Finally, a black protagonist with depth, real complexities, and true emotion. The new Marvel and Netflix original show Luke Cage is breaking boundaries on many different levels. Based on the Marvel comic series about a man in Harlem with unbreakable skin, Luke Cage is a highly entertaining TV show, an accurate portrayal of a black hero that people can relate to, director Cheo Hodari Coker’s commentary on modern inner city black culture and a debate on the morality of the use of the N-word. In other words, it is one of a kind.
In a fiery pilot episode, Luke Cage starts its description of Harlem criminal culture with Mr. Cornell Stokes (Mahershala Ali), a smooth-talking club owner and arms dealer. Stokes (Cottonmouth on the streets) and his lucrative business are very attractive to the too-many fatherless black teens looking for a source of income. Cottonmouth’s cousin Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) is a local councilwoman who is engaged in some shady activities through Cottonmouth and gives him power in the political sphere. Luke (Mike Colter) works at the local barbershop with Henry ‘Pop’ Hunter (Frankie Faison), and they work hard to create a safe and accepting environment for those same teens. These two contrasting businesses set the stage for the majority of the shows themes, such as the perpetual conflict between a criminal lifestyle and a legal lifestyle.
Cage’s bulletproof skin, the result of a botched experiment that he underwent when in prison (for a crime he was framed for), is what allows him to make his stand against organized crime in Harlem. His adventures in the city and the discussion of vigilante justice are the main advancers of the plot, and they work in synchronization to create a novel experience for the viewer, one that really delves into the characters without sacrificing gritty action scenes.
Cage’s constant denial of his being a hero is what makes him the perfect hero for Harlem. He is always reminding his friends and spectators that he is just another guy from Harlem trying to do the right thing. He also always calls people out for using the N-word, trying to rid it from every day slang as a synonym for ‘guy’ or ‘dude’. He does use the word in the show, but not casually like Cottonmouth and other characters. “I’m not tired enough to ever let nobody call me that word”, Cage says when a young man attempting to rob him calls him the N-word. The show itself never takes a concrete stance on the matter, but introduces it as a very relevant discussion in modern black culture.
While Luke Cage is an excellent show, it is not without flaws. Luke Cage and all the protagonists are all highly intricate and developed, and the villains deserve to be the same caliber. They are adequate enough, but they are not the awe inspiring characters on screen that Wilson Fisk (Daredevil) and Kilgrave (Jessica Jones) were. The problem lies in the screenwriting, not in the actors and actresses portrayal of the villains. The bad guys just do not get the attention or background details required to make a decent character a great one.
Overall, Luke Cage is an excellent addition to Netflix and Marvel’s collaboration and a pertinent commentary on today’s many social issues, whether they concern gender roles, violence, or race.
Photo from IMDb