Adepero Oduye’s The Falcon & The Winter Soldier Storyline Is The MCU Reality Check We’ve Been Waiting For

Photo: courtesy of Disney+.
Since the inception of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008 with the release of Iron Man, movie and TV fans have been catapulted into the larger-than-life comic book world of action and intrigue. We've seen our team of heroes face off against terrorists (Captain America: The First Avenger), traverse the astral plane (Doctor Strange), and even reverse time itself to defeat a mad titan (Avengers: Endgame). But while our heroes explore whole universes, the regular folk of the MCU often get left behind, even as their lives are ravaged by intergalactic forces beyond their control. New Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier addresses the consequences of constant superhero activity on civilians. Grounding this story even further is the refreshing pragmatism of new character Sarah Wilson, played by Adepero Oduye.
In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) is among the billions to reappear on Earth after being turned into dust in Thanos' life-altering snap, but he quickly learns that the world isn't quite as he left it. The unexpected increase in the global population has led to widespread hunger, border policing, and general chaos. While Sam and the Avengers were off fighting off villains in outer space, the regular folks were back on earth struggling, including their own families. Down in his hometown of Delacroix, Louisiana (a city that has still not recovered from the effects of Hurricane Katrina seven years later), Sam's sister Sarah (Oduye) has just barely been making ends meet to sustain her household and provide for her two young sons. 
Oduye's migration to the action-packed world of the MCU after emotional dramas like 12 Years a Slave, Pariah, and Netflix's heart-wrenching When They See Us may seem like an odd divergence, but her penchant for weighty acting is a perfect fit for her character. Sarah is a woman tied down by the harsh realities of life — both as a Black woman and as a mere mortal in a universe occupied by billionaire geniuses in iron suits, aliens, and literal gods — and Oduye's past roles have actually prepared her to bring the world-weary and practical character to life.
"What's funny is that it doesn't really feel like such a shift for me," the Disney+ star explained to Refinery29 over Zoom. "It's like somehow the universe found a way to give me a role that encapsulates what I love most about my job: telling grounded stories. It's absolutely on par with what I like to do.”
"With The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, we're really getting to see what the blip really meant on multiple levels in the MCU and specifically for the Wilson family," Oduye continued. "Sarah is a character who is very vocal about what's going on in the world and in her community, giving her brother the rundown on what went on [while he was gone]. These siblings are trying to get on the same page, but they're having to find their way back to each other."
Equally appealing to Oduye was the fact that the show's script finally addressed what marginalized people face within the world of the MCU. In previous phases, Sam's race didn't exactly come into play because the world simply knew him as Captain America's right hand man and later as an Avenger. But in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the full scope of his identity as a Black man raised in poverty takes center stage; first when he and Sarah are outrightly discriminated against while applying for a loan (did you know that saving the world does not pay the bills?) and again when he's later harassed by the police on the street (or that saving the world does not exempt you from anti-Blackness?). And beyond Sam, a greater conversation about government intervention, patriotism, and civil rights emerges in the plot when the groups displaced by the return of the dusted billions pursue a controversial and radical means of exacting change — sound familiar? For Oduye, that pivot towards realism is exactly what makes the series stand out within the jam-packed MCU canon.
"We don't even have to go into all of it, but it's been such a year, and so much of what's happened is real for so many of us," Oduye shared. "And we can't look away from it, so we're tackling it now. We would be fooling ourselves to not go there because there are real lives and spirits that are going through similar things right this second."
"We're talking about what it means for a character like Sam Wilson to grapple with the mantle of Captain America," she said. "No matter who you are or how high you can fly [like Sam], there are still the people who can only see what's on the surface. And I love that that nuance is finally being tackled because that's real life."
Even if you were initially unsure about a show about the military and super soldiers after the zany, wild ride that was WandaVision, there's no denying that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is bringing a new and very important perspective to the MCU. Looking at the lineup for the rest of Phase Four, let’s hope the superhero franchise keeps things just as real going forward.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is now available for streaming, only on Disney+.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

More from TV

R29 Original Series