For a show about masked villains, the Disney+ series “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier” is surprisingly frank in depicting American racism. In the first episode, a White bank manager thrills when he meets Sam Wilson, aka the Black superhero the Falcon (Anthony Mackie), but will not grant his loan request. In episode two, White police officers harass Sam, but they ignore his equally perturbed White partner Bucky, aka the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).
But the show missed its best opportunity to address systemic racism when it introduced Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly). In the series’ second episode, Bucky brings Sam to meet Isaiah, who received the same super-soldier serum that transformed diminutive Steve Rogers into the mighty Captain America. But where the White Rogers died a hero, the U.S. government kept the Black Bradley a secret. After completing his tours in Korea, Bradley was jailed for 30 years, where scientists experimented on him to recreate the serum.
“Do you know what they did to me for being a hero?” Bradley demands. The camera shudders as hurt and anger build on Lumbly’s face. “People running tests, taking my blood, coming into my cell,” he seethes. Pointing at Bucky, Bradley growls, “Even your people weren’t done with me.”
The moment draws a clear division between the way America treats its White and Black heroes. But it’s not as powerful as the comic book in which Bradley first appeared.