This review will not contain any spoilers to Luke Cage Season 1
As a kid, I grew up black and nerdy. That meant I didn’t like the same things that a lot of my other friends did as much as they did. I wasn’t that much into sports, and sometimes, I was kind of socially awkward. Being black I, of course, was also aware of the racial biases associated with my race. I was supposed to like rap and basketball. I was into the former, but I’d rather dive into an immersive story before hopping on the court. As a result, I grew up listening to Hip Hop and reading comic books. The thing is, according to society, there wasn’t a space for that for me. Instead, I had to be called “the blackest white guy” because I would watch anime and play video games before I played Spades or ran the court. So I read my comics full of primarily white characters.
As a kid I didn’t mind. I knew there were very few black ones, but I didn’t let it take my joy away. I loved the stories. Besides, we all know the saying; you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Society had me conditioned to think there only needed to be a few chocolate sprinkles on the white frosting. However the more I matured, the more the after taste of that cake of grew more bitter. I was getting too much of the same thing. Why couldn’t I get some chocolate cake too? Black Panther, Storm, and Luke Cage existed but they were always the minority to the point of tokenism. Then the movies started. I don’t mean the sad attempts from the early 90’s. I mean the real movies. The Marvel Cinematic Universe was established. Still sprinkles, but we were getting bigger chunks now. Then Luke Cage happened, becoming the first full piece of chocolate cake, and it was ambrosial.
Like I said, I grew up reading comics and listening to Hip Hop, but rarely was it shared in the same space. 90s Luke Cage gave me some of that, and later we got an accurate view of his home, and his life on his block. Still, it was subdued to a few limited series. Yesterday, Marvel’s Luke Cage premiered on Netflix and I almost came to tears when the scene opened with Barbershop talk and Hip Hop from the jump, placed into the fictional Super Hero universe that I grew up with, with a bullet proof super hero that looked like me. The breath was snuffed from my lungs as I watched the raw authentic portrayal of my culture on screen, with all of its glory and flaws, in one high definition package.
Luke Cage isn’t a show about a bullet proof man. It is a show about empowering the black community. Everybody wants to see it flourish… the problem is not everyone is going about it the right way. We firsthand see issues addressed that speak to our current state of affairs. Crime’s festering corruption is wielded as a means to an end, resulting in unnecessary bloodshed as mob bosses and venal politicians like Cottonmouth and Black Mariah destroy their own, using the bodies left behind as the foundation for Harlem’s Black Renaissance. Luke Cage sees an opportunity to empower the community, but only by burning out that corruption and promoting positive representation for the culture.
Never before have I seen so many black women taking control in empowering roles. We see Misty Knight as an officer unbound by the shackles of sexist stereotypes, while brandishing an attitude that commands action. Black Mariah is a shrewd politician, unswayed by the misogyny of men, whose very presence demands respect. Beyond this even, is the fact that we are seeing beautiful dark skinned women reprising atypical and non-inherently “black” roles, roles that aren’t commonly granted to them on screen, thus addressing the issues of colorism in media. I was thrilled to see this, and for it to be portrayed so naturally without the feel of tokenism.
The entire show is bulging to bursting at the seams with black culture. In many ways, Hip Hop culture is black culture, and with that being a fact, the music is germane to its successful portrayal. From 90’s Hip Hop vibes like Method Man and ODB to soulful R&B like Faith Evans and Raphael Saadiq, more than any other single factor, the music in Luke Cage takes you down Harlem’s streets and puts you on the block where brothas are rolling dice for dollars and selling DVD/Blu Ray viewings of the Battle of New York. Regardless of the fact that we are still in the Marvel Universe, we get more than a helping hand of our nuanced slang and dialect, from the old men from the South, down to the young cats born just years before the dawn of the new millennium.
We get pieces of Black History through mentions of legends like Crispus Attucks and Jackie Robinson. We get the raw unadulterated use of the N-Word, because while offensive to some, it’s a reality of our culture. We address issues with racial tensions, and mentions of the Black Lives Matter Movement, and see how it can be used to galvanize a force within a community. We get the reality of the police brutality and profiling and watch as it can tear apart a street corner. We get our ignorance, and our intelligence. We get our struggle and our talents. We got not one, but a neighborhood’s worth of lenses through which the audience can see our lives and our culture, and all of that is combined within our nerdy passions. It blows my mind that we are being so well represented in a universe that we love so much. I am speechless.
Seeing my culture like that, beneath the Marvel’s title, with an almost entirely black cast, my soul was warmed. I felt a peace unlike any I have ever beforehand because in my realm, in this world of comic books, on the world’s number one streaming service, my culture, was properly and beautifully represented. I love my people, and I feel like the world can watch this and see why I love them. I love seeing black men and women playing in powerful roles both protagonist, and antagonist, and I feel elated that the world can see it all too. This show resonated with me unlike any other I’ve ever seen, and I feel it necessary to thank Cheo Hodari Coker and the other writers, producers, actors, and members of the crew involved for the masterpiece that they’ve presented to the community. Thank You. You've brought my passion to life.
…Especially after seeing DJ Sway in a Marvel space. That really, really, really made my day.