By Abigail Oduol, a planned gift fundraiser in Southern California

Let’s dig into what Secret Invasion has to teach us about allyship journeys, building bridges and navigating internal community dynamics, and potential paths to restoration when you’ve done harm as an ally.  

I’m a Marvel fan. Yeah, I said it. I’ve watched every show as it drops on Disney+ while eagerly waiting for the company to implode or for anti-trust legislation to break up their monopoly.  

That aside, I was particularly excited when I heard that Secret Invasion was going to be a mini-series.  

The story involves an alien race called Skrulls that are refugees on Earth after their planet gets destroyed by the Kree (a storyline introduced in Captain Marvel, a tale about  Second-wave white feminism). These Skrulls can shape-shift into anyone, and only a handful of people know they’re here. Nick Fury, Black super spy extraordinaire, is one of them. He’s also back from space to fix his mistakes with this community and interrupt a Skrull rebel movement working to wipe out humans and claim Earth for themselves. 

There’s other stuff in it too, but the show is essentially, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers: How Fury Got His Groove Back.” I was into it, despite the naysayers, and by the end of episode two I strongly suspected that while Secret Invasion was trying to be a lot of things, it truly succeeds in telling a story about allyship. 

Just to make sure we’re all talking about the same thing, let’s define allyship. Lily Zheng is a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategist and consultant, and they have broken down allyship into a list of helpful components: bystander intervention, community organizing, effective advocacy and power and resource sharing.

All four of these components are present in the way Fury engages with the Skrulls. He finds the problems only he can solve and successfully solves them, which drives forward the plot. The examples I’ll present are from scenes where Fury removes barriers, challenges the status quo, intentionally coordinates with others different than himself to further shared interests, and in the end, makes it easier for others to address inequity themselves and actively holds others accountable for harmful language and behavior.  

For those who haven’t watched, there are spoilers in this piece. So, consider this the last warning to bookmark this page, binge watch the six episodes, and make your way back. 

Let’s dig into what Secret Invasion has to teach us about allyship journeys, building bridges and navigating internal community dynamics, and potential paths to restoration when you’ve done harm as an ally. 

Lesson: Allied oppressed groups can oppress others. 

Fury’s work in the Skrull community involves a promise to find the Skrulls a new home rather than permanently assimilating them into human society. This is a goal they were united in. 

What ends up happening is a bit different. Fury makes this promise, and in exchange, the Skrulls offer to work for him as his spy network worldwide. He then catapults himself to the highest echelons of the spy apparatus, and as his best friend and Skrull, Talos, puts it, “you’re fine using us as your spies and your errand boys” exploiting Skrull labor and not making good on his promise.  

Is he good at his job? Yes. Did he work hard? Yes. Is he leading S.H.I.E.L.D because the Skrull spies believe he’s actively working on helping their community relocate? Absolutely yes. Is he also marginalized in the Marvel world as a Black man? Yes.  

Fury makes two basic mistakes. One is conflating his individual purpose and vision with the purpose and vision of the community he swore to serve. It’s the “we’ll all be up when I’m on top” belief, voiced by Col. Rhodes (US Air Force officer, best friend of Tony Stark, also known as War Machine, and introduced in Iron Man) when he rebuts Fury’s accusation of deprioritizing the protection of Earth, stating, “we protect the planet by protecting our seat at the table.”  

Fury refuses to acknowledge that being in charge with the same power dynamics that are racially motivated does not and cannot inherently create the change that this community is looking for.  

Fury and Col. Rhodes discuss their marginalized status as Black men and mutual obligations as a community, with Fury declaring, “We owe each other. Men who look like us don’t get promoted because of who our daddies know. Every ounce of power we wrestle from the vice grip of the mediocre Alexander Pierces who run this world was earned in blood. So, let’s make the power mean something. Help a brother out.”  

There’s a great piece from Nerdist delving into this moment as it relates to Black communities. For our conversation on allyship, this moment reveals how individuals experiencing marginalization and exploitative relationships to power such as Fury and Col. Rhodes, can replicate those very dynamics with other disenfranchised groups.  

Allies, regardless of identity, must apply significant effort to engage in ways that break, rather than reinforce, cycles of oppression. 

The second mistake is that he doesn’t update Skrull representatives on his progress or lack thereof. During a heated conversation on the train about the number of Skrulls on Earth, Talos challenges, “You were gone, and I didn’t think you were coming back… and even when you did come back there was no talking to you about anything real.”  

Everyone is left guessing about what is going on, and when Fury returns after five years from the Blip, he goes straight to space. Everyone is left guessing again as he sorts through his own existential crisis.  

As a result, he loses the trust of Gravik (a young Skrull formerly part of the spy network who idolized Fury), an increasing number of other Skrulls, and the confidence of his Skrull wife Priscilla (birth name Varra).  

As an outsider ally joining the community and making promises, it was his role to clarify how he’s showing up and the challenges he’s facing. Not emotional dumping, but sharing what is happening and why shared goals aren’t being pursued any longer is crucial for relationship building and therefore, allyship. 

