Marvel Studios may appear to absorb everything in its path, but one sector of the pop-culture realm has traditionally held the giant at bay: Hollywood Oscars and the lavish marketing campaigns that accompany them. You could offer The Avengers a visual-effects nomination, or give Guardians of the Galaxy a (futile) run for its screenplay, but what about the major races? The Academy was much too picky, intellectual, and distant to support a superhero film in any significant manner. “We’re not going to receive many other sorts of awards.
A lot of differences in a few years and a few big TV premieres can make. With WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the MCU’s first two Disney+ series, joining the fray after Black Panther’s historic Oscar victory in 2019, the MCU now appears set to storm 2021’s top Emmy contests. They signal a new prestige age for Marvel, with FYC banners now circling Los Angeles, as they are clever, inventive successors to prior flicks. (The studio just hosted a virtual drive-in Rose Bowl event for voters.)
This signals a shift in cultural relevancy for Nate Moore, executive producer on Panther and Falcon: producing work that, while still giving escapist, addresses contemporary themes with deeper complexity than a single line of dialogue good-versus-evil premise. “They’re addressing with genuine topics that people care about,” he adds, citing Panther and Falcon’s explorations of race as examples (in both historical and present-day contexts). While Panther stuck to the MCU’s conventional script, the freedom of longer-form storytelling in television—as well as the prospect of creating a new streamer’s identity—has reframed what an MCU production may be.
According to Moore, these projects “feature components that are not as frequent in some of our films.” And Mary Livanos (a WandaVision co-executive producer who is also executive producing the upcoming Captain Marvel film, The Marvels), sees them having a bigger creative effect on the MCU as a whole: “WandaVision has shown that Marvel Studios is capable of producing surprising stories in new forms, with a level of complexity not typically associated with a blockbuster.”
Marvel is no stranger to television. The studio had already dabbled with the streaming era, with Jessica Jones and Luke Cage among a slew of buzzy Netflix originals. However, these high-priced collaborations between corporations fizzled out after failing to attract an MCU-sized fanbase. Working straight from the movies, Disney+, on the other hand, has that fandom built in from the start, allowing for more artistic ambition.
Moore and co-executive producer Zoie Nagelhout co-created Falcon before hiring Malcolm Spellman as the show’s creator and lead writer. The series, which was nominated for an Emmy for best ongoing drama, is set six months after the events of Avengers: Endgame and follows Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) as they grapple with their past, trauma, and future. “Whether or not we got it right is not for us to say, but the aim was to examine and question what [it] means to be Black in America—and what is more American than bearing the mantle of Captain America?” Moore adds, referring to the plot that led to Sam wielding the iconic shield.