Friday, 21 October 2016

Marvel's Luke Cage: the Bulletfproof, black Superhero of his time

If like me you never read the Luke Cage comics and you have no idea who he is or; you first encountered in Netflix's Jessica Jones, you may be pretty uninterested. I know I certainly was when I first came across him in Jessica Jones. Big deal he has superhero strength what else is new? He can't even fly or mutate *eye roll*.

For a while now I'd have said that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has essentially spoilt me. Gone are the days when I'd peruse through superhero comics until I found one whose powers weren't *boring*.  Now, executives sit down, pick the coolest characters and bring them to life making us all I think,  pretty high maintenance when it comes to what we want our heroes to do. Every time I tell people arghh watch Luke Cage on Netflix I get asked, What does he do? He's strong and has unbreakable skin but that's not the point! *aw doesn't she know about Captain America? or Superman? And they're even more interesting because they have other powers. Patronising smile*

But when reflecting on this show, I realised that it marks what has been up until now a gradual shift within the cinematic superhero genre.

Heroes, like people, are obviously more than what they can do or what they wear. And the Netflix team have gone above and beyond in picking grittier and more detailed source material, recreating characters with real vulnerabilities and presenting it in a way that hits home because it is so politically relevant and; it does this all without forgetting why we all love superheros to begin with - good trumping evil and it's fun watching bad guys get beaten up.

Timely social commentary is right at the heart of Luke Cage. At a time when unarmed African American people are being shot by police, an unprecedented number of black men are being wrongfully incarcerated leaving thousands children growing up without a father and film and TV continuing to perpetuate the stereotypes of black men being both uneducated and violent; there's never been a better time to bring Luke Cage onto the small screen. Here is an educated, well spoken, soulful, gentle, funny, physically invincible black man who had previously been imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. Luke Cage is undoubtedly a hero of his time.

Season 1 does an exceptional job in its depiction of Harlem's history and culture using live soul, jazz, blues and hip hop which makes the show visually electric while successfully weaving in themes on familial dynamics, community, the politics surrounding the 'N' word and police community relations. The show is unapologetically black and at the same time makes a point of rejecting all age old black tropes - arguably only possible because of its all black writing cast. Clearly, it's only when people of colour tell their own stories, that we see truthful, prideful and carefully and well told stories about the issues that affect the given group (take note Disney when you're picking your director for Mulan ).

And it's also only until you've seen this show that you'll realise how little and perhaps recklessly TV presents women. In DC Misty Knight played by Simone Missick and Claire, played by Rosario Dawson, we have two of TV's best written female characters. Both are arguably stronger, more badass, intelligent and resilient than the protagonist himself but also give us moments of real vulnerability. Oh and by the way, they easily pass Mako Miro test. We've met Claire before in both Jessica Jones and Daredevil but this time, she isn't being used as a just a character to move the story along. For the first time  we see who she really is because the writers give her such a significant story arc.

Missick* describes her character as this "woman who is a cop and believes in the system at a time when its difficult to believe in justice in the traditional sense" which goes to show how nuanced and authentic this character is and, reflects the tension that ultimately runs throughout the season.

And you know what, aside from everything that the show stands for; Luke Cage is simply a fantastically written crime drama . It's a slow burner but with enough thrills, twists and turns for a good old Netflix binge.



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