It’s been two weeks since Netflix released Marvel’s Luke Cage. Rather than binge-watching over the premier weekend, I took my time ingesting the drama of the Harlem vigilante hero. Though I’m not a comic book fan in any real sense of the word, I did get to know the original character and I’m not quite sure how I feel about the huge departure from the original. Actually, no that’s not true. I’m not exactly cool with the huge departure from the original.
It doesn’t make sense that Netflix’s Luke Cage didn’t grow up in Harlem but instead somehow through Reva Connors (Parisa Fitz Henley) made Henry “Pop” Hunter’s (Frankie Faison) acquaintance and suddenly became a dedicated Harlemite. It doesn’t make sense that Netflix’s Luke Cage was a police officer who was framed by his gangster half-brother Willis “Diamondback” Stryker (Erik LaRay Harvey) who also somehow orchestrated everything that happened to Luke after Luke went to prison. And finally, it doesn’t make sense that Netflix’s Luke Cage is supposedly a trained boxer but never once rotates his hips while throwing a punch.
In fact, I think the fight scenes are perhaps the biggest disappointment about this Marvel series and I don’t know who to blame. Netflix or Mike Colter (the actor who plays Luke). You mean to tell me that you couldn’t find a guy as fine as Mike Colter who was also trained in some sort of martial art, Netflix? (Oh, Mike, you are so unbelievably nice to watch, My Brother.) You men to tell me that you didn’t have the budget to have Mike Colter train with someone prior to taping, Netflix? You mean to tell me you couldn’t take the initiative to brush up on the mechanics of boxing, Mike? (Please don’t let this come between us, Mike.)
I guess the answer is no because instead of getting the riveting types of fight scenes seen in both seasons of Netflix’s Daredevil, we pretty much got Mike Colter doing his impression of Luke Ferrigno’s Incredible Hulk. So maybe Netflix’s Luke Cage isn’t really about the fighting stuff at all. Maybe it’s about something bigger, deeper, and closer to reality…and THAT’s what made me love the show.
Before I even tuned in, I was excited about the idea of a Black superhero because, by definition, the Black man as a super human do-gooder is the absolute antithesis of the normal negative Black man tropes that have been and still are a television mainstay. (No, I can not wait for Black Panther to hit theaters.) But this Netflix original held my attention through all of the fighting tomfoolery because it is overflowing with details about African American life, history, heroes, tastemakers, trendsetters and game changers.
The Harlem Renaissance. The power of the Black Barbershop. How we’re all pretty tired of Al Sharpton and his antics. Jackie Robinson. The origins for gun laws and control following abolition of slavery. Billy Strayhorn. The competing contempt for and appreciation of connections through the Divine Nine.
Barron Claiborne. The conflicting dependency on and resentment of the police force. Teddy Riley. Trayvon Martin. The question as to how Black politicians can and should improve our communities. Jean Michel Basquiat. Gang Starr. Black Lives Matter.
Luke Cage is so jam-packed with the American Black Experience (in New York in particular) that it requires multiple watches to take it all in. If that meant departing from its comic origins then so be it though this notion of education through entertainment should give us pause. Yes, educational and instructional television has its merits. Thank you, Sesame Street. But why should our children rely on a Netflix account to make up for where most American schools overwhelmingly fall short? As if our history and experiences haven’t meant a thing to the existence of this nation.
It’s been two week since Netflix released Luke Cage. If you haven’t seen it, please make time to do so. While it’s not the most thrilling action adventure Marvel has to offer, the way the story moves along within the rich Black cultural landscape that is Harlem more than makes up for the action. And I’m sure the action will get better with subsequent seasons. Have your smart phone handy and be willing to pause and Google when and if you hear a reference you don’t get. I give Netflix’s Luke Cage a righteous four fists in the air. One Love.
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