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How “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” Helped Me Through 2016

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“I come up hard, but that’s okay/
‘Cause trouble man don’t get in my way..”

If we are creatures who can be defined by our hardships, then 2016 is the first chapter of us discovering how strong we are underneath. Of us being able to identify lies, misdirection and demanding that we are all equally respected, have the rights that we earn and we are willing to fight for everything, no matter the layers of oppression that hit us. With this knowledge and hope, I have never more identified with the character Steve Rogers.

I remember when I first saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I was expecting this to be another action-packed, comedy-filled Marvel movie. I was even a part of a big-brother program and brought 5 kids with me on a Saturday matinee to enjoy it with me for the first time. Made a full family event out of it.

I wasn’t ready for this to be a film.

When I say film, I definitely say that to separate it from the term movie. A movie is what I consider everything else in the Marvel franchise. All meaning is at surface-level. There is a conclusive bow at the end of the stories where the characters are happy. A film is complex in it’s subtlety. A film can push a story forward with not only it’s acting, but the story having layers of both plot and character arcs. A film is a journey that takes the audience with the antagonist on a journey where they are something different by the end credits.

The journey that our three leads (Cap. America, Black Widow, The Falcon) take is a journey of them having varying levels of faith/hope for the systems that they’ve risked their lives for, only to discover that it all was a lie. That it was a level of smoke-and-mirrors that played their strength and allegiances as puppets to actually work for leaders who are part of an organization that was well-rooted in the Nazi regime. That people they shared a foxhole with and pledged to give their life for were secretly against them this whole time. That the hope for goodness inside of themselves was far more individual than they thought.

Starting to sound like 2016, yet?

"Marvel's Captain America: The Winter Soldier" Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) Ph: Zade Rosenthal © 2014 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

I won’t dig too deep into what I’m comparing this scenario to in our life. You have the FanBros main show and every single article on any news site to inform you of that. But, I’d rather focus on what makes this movie so special as we wade through this mess. And to put it simply: It’s the strength of giving up your bond with broken systems. It’s the ability to give up what makes you comfortable or promises you strength for what is actually right, special and inspires you to wake up every day.

Being institutionally kicked down and being victims of data & surveillance has been an increasing issue for the past 3 years and we’ve been able to see the results of this issue hitting a crescendo this year. It’s easy to remember that the primary threat was Robert Redford‘s insidious plans with Hydra. But, many forget that the problems involving collected data and building weapons based on an overwatch of all civilian life was a threat caused by Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. The side of this war that was supposed to be trusted, but used dishonest means to fight with the same cadence as their mortal rivals: “The greater good”.

In a time where “fake news” has plagued our social media sites and big data is used to predict what we want and where we’re going, the idea of losing everyone we trust in power is familiar. As someone who’s always believed in equal rights, privacy and a huge advocate of our amendments, I literally have no party to turn to when looking for support to fight this issue. With the Wikileaks conspiracies and the Snowden information leak involving our constant surveillance in modern times, it’s clear that our liberties are being taken from people we trust. But, “greater good”, right?

"Marvel's Captain America: The Winter Soldier" L to R: Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) & Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) Ph: Zade Rosenthal © 2014 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

Personally, I’ve been a minority who has served in multiple branches of government within my adulthood. So, to say that when you are on the inside looking at the machinations of “The Beast” from within can be disheartening can be a vast understatement. Much like Sam Wilson, I’ve found myself disassociated and helping those who are broken by the system, but not necessarily getting the support they need from it. This movie does not hesitate show that our heroes are weapons, despite what they felt while going into combat. And like any tool, they can be tossed away when it’s use has run it’s course. Later in the film, when we find Steve and Natasha hiding in Sam‘s house, it’s a quiet moment of grieving, loss and disenfranchisement between two people who have lost faith in an organization they’ve devoted their lives to. Where they are both weighing their options and realizing there’s no good outcome in this scenario. Rogers is not only a man out of time during these scenes, but he’s a man who is seeking purpose & companionship in an age of cynicism. He’s hoping to find someone else with the same fire he has inside and the honesty he gives to those around him. And the loneliness in that scenario couldn’t be more accurate.

From the movie "Marvel's Captain America: The Winter Soldier"..Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie)..Ph: Zade Rosenthal..? 2014 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

It’s one thing to demand that we all take a stand and make change, but it’s another to actually do it. The most important moment of the entire film comes when the heroes are finally rejoined with Agents Fury & Hill. While they are creating the plan to take down Hydra, they are given the option to also destroy S.H.I.E.L.D, as well. And Captain America surprisingly says “Yes”. He doesn’t want just enough justice to stop their enemies and feel safe. He wants everyone to have their liberties and for all wrongs to be right at the end of this. Even if that means he’s surrendering his one sense of purpose. While he & Natasha obviously both have the most to lose in this scenario, they have become their own cause and have evolved beyond the need of a system to apply it.

I have felt more than a little adversity in this year and discovered that any feelings of being alone were pretty vindicated by the end of it. I don’t necessarily belong anywhere and I’m not wanted, unless I’m useful. And our country has chosen to make decisions that only effect their individual selves over the needs of the whole. But, there is another half of this country. And they believe in my civil liberties and rights being maintained as much as I believe they deserve the same. And to help those people and to assist those who need it, I don’t need to be a part of a sanctioned institution. Is it harder? Yes. Is it ethical and built on everything potentially beautiful in regards to what this country could be? Absolutely.

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The climactic moment of the film even has more weight due to the gravity of Cap‘s decision to no longer be a weapon or tool. He wants to express his own needs and prove that we all have a choice. This is shown when he is in combat with Bucky on the sinking helicarrier. He no longer cares about his safety, the mission or who is entertained at the thought of this being the final showdown with the physical villain of this story. He puts his shield away and simply takes the hits. He wants his best friend to remember him, to regain his own agency and not be a tool for a system. He’s willing to submit to so much pain(and potentially death) just to say “No”. To show that all of that anger and fighting leads to nowhere and he refuses to be a part of it anymore.

I’ve discovered that fighting among each other is pointless. That getting into internet battles and insulting each other’s beliefs are simply throwing rocks at one’s barriers. That’s not the path we need, right now. It won’t solve our issues. We have a clear target and an immediate threat. It will break down and try to take us with it. We have hard decisions and a path to take, and our struggles with each other will have to be put aside, but each individual needs to make that choice. We need to each have the dignity and self-confidence to say “I’m better than this” and avoid conflict that doesn’t lead anywhere. To walk away from weak arguments that have no reward. There are so many more important things to do.

This film has been in heavy rotation in my house as I’ve discovered that I’m okay with an empire showing it’s true colors and falling apart. That the mistakes of the current and prior regime are now exposed and we can now collectively make the decision to reject this. We can each choose individuality instead of systematic herding. It won’t be easy to see the parts special to me or that I’ve previously been proud of falling apart. But, I’m ready to show there is great beauty and power in being a civilian who wants the best for all of us, even at the expense of having a sense of belonging.

“Moving down the line…”