TORONTO — Canadian director Kari Skogland says the new Marvel Studios superhero series "The Falcon and The Winter Soldier" tackles social and political issues in an entertaining way — like putting "vitamins in the ice cream."
Available on Disney Plus as of Friday, the six-episode story stars Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson, a.k.a. aerial combat expert The Falcon, and Sebastian Stan as commando Bucky Barnes, a.k.a. The Winter Soldier.
The two came together in the final moments of the 2019 film "Avengers: Endgame," and six months later, they're struggling to find their place in the world after the universe-changing event known as The Blip.
For Wilson, it's an especially difficult journey: at the end of "Avengers: Endgame" he was handed Captain America's shield, and now he faces the burden of taking on a mantle that represents the country but feeling that, as a Black man, the country doesn't represent him.
"I felt very strongly that this was an incredibly important story, if not the most important story of our century, and was going to take on subjects and topics that need to be discussed and need to be dramatized," Skogland said in an interview.
"But they would do it in such a way I knew that would be easy to tell, because it's the way Marvel does it with humour and action — there are vitamins in the ice cream, but you get to enjoy the ride. And so I thought this was a great forum to have all these actually politically charged conversations."
The Ottawa-born, Toronto-based Skogland said she's drawn to projects that explore social issues. Her other credits include "The Loudest Voice in the Room" miniseries, about Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes, and "The Handmaid's Tale" series, for which she won a BAFTA Award and got an Emmy nomination.
With "The Falcon and The Winter Soldier," she felt "blessed to be asked to come to the party."
"It was fantastic, from beginning to end. I have to say, it's been a real joy," Skogland said. "A very big highlight, obviously, not only in my career but in the people that I've met, the people I interacted with.
"They're the best of the best. It's an incredibly inclusive environment. It's very supportive."
Skogland thought she was up to speed on the Marvel Cinematic Universe before filming the project around the U.S. and Europe.
"But then you get inside, and you realize, 'Oh, my God, there are libraries and libraries. It's just a huge universe," she said.
Her entry point into the story was Sam's struggle with whether to take on the shield.
"What does that mean for a Black man to take on the shield right now? What is it in terms of nationalism? What do the borders look like? Where is Bucky in all of this, because he is also grappling with character issues," she said.
"So these are all very relevant questions for everything that's going on right now. And that's one of the joys of the MCU universe...it has so many different paths and lanes and stories, and they don't shy away from neither the controversial nor the emotional."
Filming began before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, then was put on pause when the crisis started and resumed later, said Skogland.
"What we realized, though, as the as the world was unfolding, was that our conversation was becoming even more relevant daily," she said.
Skogland said she enjoyed being able to dive into the characters and live with them longer than she would with a film.
"I can tell you there's a lot of twists and turns and that's the point," she said. "Every every episode, I think will take you by surprise."
Skogland is CEO of production company Mad Rabbit and has a slew of directing credits, which also include "Boardwalk Empire," "The Killing" and "The Walking Dead."
She said she hopes to work on another Marvel project and feels there's been "a tangible change" when it comes to women directing.
"Even within my career, I've seen it," said Skogland, noting she's done a lot of work with the Directors Guild of America to help foster inclusion.
"What is terrific is that we're seeing it now in awards, we're seeing the voice coming through. Are the numbers yet 50-50 if the population is 50-50? I don't think we're seeing those numbers yet. But we are sure on the path and I feel very blessed to be one of the women who has throughout my career bucked trends and I'm still here."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 19, 2021.
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press