Friday, October 7th, 2016
Today marks a full week since Netflix finally blessed us with the first season of Luke Cage and it has already caused quite the sensation amongst the Marvel fandom and beyond. It managed to crash the servers of the website because of its immense popularity (something that has notably never happened before) and it is gaining extremely positive reviews all around the internet. While most of us once again expected high quality content from Marvel Netflix since both Daredevil and Jessica Jones were huge successes with complex and magnetic stories, nothing could have prepared us for the Luke Cage hurricane that was coming our way, tearing down TV laws and leaving nothing but dust in its wake.
Here’s five reasons why Luke Cage is making history.
About five months after the incidents of Jessica Jones, ex convict Luke Cage finds himself in Harlem, where he’s trying to remain invisible and avoid trouble. Being a black man with bulletproof skin and superhuman strength in present-day New York however, makes this plan just a tad unrealistic. Luke soon finds himself in the middle of an ongoing battle between various Harlem gangs and the police and it doesn’t take long before he is inevitably involved in what proves to be a personal matter, rooted deeply within his childhood.
Almost exclusively taking place in Harlem, Luke Cage completely shatters the stereotypical portrayal of the community as nothing more than crime and bloodshed. While obviously not dismissing the brutality of black-on-black violence, Luke Cage‘s Harlem lives and breathes in vibrant colors and an extraordinary legacy both superheroes and villains alike are hell-bent on protecting. As a character Luke is very aware of the culture that surrounds him, from jazz music to rap and from art to literature and he carries that knowledge throughout his entire arc like an armor. In one of the most defying scenes of the show, Luke gives a powerful response to being called the N word by a fellow black man:
“Young man, I’ve had a long day.” he says ” I’m tired. But I’m not tired enough to ever let nobody call me that word. You see a n—- standing in front of you? Across the street from a building named after one of our greatest heroes? You even know who Crispus Attucks was?” So many important sub messages about patriotism, political correctness and modern day America in only one, breathtaking line.
Another important issue mentioned in Luke Cage is the dilemma a person of color must face upon deciding whether he or she wants to climb the social ladder in a legitimate way, with the racism and discrimination that entails, or turn to the streets like every generation before them. Cottonmouth, one of the shows main villains spectacularly played by Mahershala Ali, is definitely a victim of that system as he aspires to be a great musician and walk away from everything else but Harlem shallows him whole, toughens him up and turns him into the gang king pin he was destined to be.
Realistic dialogues, street slang, traditions and a plethora of other details make Luke Cage a fair, honest, real and diverse depiction of black culture and frankly, it was about time we had it.
Here are the simple facts: Luke Cage has offered the world more women of color in vital roles than any other Marvel movie or TV show has managed to do since the cinematic franchise was created.
This is more than just important; it’s monumental. Not only is there an abundance of black women and women of color of all shapes and sizes on your screen at all times but their significance to the plot is crucial; they’re villains, heroes, justice seekers, doctors, mothers, wives and politicians. They are presented with a complexity and depth we are only used to receive for male characters and yet Luke Cage does what we have been literally begging other pop media to do for years: treat women like people. It’s very refreshing to see them having conversations with each other about things other than men, be angry, act impulsively, grow greedy, make mistakes, protect one another and stand their ground when the situation demands it.
Good luck every other Marvel production ever; you’ve got a lot of work to do.
The three main female protagonists are detective Misty Knight, nurse Claire Temple who we already know from Daredevil and Jessica Jones and Mariah Dillard, Harlem’s council woman.
Misty is without a doubt an iconic comic book character and her ΤV adaption does her justice. Gorgeously played by Simone Cook, Misty is one of the highlights of the series with a very strong presence and powerful scenes. We get to explore a lot of different layers of her character as the plot progresses but it’s clear from the beginning how essential she is going to be. While definitely on the side of the good guys, she tries to stop Luke and bring him to jail more than once, almost blinded by her faith in the system and too eager to finish the job by herself. She reveals her vulnerability and fears eventually, after the case leads to multiple dead ends and she is confronted by Willis Stryker, another villain who almost kills her and causes her a great deal of ptsd.
While having already been blessed by Claire Temple’s existence in Daredevil and Jones, only Luke Cage gives her the screen time she deserves. She of course manages to be an image of perfection once again, by offering the level headed advice Luke needs to get out of his funks, kicking ass on her own whenever needed and saving a bunch of Harlem residents with her magic medical skills. These are all things to be expected when it comes to Claire; what actually takes the viewer by surprise is the deep connection she develops with Luke. Besides Rosario Dawson’s and Mike Colter’s amazing chemistry, Luke and Claire are written as a genuine, fun and tender relationship, frankly the healthiest one we’ve seen in a Netflix Marvel show so far. They respect each other, keep no secrets and find the time to cutely flirt in the midst of the world falling apart which offers swoon worthy moments that hopeless romantics like me eat up. It would be a shame to let this go, which is something I’m hoping the writers don’t intend to do in favor of Luke/Jessica in The Defenders.
Last but definitely not least, Mariah Dilliard has to be one of the most fascinating characters on television. Watching her spiral from poised, intelligent politician to the gang queen she tried to fight her entire life from becoming is a spectacular journey and there’s no one else but actress Alfre Woodard who could show it to us better. Her approachable yet detached public demeanor makes Mariah a sufficient but fearful leader. Witnessing her surrender to a darker side bit by bit is delicious storytelling. She’s as strong of a villain as Cottonmouth and Stryker and definitely more relatable from a woman’s perspective.
“When I think about what’s going on in the world right now,” says executive producer Cheo Hodari Coker “the world is ready for a bulletproof black man.”
The shocking sincerity in which police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement is addressed in Luke Cage is one of the strongest aspects of the show and what truly sets it apart. Although we are still talking about a series that is a comic book fantasy story at its core, the political issues it focuses on are real, raw and as current as they can be. One of the most compelling scenes in the entire first season is when real life rap singer Method Man freestyles an homage to Luke, singing “who to call when no one obeys the law and there ain’t no Iron Man that can come and save us all?” which underlines the hopelessness the black community has faced every time an innocent person has been unfairly arrested or gunned down by the police . The idea of a bulletproof, unafraid black hero represents the community’s unwillingness to stand down, be quiet and not seek justice.
“Superheroes have always arisen during times of conflict, when people felt helpless.” continues Coker “For example, if you look at the history of Superman and the emergence of Captain America during World War II, during periods of American history when people felt disempowered, disenfranchised, that was the function of superheroes. Basically, to look at world events and what’s happening in society through the prism of someone that, with their powers, is able to make changes.”
And Luke Cage is the change we need.