September 22, 2017

Marvel’s African American Hero Comes to Netflix

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by Billy Jepma ’18

Staff Writer

Over the past two years, Netflix has released four original superhero television series set in Marvel’s ever-growing and diversifying cinematic universe. The latest show added to the Netflix catalog and, arguably, the most culturally relevant, is Luke Cage.

Not only is it the first Marvel series to be headlined by an African-American hero, it is also the most ethnically and racially diverse cast Marvel has ever put together. For example, the number of speaking white characters in the show’s thirteen-episode season can be counted on one hand, while people of color make up the rest of the cast by an overwhelming majority.

In Luke Cage, the role of a tough, no-nonsense cop who has a habit of tackling solo cases  is played by Simone Missick, a middle-aged woman of color. Even when the show does present a character who could potentially come across as a cliche, there are so many other characters who explicitly defy stereotypes at every turn, making the exceptions easy to overlook.

“When I think about what’s going on in the world right now, the world is ready for a bulletproof black man,” Executive Producer Cheo Hodari Coker said during a San Diego Comic-Con-staged panel this past summer.

It is this idea––of a hooded, bulletproof black man protecting the streets of Harlem–-that Luke Cage is built on. Cage is a hero who loves his city and the people in it, and even when he is scrutinized for his vigilante escapades, he soldiers on because he recognizes that he has a rare opportunity to do some good for a people who have forgotten what it looks like.

Luke Cage is honest and has an unrelenting willpower. Mike Colter, who plays Luke Cage, captures the character’s quiet strength and charismatic resolve with ease. He is an easy hero to root for, and the show smartly emphasizes both his commonality and separation with the culture that he is fighting for.

While the plot of the show’s first season suffers from some structural inconsistencies, and unfortunately loses its sense of direction in the second half, the core cast of characters continue to carry the show even when the story loses steam. This is an unfortunate misstep, to be sure, but for a show that thrives off of its compellingly diverse cast, it is not difficult to look beyond its flaws in favor of the bigger picture at play.

Even with its shortcomings, Luke Cage remains a resonant story that is important to experience. It flips the stereotype of diversity on its head in a much needed way, and gives the spotlight to a cast who defy cliches at every turn. It might not be Marvel’s best series, but it has the potential to become one of the most significant, and sets up a foundation that will surely be put to good use in the near future.

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