Marvel Monday :: our thoughts on Luke Cage

24 Oct

So! We actually spent last Monday finishing Luke Cage, hence the lack of anything posted that night. And friends, you had better watch this thing. It is a great.

5. The aesthetic is hardcore.
So admittedly most of what I know about blaxploitation films from the 1970s and such comes from reading and Jackie Brown and then reading some more, but I think, anyway, that Luke Cage successfully owned the genre in the most empowering way it could. Luke (Mike Colter) and Pop (Frankie Faison) and some of the others at the barbershop even have a discussion about iconic heroes of that era. And there’s a hint of meta to this; Luke himself is “a blaxploitation-inspired character first created in the Seventies” (quoth telegraph.co.uk) so this discussion is a bit self-aware and a bit genre-savvy. But also, the whole perceptible vibe of the show is so damn cool. Daredevil is a classic crime story, Jessica Jones almost a modern feminist film noir, but Luke Cage has arguably the most distinctive and also most inspiring genre vibe, from the music to the color tone (where Daredevil tends to be green and gray and Jessica Jones tends bold bred-purple-blue, Luke Cage is even in its darker moments so warm) to the cast of characters and their respective designs. It’s a very passionate, loving tribute to the whole genre and history of such characters appearing in film and television, and that’s not something you see all that often, but especially not in rather white superhero canons.

4. There’s a refreshing lack of white people.
I (drift partner) have a white mom and a Chinese dad and I mostly look white, but I am also very tired of stories about predominantly white people. So I always enjoy watching something like Luke Cage (or the excellent Queen of Katwe) where there are so few white people that it’s almost comical. The only significant white character is Misty Knight’s partner Rafael Scarfe (Frank Whaley), who turns out to be secretly working for Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali) and murders one of their key witnesses. Other than that, I’m struggling to recall a single white character that has more than a dozen lines. I’m not black, but it sure is nice to see a story about black people that doesn’t involve hardly any white people (and no slave narratives).

3. Mariah Dillard is one of the best villains in the whole MCU.
This Vulture article probably sums up why Mariah is such a great character better than I can, so I won’t try to talk over it. But I will say that Alfre Woodard gives an amazing performance, probably one of the best in the series, and I’m glad she’ll be back next season. She’s much more complex and interesting than both Cottonmouth and Diamondback, and she’s sort of a terrible person, but in a riveting way. Also, all of my friends are obsessed with her and her second, Shades (Theo Rossi), and I don’t exactly ship it but I definitely see the appeal. I can’t wait to see more of her.

2. Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) and Misty Knight (Simone Missick).
We the audience know Claire. We’ve met her on several occasions, and indeed from where we’re all sitting right now she is most likely the Night Nurse, er, the woman bringing the Netflix stuff all together. She’s good-hearted and fierce and she wants to help in the ways she knows how and also in some of the ways she doesn’t. Also, she and Matt were okay but she and Luke just work really well together. They have fantastic chemistry and their personalities bounce off each other and it makes for a really nice relationship. And hey, speaking of personalities that bounce well with Luke’s, and also personalities that bounce well with Claire’s, now we have Misty. Misty combines some pretty traditional narratives (good-hearted cop seeks justice while peers seek infamy, brilliant but tempestuous cop seeks justice at all costs, consistently underestimated character consistently proves peers wrong) but one of the interesting things is that those narratives don’t often star a black woman, and another of those interesting things is that the cop narratives star a black woman working to counteract the obvious tension between America’s cops and America’s black communities. Another interesting thing is the nature of that brilliance: Misty is tough, athletic, and can easily hold her own in a fight, but Misty is also highly perceptive in a way that’s usually reserved for, well, white guys. Misty goes beyond just a good detective and the repeated storytelling device of how she replays instances at crime scenes is so thorough and methodical that in my opinion it gives her an almost Sherlock Holmesian quality (if Sherlock Holmes was a black woman and also less of an asshole).

1. This is a show about a bulletproof black man who protects and saves other people of color.
An awful lot of black writers have written pages and pages about how important Luke Cage is at this time, considering the horrific numbers of black people and especially black men murdered by police this year alone. It’s comforting even as a non-black person to know that 1) Luke is the main character and 2) Luke is bulletproof, so even when he gets shot at (and later in the series when he gets injured), he’ll be totally fine. It’s also important because Luke has the ability to do what the other people in Harlem can’t – namely, fight back against the people who are threatening and hurting them. This is both Cottonmouth’s lackeys and the cops, and the show does not shy away from discussing police brutality and racially motivated violence either. (As mentioned earlier, Scarfe kills one of the young men who were involved in the investigation against Cottonmouth and some of his men.) Luke can protect people, and he does, though sometimes he is not successful. But he does manage to save some, and those he loses, he uses as motivation to keep going. Much like Jessica Jones offered some sexual assault survivors catharsis when she pushes back against Kilgrave’s mind control and then kills him, Luke Cage offers its black viewers the opportunity to see a black character who is nearly invincible survive and fight back.

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