As a boy mom, I’ve been into Marvel for many years now. My son is a huge superhero fan, so I knew when he was small that I would be sitting through a million different superhero movies. At first, I tolerated them. Eventually, I grew to love them. I mean like wearing the t-shirt to the see the movie the day it comes out love them.
So, when I caught wind of the fact that Netflix was putting out a series set around a Black superhero with a mostly Black cast, I got super excited. Because I haven’t been a superhero fan my entire life, however, I didn’t know much about Luke Cage, but being the nerd that I am, I did some research on the series before I watched it.
Just a quick recap: Luke Cage came out came out as a comic during the Civil Rights movement, a time where Black people were still being constantly portrayed in a negative light as criminals and drug dealers. Luke Cage, although released during the Blaxploitation era of film and television, represented a Black superhero meant to raise the morale of Black people living in urban populations. And even though Blaxploitation films were rife with annoying, almost mawkish humor, music, and sex scenes, Luke Cage became a beacon of hope. During the time Luke Cage was created, the hero’s creators were wary of how he should interact with White people, which is why they set Luke’s life in Harlem. Thus, Luke became a hero for the people of Harlem, New York.
The modern version of Luke Cage on Netflix, however, was created about Black people FOR Black people, during a time when the morale of Black people in America is, once again, low. Luke Cage is a black, bulletproof superhero in a hoodie who fights to rid his Harlem community of all the things that threaten to destroy it. How ironic, during a time where Black mothers are, once again, afraid for the lives of their Black sons at the hands of White police officers.
Sunday afternoon, I sat down to see what the Luke Cage hype was. It was my intention to watch one episode, just to see what all the fuss was about. I didn’t have any expectations before I watched it. I knew who Luke Cage was, and when he was released as a superhero. Beyond that, I was clueless.
I was literally stuck to the spot for the rest of the day, as I binged watched one episode after the other. All I kept thinking was, “This is so unbelievably Black and I LOVE it.” The Black culture was given so much beautiful homage during this first season. I heard references to Friday and New Jack City. A huge iconic painting of Biggie hung in Cottonmouth’s office, and the barbershop and what it means to the Black community was given its due diligence. Luke listens to Wu-Tang during one particularly intense scene, and Harlem Paradise, the club Cottonmouth owns, features live acts from artists like Raphael Saadiq, Faith Evens, Jidenna, and even The Delfonics. Each episode of the series bared the title of a Gang Starr song, and Method Man himself even trades hoodies with Luke at one point during the series. Misty Knight references Raekwon’s Ice Cream and Mobb Deep’s Shook Ones. And this isn’t even the tip of iceberg of hip-hop homage deliciously sprinkled throughout the series.
The setting alone is absolutely vital to Blackness in America. Harlem was once the seat of Black art, music, and literature, as the Harlem Renaissance gave fame to people from Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday to Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes. Harlem IS Black history, in and of itself, and these Black artists, writers, and musicians are all referenced and given their due.
In addition to the awesome nod to Renaissance artists, Luke Cage featured a syllabus of Black literature that almost brought tears to my eyes. In addition to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Walter Mosley’s Little Green, which were shown during one scene in the show, Pops and Luke have a spirited debate in the barber shop one day about Donald Goines and Chester Himes, both well-known urban authors. These are just the examples I can think of off the top of my head. There are so many Black literary references sprinkled throughout this series that I almost want to watch all 13 episodes again, just to catch them all.
Luke Cage is everything wrong and right with Black men, according to societal standards. His build, his look, and his attire is everything White people fear. He’s this huge, hulking, bald, menacing-looking man who often hides his face with the hoodies he’s wearing. He’s the one that sends the White folks running in fear. But, adversely (and quite differently from the comic), Luke is incredibly well-spoken and educated. He refuses to be called a “nigga,” doesn’t drink, smoke or curse, respects women and his elders, and is only interested in doing what is most advantageous for his community.
Furthermore, Like Cage is a hoodie-wearing bulletproof black superhero in the Black Lives Matter era. That alone speaks volumes to just how important Luke Cage really is. Revolution doesn’t happen in a vacuum, folks. It takes contributions from all aspects of life to get the ball rolling that creates the real change. Art, music, film, and politics all need to reflect the standards and ideals that we have for ourselves as a people, so that we can create the change we desire in our lives and in our communities. Sure, to some people, Luke Cage is just another superhero. It’s just another show to spend hours of your life watching.
But, to me, Luke Cage is groundbreaking.
Black bodies have always been fodder for abuse at the hands of Whites. Since we were slaves, our bodies have been used for their financial and sexual gain. On our backs, we built America to what it is today. Black bodies have been hosed, spat upon, kicked and beaten, and even lynched. And, even today, Black bodies continue to be objectified by White culture, who go to any extreme they can to look like us. Black bodies have taken a lot of abuse.
But Luke Cage? His black body is indestructible. And he uses it, as he says, to navigate places the police never will, to earn the trust of people who eye officers of the law with disdain and mistrust.
So yes. I am a Marvel mommy. And yes, I’ve sat through every Avengers movie, every Marvel movie, I have all the t-shirts… the whole nine. But Luke Cage represents the superhero I’d love my son to emulate. He is respectful, responsible, and keeps his word.
Most of all, Luke is fearless in a world that constantly attempts to destroy him.
A black superhero in a hoodie. A bulletproof Black man. Man, listen…
If you haven’t already, check out the series on Netflix. I loved it, and I think you will, too.