Nick Fury and James Rhodes’ Conversation in SECRET INVASION Holds Deep Meaning

Secret Invasion is full steam ahead as Nick Fury discovers the shocking truth about millions of Skrulls on Earth. His determination to neutralize Gravik’s rogue collective leads him to seek Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes for help. The subsequent conversation between Fury and Rhodey is a surprisingly nuanced examination of what it means to be Black, to obtain and maintain power, and how to navigate that responsibility. And, it totally hints at Rhodey being a Skrull. 

James Rhodey sits across from Nick Fury in Secret Invasion
Marvel Studios

Within the MCU, James Rhodes and Nick Fury are in the highest ranking positions of power in their respective areas of professional expertise. And they are both in arenas where their colleagues are predominately white. Fury is the founder/leader of S.A.B.E.R., former S.H.I.E.L.D. director, and the founder of the Avengers. Rhodes is a respected Colonel in the US Air Force and an Avenger. These accomplishments are surely beyond what they imagined as children who were born into and/or grew up during a segregation-era America. In fact, Nick reflects on his childhood while riding comfortably in a train car and donning an all-black suit. He recalls riding in the “colored” section of a train from Alabama with no air conditioning or working bathrooms and a dining car his family couldn’t access. 

Years later, he is internationally known and in the early stages of his latest Earth-threatening predicament. Naturally, he looks to another Black man who is on his level, someone with ample resources and intelligence to help achieve his mission: Rhodey. Colonel Rhodes is busy skirting around accusations and concerns from the UK Prime Minister and other Heads of State that Nick Fury is responsible for the Moscow bombing. As if on cue, Fury calls him for a meeting.

Rhodes is understandably angry about the Moscow fiasco, informing Fury that everyone blames Fury for the resulting carnage. Rhodey believes that, thanks to Fury’s failure to stop the attack, WWIII is on the way. Even worse, all of the US’ allies are now siding with Russia. Fury quickly explains why the attack happened in the first place, revealing the (new to him) info about the Skrulls. Rhodey says he’s known for 15 years, thanks to a top secret briefing about Skrull ships crashing onto Earth. He’s well aware of their possible plans to invade the planet from the inside, presumably through achieving high-ranking status and power, very much like what Rhodey has in America.  

A uniformed James Rhodes sits next to Justin Hammer.
Marvel Studios

Fury says the invasion has happened and Moscow is just the beginning. He rejects the idea of calling in reinforcement (Avengers? S.H.I.E.L.D?), says it is his war (fair considering he’s been dealing with them for decades), and asks Rhodey to back him on it. Rhodey says he cannot do that because he spent all his political capital getting Maria Hill’s body back. He insists that he protects the planet by protecting the seat at the table. 

Fury tells Rhodey that he must have forgotten who helped him get that seat. This is when the verbal fistcuffs come out. This vital conversation about the fate of humanity between two Black men takes a turn that most fans wouldn’t expect. Nick Fury reminds Rhodey of the reality of their positions in this world. He rightfully points out that men who look like them don’t get promotions because of who their daddies know.

“Every ounce of power we wrestle from the vise grip of the mediocre Alexander Pierces who run this world was earned in blood,” says Fury. “So let’s make the power mean something. Help a brother out.” 

Fury’s words hold a lot of weight, especially for Black people who have built careers in overwhelmingly white spaces. In many fields, the privilege of existing as a white man supersedes the accomplishments and accolades of Black people. The numbers don’t lie, from racial and gender pay gaps as well as missed promotions and other opportunities for advancement. As a Black person, to achieve in your respective field is to endure a barrage of barriers to entry that a family name cannot wave away. It’s a constant fight to prove you are worthy of what you have earned. You’re fighting against the status quo, against people who your very existence threatens.

Nick Fury stands on a street in london wearing an all black suit and a hat in secret invasion tv show
Gareth Gatrell/Marvel Studios

With surprising candor for MCU standards, Fury acknowledges that although he frequently grapples with otherworldly threats, he still has to fight against systemic oppression that no amount of respectability nor ranking can vanquish. He’s asking Rhodey, not just as someone with professional power status, but as another Black man to be in his corner during an uncertain time. It’s evident that Fury is experiencing a dark night of the soul season following the Blip. It is also far too easy to cast someone who doesn’t subscribe neatly to respectability politics like Fury aside and attempt to discredit his accomplishments… and he knows it. This is when that community and camaraderie that Black people have used to survive and thrive is critical.

The expected reaction from Rhodey would be to acknowledge the mountains they have had to continuously climb. The pathway to garner their respect and rankings in this relentless professional game of power play hasn’t been easy, right? Rhodey’s always been a man who is loyal to the military and to the cause. However, he is also logical and pragmatic. We think he will show empathy and understanding (in his own signature way), even if his hands are tied in ways he cannot release.

Oftentimes, being a Black hero/agent of change with socioeconomic power is toeing the line between two sides. It is playing a role to keep your proverbial seat at the table and stealthily stepping outside of the boundaries (usually made to keep those who are “othered” like you in check) to uphold the greater good. We’ve seen Rhodey do this, at times making decisions that come into direct conflict with his professional duty. He’s knowingly withheld intel to protect Tony Stark and other Avengers interests.

Nick Fury wearing a winter hat and coat looks out into a public square on Secret Invasion
Marvel Studios

Instead, he replies to Fury with undertones that are a bit uncharacteristic for him and also highkey disrespectful. “…you should know better than most,” Rhodey begins. “The reason we wrestled this power from mediocre men who don’t look like us was not simply to turn around and hand it to mediocre men who do.” OUCH. That’s a low blow to Fury, who has done more than his fair share to protect the planet, albeit through more “rogue” avenues at times. Yet, he also says that Fury is someone whom he respects and understands… before hitting him with a gut punch.

“The point of this power is to be uncompromising, to be unsparing, to be able to sit across from a man we greatly admire, with whom we share an entire professional, personal, ancestral history with, and to tell him without any reservation, that he’s fired.” -James Rhodes

Rhodey saying he has no reservations about volunteering to fire Nick is very wild, indeed. (Also, he calls him Nick and no one does that except his mother. He’s a Skrull!) Rhodes is rightfully angry about Moscow and the death of Maria Hill. And yes, Fury does hold some responsibility there and is not above reproach. Perhaps Rhodey is hardened by years of dealing with all sorts of mess before losing his best friend. But, purposely being the person to tell Fury that he’s “fired” is a low blow with a lot of layers.

Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury sits while clad in all black with a winter hat and no eye patch on Secret Invasion
Marvel Studios

It’s the equivalent of forging a bond with another Black person in a specific circle only for them to turn their back in your time of need. No matter their rationale, it boils down to acting in favor of the status quo upheld by “the man.” There are a lot of people who won’t admit that they’d take the Rhodey route, but it certainly happens. Nick jacks up Rhodey’s security detail and reminds them that even when he’s out, he’s in. (Rhodey is lucky that Fury didn’t knock him out of his seat and call him a MFer.)

Fury storms off and has a lonely breakdown, clearly hurt in more ways than one. We will see where Secret Invasion will go next and if Rhodey is a Skrull. But, even if Rhodey isn’t himself, this conversation with Nick Fury shows how both characters’ Blackness and powerful positions always intertwine. 

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