by Da CogNegro
They could have taken the easy way out and relied on his seventies blaxploitation origin that was replete with stereotypical caricatures, broken language and ornate pageantry. They could have taken the easy way out and leaned on the Brain Azarello's interpretation, under the Marvel Comics' Max banner, which portrayed the titular character as a gold teeth five finger ring wearing womanizer with a panache for profanity and thug tendencies (as if we needed more of these depictions that have already flooded our media and entertainment and have ultimately tainted the perception of black males.) Outside of guest appearances in some Marvel licensed video games, the only other adaptation of the Luke Cage character ,that I am aware of, was found on the animated series entitled Avengers Earth Mightiest Heroes where he was portrayed as a hot-headed and narrow minded individual who was more concerned with being paid for his services as oppose to doing heroic deeds. This was even made more apparent when compared to his partner: the noble and leveled Iron Fist. Fortunately, Marvel and Netflix did not take the easy way out. Instead, they provided us with a much long awaited hero whose role goes beyond the realm of satisfying comic book enthusiast and entertaining casual viewers!
Where do I start? How about the beginning! The opening hip-hop theme, that is drenched in bluesy sensibilities and highlighted by a sun dew, Harlem backdrop, merely teased our pallet in expectation for a feast of unapologetic cultural offerings. The Apollo Theater, Malcolm X Boulevard, yea, it was all there! The show did not shy away from its' African American history. In fact, it reveled in it .Thus , harkening back to a time where John Singleton would drop "messages"of truth throughout his movies, or your favorite black sitcom would have its'characters overtly discuss black issues or subtly adorn the attire of HBCU(s). Whether it was Cage toting around a copy Ralph Ellision's Invisible Man, the villainous Mariah Dillard (played exceptionally well by the seasoned veteran Alfre Woodard) name dropping Madam CJ Walker or even Cottonmouth's (one of Luke's nemesis portrayed in a deviously effecting manner by Mahershala Ali ) henchmen schooling folks on Daniel Moynihan's theory of Benign Neglect, Cheo Hodari Coker, the show's central writer, was unabashed in his intentions to educate viewers on the black experience. I'm going to say that last one again, you had a HENCHMEN WHO WAS SPEAKING ABOUT BENIGN NEGLECT...let that sink in !
However, Luke Cage doesn't just discuss matters of yesteryear. The show commences to tackle heavy subjects that are at the forefront of today's black experience. The usage of the "n-word" comes to play during a scene in which a gun wielding youth proceeds to call Luke Cage said word thus sparking a discussion of Crispus Attucks and how such a term is a not a fitting description of who he has come to be. Furthermore, another major theme that resonates in the latter part of the season is the tumultuous relationship between African Americans and the police. It was actually quite chilling to experience the parallels between the show's narrative and what we are currently facing in our country today, including the irony of our hero being "bullet proof".Other relevant topics that are touched upon include gentrification, gang violence, PTSD and the privatization of prisons.Something else that was noteworthy was the fact that the drug epidemic was downplayed. Now some may see this as not painting an accurate picture of urban life. However, I see it as deciding not to seek the low hanging fruit that we have feasted upon for so long. Also, doing so avoided the trap of glamorizing such a lifestyle that is readily encouraged by today's entertainment outlets!
Now ,I would be neglectful if I failed to commentate on the lifeblood of Luke Cage which is the music! How many of us were pleasantly stunned to see Raphael Saadiq and Jidenna grace the stage of Harlem's Paradise, energetically nodded our heads to some of Wu Tang and Gang Starr's dopest joints, or did our best hard bottom twirl when the Delfonics hit the scene? Not only were we treated to familiar names, we also got the opportunity to be exposed to lesser known acts such as Charles Bradly and Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings.The music chosen and highlighted throughout the series showed how nuanced the developers were in sonically painting a vibrant picture, filled with a cavalcade of players, that only served to enhance the narrative of this Harlem Knight!
Not satisfied with being a side-note, distraction, or a damsel in distress, Simone Missick, better known as Misty Knight, was a shinning example of an empowered woman of color. I for one have been a fan of Misty Knight for quite sometime and though I was bit disappointed that she didn't receive her bionic arm, everything else about her depiction was satisfying. Here, we had an intelligent, clairvoyant, and no non-sense woman who was determined to protect her city at all cost Even when her vulnerability was on display, it was tool that didn't exploit her weaknesses. Rather, it allowed us to empathize with her and avoid her becoming another one-note, stock character! And yea, she was super bad! (Those curls and that fro!!!!) To find out more about Misty Knight, and other black super-heroines, click here !
And how could we forget to speak on the man himself:Luke Cage! In an past entry entitled Unsung Hero, which you can read here, I spoke at length about the lack of proper representation when it comes to black heroes. Yes we've had our share of blaxploitation figures, comic relief super beings, and downright insulting depictions. But never have we had a serious minded, intellectual man of honor and conviction be so prominently projected to the mainstream .Now, is Luke Cage Marvel's best Netflix offering? No! I will not allow cultural bias to cloud my critical eye. There were times when Micheal Coulter (Luke Cage) could have been more convincing in evoking certain emotions, sorrow comes to mind, as well as other actors who may of had some wooden deliveries (although this has been a common Achilles heel throughout all of the Marvel/Netflix series). Furthermore, the final battle came off a bit "cartoonish" and somewhat diluted the gritty tone that the show had spent its' entire run cultivating. Nevertheless, these are minor gripes that in no way could discredit Marvel's most AMBITIOUS show to date and it feels damn good to finally see someone who isn't a sidekick or a successor to another hero! It feels damn good that when America watches this show, they won't be looking through binoculars to experience another tour of the urban jungle. Rather they will see a champion fighting to preserve the legacy of a city and people rich in culture. It feels damn good to know that Marvel and Netflix allowed this character to evolve from a 2D relic of a bygone era into a three dimensional celebration of black masculinity that is so needed in this time where black males are seen as nothing more than deviants and criminals worthy only of imprisonment and death. And finally, it feels damn good for me to not have to wait until December to say that revered saying made famous by the man himself: Sweet Christmas!!!- CgN