I shouldn’t have to become a bulletproof-Luke Cage just to feel safe as a black man in America.
30 September 2016
This comment sparked an interesting – and introspective – thread on the Facebook account of my friend, Jay Whittaker.
Like me, Jay is a long-time comics fan. Also like me, he was eagerly anticipating the release of Luke Cage on Netflix this past weekend.
I’ve been a comics fan since the mid- to late-70s. Most of the heroes wore capes and tights (and their underwear on the outside). It was pretty easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys. “Representation” wasn’t really a watchword when I started reading comics, but there were some signs of change and inclusion around the time the 80s rolled around. Today, you can find heroes of all colors, genders, belief systems, and/or sexuality. And they aren’t just in comics. They are also on TV, in books, and in major motion picture releases.
I’ve come to appreciate Black heroes more in the past fifteen years. For me, it really started with John Stewart, the Green Lantern on the Cartoon Network Justice League series. (My affinity for the character isn’t something that I’ve ever been shy talking about.) But, I have taken the time to become more familiar with Static, Black Panther, Cyborg, Nick Fury (MCU/Marvel Ultimate Universe version), Black Lightning, and many others.
Friday, Marvel’s Luke Cage joined the list of Black characters who have reached out from comics into other media. Who is Luke Cage? He’s:
- A man framed for a crime he didn’t commit.
- A man who wants to help his community.
- A man who never wanted to be a hero… but became one.
I’m only about halfway through the series, but I am enjoying it. In bringing the character to the small screen, a few changes have been made, but nothing that makes the character unrecognizable. Something that I found interesting was what I can only assume was a rather conscious choice on the part of the show’s staff: Dressing Luke in an outfit that has become associated with many Black shooting victims in America today – a hoodie and jeans. Part of this is because Luke is trying to maintain a low profile and a hoodie affords a bit of anonymity. But, I can’t help but wonder if there aren’t a couple of underlying messages in that choice:
- A hoodie doesn’t automatically make someone a criminal, in the same way that a suit doesn’t mean that someone is respectable.
- Anyone can be a hero.
The series has also depicted something that doesn’t often get seen on the small screen: Glimpses at and inside the Black community. No, parts of it aren’t always pretty nor clean, but I don’t know of any community that truly is. But, you see the community – what brings them together, what tears them apart – and not just a caricature of it.
For a more personal connection to what made this series so special for so many people, I’ll defer to Jay once again:
Cage has always been the character I’ve truly identified with. Yes, I know you’re thinking, “But, what about Falcon?” [For those who don’t know him, Jay’s been a vocal fan of Marvel’s Falcon over the past few years, even cosplaying as him at Salt Lake Comic Con.]
Put it this way: Falcon, War Machine, Black Panther have always been the brothas I’ve wanted to BECOME. Falcon & WM are both respectable service members AND CAN FLY! Black Panther is a damn king. The same can be said about John Stewart as Green Lantern. But Luke Cage has and always will represent who I’ve BEEN and probably always WILL BE. He’s an experienced man of the streets, who’s seen and done things he’s not proud of. His dark past is shrouded in mystery and difficult for him to talk about, but in the end he’s an everyday guy who just wants to do the right thing. He’s more realistic than a high-tech brotha that can fly. That’s why this show is so important right now.
You don’t have to soar through the skies to be a successful black man. You can stay on the ground, make a difference in your community and push forward…ALWAYS FORWARD.
September 30 at 3:31pm
After reading that, I messaged Jay, asking if he’d be alright with me quoting him. I also noted that his summary of what Cage meant to him was “perfect.” Why? As I told him:
…your POV is a great one – not only for people who know the characters, but also for people who just know the movies/Netflix series.
It humanizes – and personalizes – the character in a succint but very poignant way. Pointing out that the others are (ex-)military, given your background, and that Cage is still the most similar to you and the core of your being…? That adds a level that anyone can relate to.
The Washington Post called Luke Cage “…the blackest thing that Marvel has ever done.” Whether or not that’s true can be called into question, but it’s definitely about time that people – everyone – has a chance to see something like this.
Check it out.