Diversity in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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Are you ready to talk about Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Let me tell you, I’m so ready to talk about Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

As you’ve probably guessed: massive spoilers ahead. I’m going to be talking a lot about the movie and the characters, so if you haven’t seen the film yet and want to remain spoiler-free, bookmark this article for later!

There are a lot of things I could talk about with regard to this film: the little nods to longtime comic fans, the choices they made about Steve Rogers’ characterization, the way they frame the story, how well the first and second Captain America movies parallel each other. They’re all great topics, and to be honest, I could probably write a sizable amount about each of them… but the thing that I really want to talk about is how incredible Cap’s supporting cast is.

Let’s take a look at our starring hero.

Steve Rogers, Captain America

Steve Rogers, Captain America

Chris Evans’ Cap is tall, blond, and buff. He’s got classic good looks. He couldn’t be much more American even if he was wearing a flag outfit; we know, as he’s worn one. He’s also a white guy in an industry that has really focused on white guys. Yes, he’s Captain America; yes, I enjoy his character. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t love a little diversity in my comic book movies.

Luckily, Cap’s supporting cast is all about the diversity!

The first person we see in the movie – before, even Cap himself – is Sam Wilson.

Sam Wilson, Falcon

Sam Wilson, Falcon

Sam is a veteran himself. He was in the 58th Rescue Squadron and served overseas; he lost a partner, and now spends his time as a counselor for the VA. There are definite obvious parallels between his story and Steve’s story, and the fact that Sam treats Steve as a veteran instead of “Captain America: Perfect Soldier” lets them bond fairly quickly. Sam volunteers to help in the fight against Hydra when Steve needs him, and he fills the role of wingman with humor and charm to spare. The Falcon is an indisputable part of this movie.

What’s more, Anthony Mackie, who plays Sam, has done a lot of great press for the movie. He’s as charming in real life as he is as Sam, and you can tell that he’s an actor who genuinely enjoys his role in the Marvel universe.

The next person we meet (or, well, meet again) is Natasha Romanoff.

Natasha Romanoff, Black Widow

Natasha Romanoff, Black Widow

The Black Widow isn’t a new character in the MCU, but her role in this movie is without a doubt her best portrayal to date. Natasha is extremely competent, smart, and witty; the depth of her friendship with Steve is one of the touchstones of the film, and her commitment to her causes and her beliefs is a big part of what ultimately saves the day. This film could not have existed without Natasha, and in a world where we’re still told that females in comics don’t matter, that’s an important point to make.

Scarlett Johansson has grown into this role so much since she first appeared in Iron Man 2, and it’s truly a joy to behold. She’s got the dry sense of humor down really well, and she and Chris Evans play off of each other perfectly, showing us a friendship between a woman and a man that isn’t fraught with sexual tension. It’s refreshing to see, and I’m really, really glad that we get such a great view of it.

These two support him through most of the movie. What if we draw back a little and take a look at the others who support this movie?

Well, there’s this guy.

Nick Fury

Nick Fury

Nick Fury is the head of SHIELD. More than that, though, he’s the heart and soul of it. He believes in SHIELD, and he believes in SHIELD’s agents. When SHIELD is compromised, it’s Fury who takes the fall, and Fury who trusts his team to help him clean up the aftermath. He provides a really powerful emotional connection for the viewer, both with his apparent death and his triumphant return.

Samuel L. Jackson is a gift to this franchise, and I’m so glad to see how much they’re using him now. He makes Fury a character that I can see the Avengers fighting for, and that’s no small task. He’s also a huge comic book fan, and I’m of the opinion that it’s always good to have one of those on a movie set.

We also get Maria Hill.

Maria Hill

Maria Hill

Hill is a character that we haven’t seen all that often to this date, but what we do have of her is an excellent start. In The Avengers, she was Fury’s competent second-in-command. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, though, she goes from distractedly shooting at cars and yelling about things in the Helicarrier’s control room to a field agent, saving the main three heroes from Hydra forces and being the cool, competent head of operations when they go in to take out the new Helicarriers. She’s an agent of SHIELD, and she’s so very badass.

I really hope that we get more of Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill. Hill is smart and competent, and she adds a female presence at the top of the ranks of SHIELD. It’s entirely possible that we’ll see more of her now that Smulders’ role in How I Met Your Mother is over, and I an only hope that we do.

We even get the introduction of Sharon Carter!

Sharon Carter, Agent 13

Sharon Carter, Agent 13

Okay, so we don’t see her too much. She’s really a peripheral character at this point; she’s Steve’s neighbor, and the secret SHIELD agent assigned to protect him. She has a few more cameos in the film overall. Her presence, though, indicates that she could be a part of future stories, which is an exciting thing to think about.

When we take all of this together, we see a supporting cast that has three women, none of whom are the love interest, and none of whom could stand in for one of the others, and two African-American men, both of whom serve very important but very distinct roles as well. It’s diversity, and it’s presented without screaming the word in the viewer’s face. It’s giving Captain America a supporting cast that works for him, that supports the film, and that represents a wider range of people than we’re used to seeing in superhero movies – or, really, movies in general.

Now let’s look at the bad guy.

Alexander Pierce, Hydra bad guy

Alexander Pierce, Hydra bad guy

Given the context of the article so far, you’re probably aware of what I’m going to say. The main villain in this movie isn’t the Winter Soldier. No, it’s Alexander Pierce. It’s the powerful older white guy in the film. It says a lot that they chose Pierce as the villain; the movie gives us diversity without falling into the “people of color are evil” trope that it could have played upon. If you look at the rest of the World Security Council, it becomes obvious that this was a purposeful choice on the part of the writers.

Members of the World Security Council

Members of the World Security Council

The rest of the council is made up of a Southeast Asian man, a British woman, and an Asian man. Any one of them could have been the Hydra sleeper, but they chose the white guy. It sends a powerful message, and it’s one that I hope a lot of the audience picks up on: that white guy doesn’t necessarily equal good guy, and that people of color and women are more than bad guys or background characters or love interests.

Representation is so important, and it’s getting better. It’s not where it needs to be yet, but I think that the writing and casting in this movie was excellent, and a big step in the right direction. Now, if we could get some women of color and some LGBT representation in the movies, I’d be a truly happy camper.

Comments? Questions? Leave a reply! I’ll be happy to talk comics with you.

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