It's official: The O.J. Simpson murder trial is canon in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Late in Captain America: Civil War, African-American hero Sam Wilson, a.k.a. Falcon (played by Anthony Mackie), finds himself jailed after a fight with Tony Stark’s pro-government forces. While Stark is questioning him about Captain America's whereabouts, Wilson asks if Stark is supposed to be the good cop, then says he'd better go get the bad cop, because "you'd have to go Mark Furhman on my ass to get information out of me."
Yowza! A joke about the famously racist LAPD officer who helped derail the prosecution’s case in the Simpson trial? How on Thor’s green earth did that sneak in there? We asked Civil War screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely that very question, and apparently they’re just as surprised as anyone that the line made it into the final cut.
I was at a screening filled with grizzled critics who were mostly silent throughout the movie, but they erupted into a collective Whoaaaa! at the Mark Fuhrman joke.
It felt like we were all thinking, Can you do that in a Marvel movie?
Markus: We should’ve done it earlier!
McFeely: [Laughs.] We won 'em over too late!
What were the origins of that joke?
Markus: We were just trying to think of a bad cop.
McFeely: We must’ve had some alternates for that, but that one stuck.
Markus: Anthony Mackie is hysterical and you wanna give him something to chew on.
McFeely: He is much funnier than his character, and it doesn’t always come across.
Markus: We’ve been lucky in that popular culture has come around to a joke we wrote beforehand. [The People v. O.J. Simpson] has reminded everybody who [Fuhrman] was. My worry was actually, no one’s gonna remember who that guy was. That was 20 years ago!
McFeely: Absolutely. That was very helpful. Instead of being a 15-year-old joke, it’s now a two-month-old joke.
Markus: Super timely. I think Sam Wilson would have a particular slant on Mark Fuhrman. [Laughs.] Y’know what I mean?
Did you get any pushback from the studio? Was anyone in charge saying, "This is a little too hot for us"?
Markus: Surprisingly, no!
McFeely: I don’t think so! [Laughs.]
Markus: In situations like that, you shoot 5, 10 lines, variants on jokes or tamer versions. So they’re not gonna freak out when you have one slightly controversial line and 15 tame ones, because they’re hoping you don’t use the controversial one.
So there were alternate bad cops that you inserted into the line?
McFeely: No, it may have just been a different joke. I’m sure we probably wrote a couple alternates where the rhythm was the same but it wasn’t a bad-cop joke. Chris sort of alluded to it: Whatever gets the best reaction sorta wins out, and that’s a Russo brothers [the directors] thing. They’re in the editing room with [editor] Jeff Ford and putting things together, going, “Well, it’s not better than that joke, so let’s use this one.”
Do you remember what any of the alternate jokes would’ve been?
Markus: I think there were several versions where there was no joke, where he was just like, “You’d better bring the bad cop in here.” There’s a way to do the line without having a joke. But that was no fun! Did the people in your screening feel it was inappropriate?
No, no, I think everybody loved it because it was more daring than your average joke in a superhero movie, and it was also very topical, given the O.J. material in entertainment this year.
McFeely: Well, that’s the thing. To be honest, Chris and I generally shy away from such topical, pop-culture-type stuff. Even to our detriment. The Empire Strikes Back line is one we kinda bristled against because we want the movies to be evergreen. [Note: There’s a gag where Spider-Man refers to The Empire Strikes Back as an “old movie.”] Some of these lines would require a sense of pop culture and knowledge of other movies, things like that. So we’re being a little hypocritical when we wanna take Empire Strikes Back out but leave Mark Fuhrman in. [Laughs.]
Markus: It also reminds you that this is taking place in a world that you know, as opposed to a world where it’s just totally disconnected from your reality. But there’s a difference between referencing a political/social/cultural incident and referencing the latest Rihanna single or something. One seems like pandering because you’re like, “Hey, kids, we like the cool thing you like!"