Lesson: Building Bridges can be an important benefit of allyship 

Fury made every effort to be an ally to Skrulls in the larger community, and work with them even while their positions were at odds. On the one hand, it’s a classic spy move. Anyone can work for or with a spy, regardless of ultimate allegiance. It’s also a valuable allyship lesson to be flexible enough to work with others when your values or aims are aligned.  

Fury worked with Sonia although she had a scorched Earth philosophy on Skrulls. This was partially to understand what she knew, and to understand where their aims aligned. In the end, Sonia adjusts her philosophy to allow her to pragmatically work with Talos’ powerful Skrull daughter, G’iah.  

Fury also stayed close to Col. Rhodes, even after he knew that it was a Skrull impersonator, Raava, and that she was not an ally. Fury made every reasonable effort to use argumentation rather than violence to flip Raava’s allegiance so she could call off Gravik’s efforts to cause a Russian-US war.  

These examples reveal the role allies can play as bridges when engaging in relationships that might be otherwise harmful for the community but that can supply the leverage and resources that a community needs.  

In the end, Fury made it possible for allies G’iah, Priscilla/Varra, and Talos to have further autonomy in holding community members accountable and deciding community trajectories.  

Lesson: With restoration, mistakes aren’t forever. 

Priscilla/Varra asks Fury to step up in how he engages with her and with the community. Talos asks Fury to get it together. G’iah holds him to account for not doing more.  

Fury loved the Skrulls. He was invested. And still, he failed, got tired, struggled with working through his own stuff (possibly depression), and sometimes he just didn’t communicate or show up well. This inevitably leads to conflict, which of course we need in any decent story.  

Now, Fury was not good at apologies or repairing harm. True allyship means respecting people for who they are, and for where they are at, and realizing the role you played in their harm rather than rushing past it. When in a conflict with Talos, he did not try and move Talos out of his anger or to fix everything. In a better scenario, he would have readdressed the issue when they had both calmed down to discuss how they would move forward in their relationship.  

Similarly, but to a lesser extent, Fury accepted G’iah in her anger and didn’t try and move her into a new emotion, but instead shared a piece of himself and began the path of repair, while also releasing her to pursue community advocacy on her terms.  

As all this unfolded, Fury accepted the consequences, worked to fix his mistakes, and gradually restored the trust of his allies. Fury continues, just as we must, seeking opportunities for restoration instead of leaning on the people he hurt to fix his mistakes. Even when we fall short and are criticized by our comrades who are hurt about the way we showed up, we can continue to grow and evolve into people who can be better allies.  

By the end of the story, he recommits to the goals of the Skrulls by making positive strides in his relationships with G’iah and Priscilla/Varra, putting social chips on the table by criticizing President Ritson for his xenophobic remarks, and by brokering a peace treaty with the Kree.  

Lesson: Involvement in an intimate relationship does not an ally make. 

Nick Fury’s wife, Priscilla/Varra is a Skrull. Initially it’s unclear if he accepts her because of who she really is, or if he accepts her because she takes on the name Priscilla and wears the face and identity of a Black woman (oof). She and others repeatedly question if he is flattening her identity. Does he love who she is in her own skin, or the idea of what she stands for and who he believes her to be? 

For others to feel our allyship, we must accept them in the fullness of who they are. At the end of the mini-series, Fury accepts his wife Varra for who she is. He fully embraces her in her skin, with her name, and asks her again to join his work as a partner rather than a bystander.  

Full knowledge and acceptance of a person fully embodied, regardless of what that means for how you previously identified them, what their earlier name was, or the nature of your past relationship, is its own form of hospitality and care. It shows an interest in engaging the individual as an equal partner. It also shows an understanding that being an ally involves being a part of the community identity and the individual identities therein, even as they evolve in their conception of themselves.  

If you didn’t catch these things while watching, I would encourage you to go back and watch again. Reflect on your own allyship experiences. Where have you been forging ahead with a personal agenda that was at odds with the community’s agenda? Where have you assumed that because of your own identity you couldn’t possibly be harming others through your choices?  

Good art brings both enjoyment as well as opportunities to look deep within ourselves and ask hard questions about what it means to be a part of various communities. I hope that as you reflect on your journey that Fury’s journey inspires you to continue striving forward. Ultimately our humanness makes allyship complicated and messy, but as the music swells, we remember how beautiful it is.

Abigail Oduol

Abigail Oduol

Abigail Oduol’s (she/hers) surname is not Irish or Pennsylvania Dutch. It’s Kenyan. She keeps her escape pod in Kenya ready, and checks on it regularly with her young kids and husband. Abigail serves on the CCF Global Council, NACGP D&I committee and with her local PTA.  Follow her musings on threads @abby_oduol and longer thoughts on LinkedIn. You can send tips and micro reparations to her Cashapp $AbbyOduol.