“There’s something powerful about seeing a black man that’s bulletproof and unafraid”
People of color wearing hoodies have been perceived with suspicion and fear by law enforcement. In particular, the Trayvon Martin tragedy from 2012, sparked the “Black Lives Matter” movement. With what’s been going on this year with gun violence, Luke Cage came at the right time to provide an escapist experience but at the same time, it comments on what it’s like to be black in America.
The show takes place sometime after Mike Colter’s (Luke) stint on Jessica Jones. Luke moves shop to Harlem to start fresh and to stay out of sight while getting by at Pop’s Barbershop and Harlem’s Paradise. Moving uptown presents a new set of challenges that make it very, very hard for him to keep a low profile.
Harlem is a different animal than Hell’s Kitchen. It’s a melting pot of music, history and politics. It gives Luke Cage a different voice than Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Pop’s Barbershop is full of witty banter between the barbers and customers. Harlem’s Paradise gets plenty of clientele such as Jidenna, Raphael Siddiq, Faith Evans, etc. There’s a real sense of place very much in the vein of The Wire being set in Baltimore. It scores a lot of points for authenticity. Speaking of music, each of the thirteen episodes are named after a Gang Starr song. 90’s hip hop is the driving force behind Luke Cage, in the same way that 80’s rock is in the DNA of Guardians of the Galaxy. Adrian Younge and A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad handle the score. The traces of 70’s blaxploitation are scattered throughout the score. It even complements some of the action sequences.
The casting is top-notch. It’s mostly people of color. Mike Colter improved tremendously as Luke Cage. He’s carries himself with such a cool, confident disposition and it shows during one particular sequence set to the Wu-Tang Clan’s “Bring da Ruckus”. It’s refreshing to see a character that isn’t as burdened as Matt or Jessica. Mahershala Ali (House of Cards) delivers a dynamite performance as gun-running club owner Cornell Stokes/Cottonmouth. Alfre Woodard is also captivating as Mariah Dillard, a councilwoman who’s sole mission is to “keep Harlem black” as Cornell is doing the dirty work to run guns on Harlem’s streets to financially support her campaign. I loved Simone Missick’s turn as cult favorite Misty Knight. She’s got agency, conviction and sex appeal to spare. Her chemistry with Luke just sizzles. Theo Rossi (Sons of Anarchy) portrays Shades, a face from Luke’s past, who’s making moves in the shadows and Frankie Faison also has a fun turn as Pop, Luke’s father figure. My only gripe with the cast is Erik LaRay Harvey’s portrayal of Diamondback. While his first few episodes were solid, he fell pretty short to the Mariah/Cottonmouth duo. I wished his arc was handled with the same care as the aforementioned duo. Rosario Dawson, the one good constant, returns as Claire Temple.
What’s great about this show, well, every show from the Marvel/Netflix umbrella is that each show tackles real-world themes. Daredevil dealt with justice, Jessica Jones dealt with the psychological trauma of rape, Luke Cage tells the story of where black people stand in 2016. Especially with the “Black Lives Matter” movement, it’s able to convey a message without going overboard. Some of the imagery is a little on-the-nose but it’s effective nonetheless. It’s still a Marvel show at it’s essence, so expect plenty of easter eggs faster than you can say “Sweet Christmas”.
“No one is untouchable, no man is bulletproof/We all must meet our moment of truth…”
Luke Cage is another victory for Marvel/Netflix. It’s an unapologetic, thought-provoking look at Black America. Cheo Hodari Coker said it best that “the world is ready for a bulletproof black man”.
I say he came just in time.
NB: By the time you’ve read this blog, you’ve already binged this. You won’t have to stare out the window wondering when your next fix will be. Iron Fist drops on March 17th!