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Falcon and the Winter Soldier's Anthony Mackie and Carl Lumbly discuss the impact of Isaiah Bradley

By Tara Bennett

At a special Disney+/Marvel Studios Emmy consideration event at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena Saturday night, Marvel Studios President, Kevin Feige, and the executive producers and cast behind WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier assembled to talk about the two series which are hoping to garner the studio's first-ever Emmy nominations. And it was especially a night to give flowers to actor Carl Lumbly, who made such a lasting impression in three episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier in which he appeared as OG soldier, Isaiah Bradley.

Lumbly, and executive producers Malcolm Spellman and Kari Skogland appeared at the event in person while Captain America, Anthony Mackie, video conferenced in from his car (in keeping with the drive-in theme of the night).

Hailing his first time working with Lumbly on Netflix's Altered Carbon, Mackie recounted how Lumbly first appeared in a scene with him as his character Lukas Imani and "gave me my lunch," which he said set the tone for the rest of the show. "So when I got the call from Kevin (Feige) saying that Carl was going to be in this, I was blown away," Mackie said with delight. 

Lumbly is no stranger to television and film audiences, with particularly beloved roles in Alias, Cagney & Lacey, and most recently Supergirl. But in portraying the aged and disillusioned Isaiah Bradley, Lumbly brought home the pain of long-term, institutional racism in America, and the true cost of a black man potentially taking up the mantle of Captain America. 

"I loved the idea of the man," Lumbly said of Bradley. "I loved the kind of value of reminding me of the kind of men who affected me in my life. First, my father, who bore more than I knew with grace, who accepted the idea that I didn't understand the world, told me what he thought, but also gave way when I thought something different."

In his scenes with Mackie's Sam Wilson, Bradley not only reveals the terrible experiments done to him and how he was then abandoned by his country, but the two men have frank discussions about the cost of change and what can be expected from a world that is still struggling deeply with race issues. 

"One of the things that I thought was so beautiful was the opportunity to express doubts to a man of a generation coming up," Lumbly said of those conversations. "I've actually been doing this twice as long as Anthony, and I think the idea of the elder is an important one. It was being able to have him there and receive it, and also for him to challenge and to speak to the fact that we're in a new day, and that there's something that Isaiah doesn't know. Also, I appreciated that as Malcolm (Spellman) wrote the character, Isaiah Bradley, still loved this country. The idea that, despite what was done, and despite the work that is to be done, that he has a place for those memories for the atrocity that was done. But he still has a love for his family and a love for his country. If he were asked to do it again, I believe he would just maybe have some more clauses," the actor chuckled.

Mackie added that it was through those conversations between the characters that he feels they earned Wilson's Captain America speech in the season finale episode, "One World, One People."

"When I read the monologue that Malcolm wrote, I mean, literally, it was a Shakespearean tour de force," the actor enthused. "And it was about a 25-minute monologue of everything we wanted to say. But we scaled it down and got it to the point to where we hit the points that were important, not only to us, not only to Americans, but to this character. And I think what's so great about that last monologue is that it puts a voice and a reason, not only to our generation, but to the generation that's coming up. You have to realize with all of the protests and everything that went on in 2020, there were just as many brown people, as black people, as white people, as Asian people. Everyone in this country, at this time, wants to see a change. And that monologue summed that up in a beautiful way."

But Mackie did lament that in paring down the speech, his preferred ending didn't make it in the final cut. "I feel like the one thing I wanted to put at the end of the monologue, and it got shut down, was saying, 'If we're going to make America great again, it has to be done by Americans. No matter what your race, creed, or color or sexuality is, you're an American.' That's what I think the new Captain America captures in that last scene."

With Mackie's Captain America getting his first solo big screen adventure in an upcoming film currently being scripted by Malcolm Spellman, the actor said it's been a life-changing and career affirming experience taking over the iconic character in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier finale on April 23rd. "For those who don't know, I've been in the business for 21 years now," he detailed. "So coming from New Orleans, going to North Carolina School of the Arts, and then Juilliard, and then being given the opportunity to be Captain America is a huge, not only opportunity, but it's a huge blessing. Because it invokes the conversation, not only for my sons who are little brown boys, but all of their friends who are different races, different classes, different backgrounds, so that they can have those conversations with their parents as well."