“We’re in the endgame now.” — Dr. Strange, Avengers: Infinity War
After much success following its initial release of Avengers: Endgame on April 26, 2019, Marvel Studios is re-releasing this film into theaters with additional footage, which will likely draw more viewership and increase box office earnings before Endgame finishes its theater run. On its opening weekend, the film amassed about $1.2 billion worldwide and $350 million in the US. As of this past Monday, Endgame has surpassed $2.743 billion worldwide.
Largely driving these earnings is fan appreciation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which contains several movies released over a 10-year period beginning with Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Tony Stark/Iron Man in the 2008 film Iron Man. The MCU has maintained a lasting impact on moviegoers due in part to humanizing fictional characters and depicting relatable scenarios. For example, Endgame’s first act shows the aftermath of antagonist Thanos’ plan to eliminate half of all life in the universe. Many characters including Stark, Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers/Captain America, and Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow are seen grieving over a five-year period, which would be the case if such an event occurred.
Another point to consider with these Marvel films is their themes and hidden messages. Black Panther, released in 2018, celebrates several Black cultures and shows how many countries in Africa would have fared had it not been for the colonization they experienced. Iron Man 3, released in 2013, addresses post-traumatic stress disorder with Stark following the events of 2012’s The Avengers which he also appeared in. Even 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp touched on ex-convicts and their struggles reintegrating into society. Thus, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has done a fair job of entertaining audiences while incorporating teachable moments.
Endgame, aside from the grieving aspect seen in its first act, has many other areas that serve as learning opportunities. However, there is one part of this film that was likely overlooked — the significance of Steve Rogers passing over the Captain America mantle to his friend and ally Sam Wilson.
As a quick backstory, Rogers is considered the first Avenger, a collective of superheroes that join to ward off threats to Earth. A notable feature of the character is that he sports an American flag-themed outfit and accompanying shield when fighting in battle as Captain America. Rogers’ patriotic look is not surprising since he is a military veteran. The 2014 film Captain America: The Winter Soldier shows the superhero being introduced to Wilson, who later fights crime alongside Rogers under the moniker Falcon. The two continue battling threats to Earth as allies leading up until the culmination of the most recent Avengers film.
Within the final scenes of Endgame, Rogers is tasked with traveling back in time to return items used in defeating the film’s main antagonist Thanos. Before his journey, Rogers is told by Bruce Banner, who is operating the time traveling machinery, that he will come back to the current period in five seconds though his time spent away will seem much longer. Once he disappears and does not quickly return, Wilson, who is present along with Rogers’ long-time friend Bucky Barnes, becomes worried. Sensing this uneasiness, Barnes tells Wilson to look over toward a nearby bench where an elderly man is sitting. When Wilson approaches this man, it is revealed to be an older Rogers. The two have a brief dialogue, revealing that Rogers chose to live out a presumably normal life in the past after returning the items mentioned earlier. He also has a new patriotic shield which is given to Wilson. Rogers tells him that the shield is now his and Wilson, after some apprehension, accepts his role as the new Captain America.
To many, this scene might hold some significance since it means the Avengers could be led by a new individual. Moreover, the fact that Wilson is a Black character taking on a traditionally White role — disregarding his 2014 appearance as Captain America in comic books — is also a topic for discussion. Nevertheless, what moviegoers most likely missed is the symbolism behind Rogers relinquishing his Captain America title to Wilson. Ultimately, this can be compared to the plight of American descendants of slaves (i.e. Black Americans) and the upcoming US presidential election, in which Black Americans are looking for acceptance in US society.
Captain Not-So Obvious
While some might consider this comparison farfetched, further examination of both Rogers and Wilson makes it more digestible.
First, Rogers is a White male with dirty blonde hair and blue eyes. He is also the oldest Avenger and leader of this group up until Endgame concludes. These traits, alongside Rogers’ patriotism, can be regarded as a metaphor for the US. One could argue that a longstanding view of America is that it is controlled by men who look like Rogers. Moreover, Metzl (2019) stated that “White is the default setting, the assumed norm” (para. 3). Decisions affecting American society since the country’s inception have largely reflected the desires of White individuals.
