odd grooming choices be damned), but because his offline persona has a history of being less than heroic.
As I mentioned before, Mackie’s acting resume is more than respectable. He’s come a long way from being Eminem’s foil, Papa Doc, in 8 Mile, and has added diverse roles like Jack Armstrong in She Hate Me, Sergeant JT Sanborn in the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker and the angelic Harry Mitchel in The Adjustment Bureau. But during the promotion of said films, Mackie has made statements about race and the business of Hollywood that have rubbed many the wrong way.
In 2011, Mackie was doing interviews for The Adjustment Bureau and told TheGrio that when it comes to Hollywood, “I think right now [Blacks] are being kinda lazy on our game. There are enough brothers with distribution deals and production deals where we should be making our own movies.”
Then in 2015, he made some more controversial statements to TheGrio about the movie Selma while promoting his film Black or White. He said then that Selma did not win any awards because “People are just tired of being bombarded with race right now.”
The irony was not lost that he was promoting a film about race, but it was his subsequent comments that made the headlines. When asked about nationwide protests about racial profiling, Mackie offered an anecdote about speaking with his nephew that seemed to blame Black people for wearing their hair a certain way.
“Like my nephew wanted to grow dreadlocks. I’m like fine, I’ll sit you down and I’ll watch 'The First 48' with you, and everybody you see on that show that’s doing something wrong, they’re Black dudes with dreadlocks. So, do you want to be seen as part of the problem or do you want to be an individual?” he said.
“Let’s just say you have locks and you walking down the street. The police pull you over and say you fit the description of somebody. You start yelling and arguing with the cops. Next thing you know you pressed up against the wall going to jail for something you’re not even involved in just because you look like somebody and you don’t know how to handle yourself.”
"Making these statements alone does not disqualify Mackie from being Captain America, but Chris Evans’ social media comments about race and politics present a stark contrast."
The comments were ripped for blaming the victims of profiling and ignoring the fact that Black men and women with all types of hair are still profiled regardless. Mackie later claimed the statements were taken out of context but doubled down, saying that the burden of perception was on Black people being profiled, not the system that was discriminating against them. From MLK to Mike Brown, a conservative hairstyle has been no defense against being killed by agents of white supremacy. As for TheGrio, the site stood by their reporting of Mackie's comments.
Later that year Mackie was promoting his film Our Brand Is Crisis and made statements, which he later said were in jest, about supporting Donald Trump. His character was a political analyst, so he was asked if he would rather work with Hillary Clinton or President Trump, and he responded “Trump. He’s an easy sell. He’s the voice of the working man.” Mackie later said that he was speaking as his character, not himself.
Making these statements alone does not disqualify Mackie from being Captain America, but Chris Evans’ social media comments about race and politics present a stark contrast. He has been relentless in his criticism of President Trump and uncompromising in calling out racism, like when the MAGA hat-wearing students from Covington Catholic High School harassed Vietnam veteran and Native American elder Nathan Phillips.
“This is appalling. The ignorance. The gall. The disrespect. It’s shameful. And sadly on brand,” Evans tweeted. “When something like this isn’t even surprising, it’s evidence to our place in the cycle of recreating our darker chapters. That Native American man showed incredible strength and dignity.”
Evans is not without his faults, having met with alt-right Texas politician Dan Crenshaw during a visit to the Capitol, simply for having a Captain America shield for an eyeball. His fans were not pleased. The meeting seemed to foreshadow the launch of the bipartisan website A Starting Point, which will aim to feature “political discourse from both sides of the aisle.”
While fans were none too thrilled about Cap cavorting with Nazis, engaging is better than silence. In comparison, Mackie tweeted about 20 times in all of 2018, and they were mostly about football and his movies.
There’s nothing wrong with being dormant on Twitter, but as Jesse Williams said in his 2016 speech at the BET Awards, “If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest, if you have no interest in equal rights for Black people, then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.”
Chris Evans has raised the bar very high when it comes to confronting America’s problems, leaving some large red boots to fill. If Anthony Mackie truly wants to pick up the mantle of Captain America, he is going to need a dose of empathy to go with the Super Soldier Serum.
(Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage for MTV, Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images)