** For those of you reading who haven’t seen Marvel’s Luke Cage on Netflix yet, you might wanna check it out before reading this post, because I’m gonna be giving away a lot of spoliers!
“Here we go, soon as we have a show that depicts Black folks in a positive light, somebody always gotta talk about how it wasn’t Black enough or real enough, can’t we just be happy we got a character to cheer for?”
I can just hear folks now saying that rolling their eyes.
We absolutely can be happy we have a hero to cheer for, but after watching the Netflix series a second time over, I’m not sure if we’re just cheering because Luke Cage is Black, or if the circumstances in the Marvel universe Cage finds himself in, and his responses to them, are truly reflective of the times we’re in, and are worthy enough to deem him the “Black Lives Matter Superhero” as Rolling Stone and other media outlets have began to claim.
Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
The Marvel show’s creator and writer Cheo Hodari Coker explained in a Hot97 interview that the show is an “opportunity to not only tell the story of a man basically accepting the responsibility of being hero, its also the opportunity to tell the story of a community, to tell the story of Harlem, tell the story about Black History, our place in the world and what’s going on.”
Without watching the show that sounds utterly amazing! It’s literally the story we’ve been longing for, for years, in fact it’s arguably one of the most progressive storylines regarding a Black protagonist since Django Unchained.
However, upon watching the 13 episode season for the first time, its clear that even after accepting the call to service, its not entirely for the betterment of Harlem, its ultimately the thirst for revenge that’s fueling Cage. Are Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, Patrisse Cullors, and Deray McKesson ultimately out for revenge?
The story is set in a fictional Harlem at a time when the Avengers have defeated Loki and that moment in history is now known as “The Incident” and young brothers hang out and peddle bootleg videos of the event as an interesting ode to the brothers from the conscious community.
In this fictional rendering of Harlem, we are introduced to Cage, tall, dark and handsome, in Pop’s Barbershop, the Switzerland of a war torn community, a place of peace for everyone in the neighborhood.
Pops is the neighborhood griot who cuts heads, opens his doors to keep young people off the streets, and guides the decency of men by the employment of a swear jar that penalizes the use of profanity, something Cage doesn’t do often. He’s also a father figure to Luke, who he believes should use his powers to help others despite that Luke wants to remain out of the spotlight.
So what’s the big issue?
If it weren’t for Pops being killed at the hands of a man whom he really never liked to begin with, the Saga of the impenetrable Black man from Harlem probably wouldn’t be. Cage said out his own mouth that he just wanted to go to work, pay his way, and be “left the hell alone.”
I’m curious to know why Luke wasn’t as a motivated to help others, when “The Incident” took place? God knows he could have been useful. Who knows, maybe it occurred before he got his powers, or maybe its because Cage is a reflection of the idea that, until it impacts us directly, we’re all indifferent.
That indifference bothered me throughout the show and made it hard for me to truly see Cage as some messianic force that’s for the lives of Black men, women, and children.
But Nobody Said He Was Perfect!
Absolutely not, I enjoy the fact that he lied to Pops, but stuck to his understanding that we all live and die by our choices, that line inspired me to stand on an agreement I made a while back.
However, the media is painting him as this activist and representative of BLM. A major character flaw of Luke’s is that at his core, his self-hatred extends to the people in the community that he claims to love the most and taints his motivations to do something genuinely out of care for the people of Harlem.
But What About The Trayvon Hoodie?
I noticed that everybody is in love with the idea that Trayvon is symbolically commemorated in the series, however, in this dark hoodie, Cage only unleashes fury on men that look just like him. So in a sense, the memorialization of Trayvon comes at the punishment of other Black men? How does that work?
Which brings me to brother Coker’s comment on how the show is a reflection of our place in the world today. What about the cops? The system? Seems as though the system of justice in this world is painted over with a delicate brush when it comes to the issue of race and oppression.
However, strangely, once the circumstances produce a climate where cops are enraged at the death of one of their own, the one instance where we witness police brutality, its represented by a Black cop beating the shit out of a Black teen. How does that work?
But Cage Is A Bullet Proof Black Man From Harlem Though?
I think the idea of Luke being a bullet proof Black man from Harlem is awesome and in today’s times it speaks to the idea of Black divinity as an antithesis to the Black iniquity we see played out throughout the media.
However, the only folks that showered this Black man with bullets were Black folks, so what does that say to me? Off top, it says that in reality, the real enemy isn’t the system, it’s our selves, and to a degree, I’d agree with that. But in no way shape or form is this system, innocent of the strategic marauding and pillaging of Black life at the hands of White supremacy.
In fact, if we observe the behavior of Cage, he inherently believes the system is good, and works in collection with it, to preserve its function as is. That is completely contradictory to the collective works of Black Lives Matter and other social justice organizations and movements throughout the country who believe fervently that the system is indeed broken, has been for years, and needs an overhaul.
So Does That Mean The Series Isn’t Pro Black?
Marvel’s Luke Cage isn’t Pro Black, in the sense of how Kwame Toure or Dr. Amos Wilson, Dr. Ben, Malcolm X, or even Marcus Garvey would have defined it. But it does has subtle glimpses of beauty throughout, that add texture and weight to the world. That offers us a portal through which we can see ourselves and feel venerated.
For example, when Mariah strolls through Marcus Garvey Park, or the huge Biggie Painting in Harlem’s Paradise, or the fact that the community centers Mariah is trying to launch are all named after historical Black figures like Crispus Attucks and Shirley Chisolm, its refreshing to see a world made in the likeness of us, by people who cared enough to put their lives on the line for us. In that regard, its edifying.
I don’t personally take the show and its creators to the gas chamber for its political nuances and philosophies, because at the end of the day, I still believe that these brothers along with the incredible music from Ali Shaheed Muhammad of Tribe Called Quest and Andre Younge, they’ve produced some of the best TV I’ve seen in years. Its truly a deep breath of fresh air.
The fact that the show boasts a predominantly Black cast, honors the legacy of Hip Hop culture, celebrates Black History, is shot quite beautifully, and has put money into the hands of young black talented filmmakers and actors, there’s no way that I can say on a larger scale, that this series isn’t pro Black.
So You Do Like The Show?
I love Luke Cage, I’ve watched it twice through already, and find myself rocking out to the opening credits in my head throughout the day. Its fire, hands down. We can’t have everything we want in one story, and this is something I argue against most, is that when there is a shortage of material pertaining to Black culture, we expect every new iteration of the Black experience showcased on screen to be our everything, when in fact, its impossible to be everything to everyone.
Nonetheless, I still stand on my claim that Luke Cage isn’t the Black Lives Matter Superhero, let alone a Pro Black superhero, and that’s perfectly okay.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a superhero that’s simply, Black. Its when we start adding political ideologies to the character that don’t equate, that we run the risk of setting an expectation that the show creators never intended, which can alter the integrity of the final product, and ultimately lead to the show losing what makes it special.
So with that, I’ll close in the words of Andre 3000, “Now question: is every nigga with dreads for the cause? Is every nigga with golds for the fall? Naw, So don’t get caught up in appearance…”
It’s just a TV show, Luke Cage, another black experience.