Wilson is introduced in The Winter Soldier as a former US Air Force pararescue airman. Without hesitation, he joins Rogers in fighting crime around the world when called to action. A key point to consider is that Wilson’s battle gear as Falcon is not very patriotic throughout his time featured in the MCU, though streaks of red are often seen in its design. His character arguably represents Black Americans whose ancestry descends from Black slaves in the US. Wilson’s time fighting alongside Rogers can be likened to both the patriotism and desire to be American, or gain national acceptance, exhibited by Black Americans throughout history. Examples of this include the Civil Rights Movement and the fact that Black Americans have fought in every war the US has participated in, even as slaves.
Despite collectively exhibiting nationalism, however, this group has historically been cast aside and viewed as less than. Thus, Black Americans have arguably never been fully accepted into American society. Therefore, the streaks of red on Falcon’s battle gear is important to consider. Adding blue and white to his outfit would make it appear Falcon and Captain America both have similar roles and are cut from the same cloth, which is not the case for both them and Black Americans. Throughout history, Black Americans have struggled to adequately adapt into US — White — society. Gabriel (2017) stated that Black soldiers returning from World War I, instead of being respected, were met with open hostility, which resulted in some being lynched merely for wearing their uniforms. Currently, Black Americans, as well as others who phenotypically present as Black, also experience their share of hardship. For example, Armah (2015) stated that Black children are likelier to receive harsher punishments in school for the same infractions as White children. Also, despite high levels of political participation many Black voters feel both politicians and political parties largely ignore them.
When looking deeper into America’s political landscape and Black Americans specifically, it can be argued that the recent push by numerous members of this group for reparations is an effort to be fully integrated into American society. Reparations is considered a restitution for slavery, or an apology and repayment by the US government to Black Americans whose ancestors were forced into slave labor. This topic has been divisive, with some opponents arguing that those who were enslaved are dead and that Whites and immigrants now residing in the US have nothing to do with this part of American history (Criss, 2019). However, a counterargument is that America built its wealth through the labor of the Black families enslaved in chattel bondage. Moreover, Lockhart (2019) claimed that slavery resulted in “generations’ worth of accrued disadvantage in black communities” (para. 17).
Democrats hoping to run in the 2020 presidential election have been publicly addressing reparations as of this year. In fact, it is believed that the conversation being had around reparations will be key for Democratic candidates wanting to solidify their ties with Black Americans, whose support will be critical to winning the Democratic nomination in 2020. If a settlement is reached that adequately compensates Black Americans for their historical trauma, one could say that this group would be well on its way to being recognized and treated as fully American — by today’s standards.
Time to capitalize
In Endgame, Rogers’ passing of his Captain America mantle to Wilson can be likened to national acceptance of Black Americans. Providing reparations to these descendants of slaves would be America’s way — White America, specifically — of relinquishing its absolute hold on power and righting past wrongs that still affect several Black Americans today. When it comes to the MCU, Rogers will always be viewed as Captain America. However, Wilson’s carrying of the torch means a new direction for the Avengers. The same can be said for Black Americans if they are fully compensated for their hardships. Whites in the US will always be recognized as American and instrumental in creating the country. Nevertheless, America would most definitely move in a new direction.
Criss, D. (2019, April 15). People are again talking about slavery reparations. But it’s a complex and thorny issue. Retrieved June 25, 2019, from https://www.cnn.com/2019/04/14/politics/slavery-reparations-explainer-trnd/index.html
Lockhart, P. R. (2019, June 19). The 2020 democratic primary debate over reparations, explained. Retrieved June 25, 2019, from https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/3/11/18246741/reparations-democrats-2020-inequality-warren-harris-castro
Metzl, J. M. (2019, April 29). It’s time to talk about being white in america. Retrieved June 25, 2019, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/its-time-to-talk-about-being-white-in-america/2019/04/29/20aed83a-6a9b-11e9-be3a-33217240a539_story.html?utm_term=.27ca831fc644