Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. hasn’t exactly made his fandom for Marvel comic books and movies a secret; he’s referenced the Avengers and Captain America in a speech and chatted about his favorite Spider-Man movies in an interview.
Now in a video released June 10 by Variety, he got to take that fandom to a new level in a conversation with actor Anthony Mackie, star of “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier” and the latest actor to take on the role of Captain America, about the importance of Black superheroes and role models.
Over the course of 30 minutes, Brown and Mackie answered questions from reporter Angelique Jackson about their personal journeys to where they are now and their status as groundbreakers—Brown is the first Black service Chief in U.S. history, while Mackie is the first Black on-screen Captain America.
“For a good portion of my career flying fighters, I was the only African American in my entire squadron,” Brown said. “And even today, when I go into meetings with my three and four stars, I am often the only African American in the room. I’m not representing all African Americans—I just bring an African American’s perspective into the meeting.”
Brown also flexed his knowledge of the Marvel TV series, talking about how he related key plot points to his own experiences.
“I think just to watch the evolution and really the aspect of someone with a very humble background, humble beginnings, to come to where he is and have the opportunity and the realization that ‘I can do this,’” Brown said. “And that was part of at the beginning of the series, where even after having the [Captain America] shield and really kind of passing it up, just feeling like he wasn’t quite qualified or didn’t have the confidence to do it, and then it develops over the series.”
Even having grown in confidence and reaching his current position, Brown said, he feels responsibility to ensure he paves the way for future leaders like him.
“Ideally what you want to do is bring more of that in, and open more eyes, and really have all of us work through this,” he said. “Because this may be the only time they see someone like me at this level, … you want to make sure you’re representing not just yourself, but all those that come behind you.”
Mackie, for his part, said he felt a responsibility to portray the military in a nuanced, compassionate way—his character in the show, Sam Wilson, is a former U.S. Air Force pararescueman.
“Sometimes I meet people like General Brown, and I’m like, ‘That guy’s not a human being—he’s a rock star,’ and you forget they’re actual humans and place them in a light where they’re not allowed to be,” Mackie said. “So that’s something that’s always been important to me — bringing humanity to the aspect of being a Soldier.”
Brown spoke to that feeling as well in explaining why he decided to record and release an emotional video last June detailing his own experiences with racism in light of nationwide protests over police brutality and racial inequality.
“It was really driven by my youngest son, because he was really having a hard time with what was going on,” Brown said of his motivation. “… Also, in my own role as a senior officer, I knew there were a lot of people wondering what I was going to say, when I was going to say it.
“And it was just the aspect of him kind of pushing me, asking me … I was the commander of Pacific Air Forces at the time, [and he asked] ‘What is Pacific Air Forces going to say?’ But he’s really asking me, ‘Hey, Dad, what are you going to say?’ And I had a lot on my mind, and so I just shared it, and I really did not intend for it to go as broad as it did, but I’m glad it did.”
The conversation ended on a light note, as Brown asked Mackie if he could try out the wings that are a part of Mackie’s costume, and Mackie asked Brown for details on how promotion in the Air Force works.