Any show that opens up with a conversation trashing the New York Knicks is a show after my own heart.

In the 1970s, Archie Goodwin and artists, George Tuska and John Romita introduced the Luke Cage to the comic book world. It was a well-meant effort by Marvel to represent African-American culture on their pages, as he’s the first black comic book character to headline his own comic-book series. His introduction, along with Iron Fist’s, came under the joint title “Heroes for Hire”, a response to the rising popularity of the” blaxploitation” and martial arts genre in the U.S.

Early blaxploitation movies had certain plot points that they always hit. From the disinclined hero to the “problems in the inner city”, it was also a place for African-Americans to showcase their talent.  However, when writers that aren’t African-American are tasked to come up with black dialogue during the time of blaxploitation, you come up with lines like “Sweet Christmas!” So it was great to hear that Netflix had chosen Cheo Hodari Coker to be in charge of the Luke Cage project.luke cage

Coker, who wrote music reviews for Vibe magazine and whose credits include the Christopher Wallace biopic, Notorious, describes himself as the black nerd that some of us were growing up (think Lucas from Stranger Things). Coker talked about how hard it was to get involved in huge superhero projects like this as a minority. Now I’ve talked about diversity in Hollywood before; about how it’s not just about getting more minority faces on-screen but also getting those guys behind the camera and in the writing room as well. The importance of having people of minority backgrounds tell stories about characters who are minorities and played by minorities is so important. And Luke Cage (Mike Colter) was the perfect vehicle for Coker to drive because not only did he get a seat at the proverbial table, but he got to spearhead the project. And he took on that responsibility with wholeheartedness. luke cage

What we’re given is a different superhero show; one that is extremely black. Like blackity-black-black. It makes no attempts to hide that fact from, from the music score put together by Adrian Younge to its colorful cast of actors and actresses to the use of Harlem as a living, breathing character. The show also uses symbolism and exposition as vehicles to drive conversations about social issues to varying levels of success. At one point in the season, (Black) Mariah Dillard, the politician, leads a rally that came together to protest the violence that had been inflicted on a young black teenager during a police interrogation. But in the very same breath she calls for police empowerment because only they can save the people from the hands of overpowered freaks like Luke Cage. It’s confusing at times. But that doesn’t mean that the show’s other ideas don’t hit the mark. The idea alone of having a superhero be a huge black, bulletproof man wearing a hoodie patrolling the streets is a powerful statement. With Cage’s dialogue, as well as several other characters, we see that he’s not just about protecting the people of Harlem from the bad guys. He and other characters explain why Harlem AND its culture are worth defending. Why it’s important to keep the culture and the history alive.

One may wonder whether a superhero movie or TV show is the right vessel to carry such heavy topics. Jessica Jones tried to address the problems of domestic violence and abuse and rape. We see the same thing in Luke Cage as they touch on topics including racial inequality, police brutality and black-on-black violence. It’s a tall order considering how fanciful the plots of most comic stories are. However, the first season of Luke Cage shows that they’re able to carry the weight of these social issues on the proverbial broad shoulders of their hero.

Over the last few years, conversations in Hollywood have centered around the lack of diversity on screens. It’s good to see the progress that has been made since #OscarsSoWhite and that we’re not just getting to see people of color on TV and in movies, but that they’re behind the scenes as well making the decisions and writing the plots and telling the stories from their perspectives.

Notes:

  • Honestly Mike Colter was probably the weakest part of the Luke Cage cast. Characters like Black Mariah (Alfre Woodard), Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali), Misty Knight and even Diamondback were much more fun to watch when they had their scenes.
  • I can’t say enough how much I love the music on this show. So many great musical guests and performances.

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