There’s a scene at the end of the movie Avengers: Endgame in which an elderly Captain America presents his shield to Falcon (Anthony Mackie). Cap asks: “How does it feel?” Falcon replies: “Like it’s someone else’s.”
The moment is recalled in the first episode of Falcon and the Winter Soldier, a six-part series that premieres on Disney+ on March 19, with a new episode each week. I ask the same question of Kari Skogland, the series’ director, given that she’s a Canadian woman taking the reins of a very macho, American story.
“I never felt it wasn’t mine,” she says. “But I was also very respectful of not knowing what I didn’t know. Because the Marvel Cinematic Universe is very deep, and unless you live in it you can’t possibly know it all.”
She adds that the executives at the Marvel filmmaking universe helped. “They are so supportive, and their goal is that everybody is successful, so there’s never a feeling like there’s a disconnect between us and them. I guess I felt like we were all on the same team. It was never not mine.”
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Skogland might be new to the MCU, but she’s an old hand in the business. In a career spanning a quarter century, she’s directed episodes of everything from Being Erica to Boardwalk Empire, House of Cards to The Handmaid’s Tale. In 2007 she wrote, produced and directed an adaptation of Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel. In 2015 she made Sons of Liberty, a three-part history of the American Revolutionary War.
“The funny thing about being a female director in the last 25 years is that I never let it feel different,” she says. “I mean, I always just ignored the glass ceilings and didn’t let gender get in my own way, which I think was very important to how people perceived me.”
She continues: “I can say that with Marvel it just never came up, it was just never a conversation. I was the right director for the job. They interviewed a lot of people and I think they liked my ideas and how I was coming at it. I didn’t feel any different and I don’t think they felt any different toward me.”
There’s a lot going on in Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which stars Mackie and Sebastian Stan in the two title roles. Trailers suggest a buddy-cop comedy vibe, although in the first episode (the only one presented to critics ahead of its release) they don’t even meet. Instead, we watch as Falcon battles an airborne terrorist unit and then tries to secure a loan to save his sister’s (Adepero Oduye) floundering shrimping business. Meanwhile, Bucky (a.k.a. the Winter Soldier) is coming to terms with his past crimes.
“At its core it’s a character-driven story about two men who are trying to find a way to be in a new world,” says Skogland. “The actors are terrific. They’re old friends, they’ve known each other for a long time. So they enjoy being in the same scene together and that comes across. We feel their history. Every day was a joy working with the two of them.”
Not every day was a shooting day, however. The series was originally set to air in August, but like so much else, production was delayed by the pandemic.
“We just pivoted, went into post-production, started editing, and then when we were able to come back we came back,” Skogland says of the interrupted shooting schedule. “We didn’t really feel it.”
And while the MCU is a fictional universe, there are always parallels to be drawn between its history and our own. Series creator Malcolm Spellman has compared the Blip — in which half of all life was wiped out and later returned — with the global chaos of the pandemic.
And Stan says viewers may recall the recent attack on the U.S. Capitol in some of the scenes in the new series. Certainly the name of one group — the Flag-Smashers — while drawn from a Captain America comic book of the 1980s, sounds like it could be the newest political splinter group south of our border.
Skogland was very aware of the gravitas of Falcon being asked to take over the role of Captain America at the end of Endgame. “It’s very much a discussion of the shield and what it is to be a Black man carrying that shield,” she says. “Is he going to take it on? What does it mean if he takes it on? These are all very important conversations.”
She continues: “What was really exciting for me was that I was able to take on these very big global conversations inside a world of entertainment that made the discussion very easy to digest. It’s a great way for not just the fan base but all of us to look at these … difficult conversations and concepts through entertainment. That’s what storytelling is. It’s excising the demons and taking a look at the hard subjects. So I felt very blessed that I was part of being able to tell that story.”
Falcon and the Winter Soldier debuts March 19 on Disney+