Last night I finished the last episode of "Luke Cage" on Netflix, and I must say, it was a fantastic show. I loved the theme song, the intro, the characters, and particularly the role selection. The power dynamic between the characters was very interesting, but for this article I will be focusing on the representations of race, gender, and power.
Upon my first impression of the show, I was very intrigued with the representations of race. The entire first part is about Carl Lucas coming to be in the Seagate prison, where he is reborn into Luke Cage. In stark contrast to the daily realities of millions of incarcerated black persons in America, Luke Cage comes out as a new man who is basically like the Harlem Superman. In light of all of the recent police shootings, this show is quite an act of social commentary by Marvel. Every major character in Luke Cage is a person of color, and those who are in power in the police force are women of color. This is in stark contrast with the majority of television shows, which show predominantly white narratives.
Allusions to social justice movements like Black Lives Matter become apparent in "Luke Cage" through the use of constitutive rhetoric, which describes the capacity for symbols to create a collective identity for the audience, especially by means of symbols, literature, and narratives. In the case of "Luke Cage", the symbols are woven throughout the narrative structure. Like I said before, our hero starts in a prison where he is reborn into a superhero. This is a significant shift in the way in which people describe prisons. "Luke Cage" functionally flips the script on traditional narratives of the plight of black men in America, because prison gave him new life. Other symbols that are frequently used are things like hoodies and police violence. As Renaldo Matadeen points out, “The writers didn’t mince their words when it came to the issue of racism. Black Lives Matter was at the forefront throughout, especially with the less-than-subtle, yellow-tinged hoodie Cage wore, which became a symbol of resisting systematic oppression when the cops were unjustly hunting him; a clear tribute to Trayvon Martin.”
The hoodie has been recognized as a symbol in specific communities as a specific identity but, more importantly, it has become associated with resisting systematic oppression. This symbol is exemplified by the violence that Luke Cage endures throughout the show, most notably when he is shot by the police in multiple episodes. After each incident, Cage goes about his business without so much as a scratch on his body. All that is left of the violence that clings to Cage are the holes in his hoody. As the storyline progresses, you will start to notice (in one of the episodes) that the people on the street are wearing hoodies with “bullet holes” in them. This symbol is significant because Cage became a weapon against unfair distributions of power. The people on the street no longer had to fear being shot by the police, because the police had to answer to Luke Cage.
Finally, I appreciate the fact that Netflix represented a diverse group of people in a unique way. The show does not show the black community as a monolith, but rather as a very expansive culture with differing views. More specifically, "Luke Cage" represents women of color very positively. As D. Watkins puts it,
“The writers did an amazing job of highlighting all these realities, with black women taking on a diverse assortment of leading roles and being just as if not more important than Cage at times. The strength, power and brilliance of black women are too often ignored and I’m glad those layers are highlighted in this show. Simone Missick plays Detective Misty Knight as the best cop in Harlem, the only officer capable of finding truth; she’s confident, ethical and intelligent. Alfre Woodard plays Mariah Dillard with those same strong leadership qualities, but as a gangster politician on a path to domination.”
These sorts of power dynamics are not typically represented by mainstream television, but now that Marvel is opening up new avenues it will be interesting to see where this will lead. For now, I am going to go back and watch "Luke Cage" for a second time.