From the Melanated Man:
I wasn’t going to watch this show. Really, I wasn’t. I’m not a series kind of guy and I don’t watch that much TV at all for obvious reasons. My wife turned it on while we were spending a kid-free weekend.
Then I got hooked.
The Luke Cage series came out on September 30th. I finished the entire series on Oct 4th!! Talk about a series binge! I never did anything like that, but it was well worth it. I kept my THIRD EYE open and thankfully I caught some information that isn’t particularly new to me or to some of you reading this, but it was really interesting to see portrayed on tel-lies-vision in a non-threatening way, at least from my perspective.
The show has a major Blaxploitation feel to it, and is almost reminiscent of Shaft. What’s funny is that Shaft is well before my time and I never actually watched that movie ( I did watch the remake with Samuel L.Jackson), but I have watched enough Blaxploitation movies like Foxy Brown to be familiar with the elements.
So let’s get to it. I’m going to hit some of the highlights that caught my attention and going into detail on them.
Articles that are good to read on Luke Cage:
Spoiler alert: Some scenes and storylines may get mentioned so avoid reading any further if you haven’t seen the show yet.
If you’re not familiar with Carl Lucas aka Luke Cage (portrayed by Mike Colter), he is one of Marvel Comic’s first black superheroes created in the late 60s/early 70s time period. In the comics, he originally hails from Harlem, but in the show he is only a transplant, an escapee from Seagate Prison off the coast of Georgia. That is where he attained his abilities by way of a failed experiment to save his life from an attempted murder while imprisoned. He has bulletproof skin and enhanced strength by way of the experiment, which sort of describes the durability of melanin with the skin and is vital to muscle health.Luke is also very proficient in hand-to-hand combat from his past in the Marines, according to the show.
He attempts to lay low in Harlem, working for Pop, a local barber who is hip to Luke’s abilities but keeps his secret. Luke is initially reluctant to use his abilities to help those in need as to not draw any attention to himself. Even though Luke is only fighting common criminals throughout the show, he operates outside of the system, and thus becomes labeled as a vigilante. Whenever there are Black-Melanated men or women decide rise against injustice outside the boundaries of the system, they become labeled as militant, or “communists.” When Pop is killed by one of Cottonmouth’s henchman, only then Luke decides he must stand up for his adopted community.
Cornell Stokes aka Cottonmouth (portrayed by Mahershala Ali) is Harlem’s kingpin and owner of the club Harlem Paradise for the first 6 episodes, and my favorite character. He is one of the most complex characters on the show, conflicted with his role as kingpin and illegal arms dealer. Through flashbacks to his youth, Cottonmouth can be seen practicing on his music of a keyboard inspiring to become a famous musician one day. But he is pushed to run the family mob business by Mama Mabel Stokes (played by LaTanya Richardson) who started the illegal enterprise back in the day. Cottonmouth has to perform certain “initiation” duties to show his loyalty. Cottonmouth is not the ruthless, cold-blooded gangster that we may be familiar with. He respects the so-called code of ethics of the streets and only believes in violence when only necessary, the “eye for an eye” kind of attitude i.e. his disdain when he finds out Pop was killed without his approval. Because of his relationship with Pop in his younger days, he pays his respect at the memorial which showed to me that Cottonmouth did have a heart.
They say we are defined by our actions, but I can safely say that with Cottonmouth I believe he made decisions that were necessary for his own survival. He made the decision to succumb to the street life, ultimately contradicting who he truly was and could become as a talented Black man. Unfortunately instead of overcoming his destructive upbringing, he became a product of it. Many people, specifically Black-Melanated people, have to make decisions just to survive not only their own environment that they were raised in, but the oppressive white-dominated system that they must face on a daily basis that is ultimately constructed to elevate one group of people’s potential and suppress the others’. From my perspective Cottonmouth is not a villain in the traditional sense even though he is defined as a criminal by the “law.” In some ways he can be viewed as a leader, a man who does whatever it takes to not only survive, but to protect his community and people, even if he has to break the rules. Which is brings us to…
Mariah Dillard aka Black Mariah (portrayed by Alfre Woodard) is the cousin of Cottonmouth and crooked councilwoman of the Harlem district. Through the first half of the show, Mariah has good intentions to revitalize Harlem into a vibrant community even though her methods (through her ties with Cottonmouth) are against the law. She is a determined woman and refuses to let her goals for a New Harlem Renaissance to be thwarted even when Luke Cage causes havoc with Cottonmouth’s operation. We began to see a changing of the guard when she kills her cousin in a fit of rage and covers it up with the help of Hernan Alvarez aka Shades (portrayed by Theo Rossi), who was originally an advisor for Cottonmouth by way of gunsdealer Willis Stryker aka Diamondback (portrayed by Erik LaRay Harvey.) I see that Mariah was the one suppressing her true desires of domination and control of Harlem, like a true megalomaniac, through her role as a politician. Shades, who intended to kill Cottonmouth himself, and Diamondback use Mariah to not only gain control of Harlem but to frame Luke Cage for numerous crimes.
Shades is one of the few non-Black characters in the show. Since he started advising Cottonmouth, the Stokes family empire started to crumble. Later I realized that Shades had ulterior motives the entire time, setting his sights on taking control with Mariah by his side. The casting move may or may not have been intentional (and I may be reaching a bit) but it seems that throughout thousands of years of history every time Blacks invite non-Blacks into their society/business nothing good comes of the relationship, an thus, the Blacks began lose power and ultimately sink to the bottom of the Totem pole. At the same time Shades has manipulated Mariah enough to gain her trust as if he were family. Another Black-Melanated woman succumbing to another non-Black man’s machinations like usual.
Diamondback, who was lurking behind the scenes the first half of the show, shows up after Cottonmouth is dead seeking to take Luke Cage with a deadly obsession. Later it becomes known that Diamondback is Luke’s evil half-brother through their father and framed Luke for the crimes that originally sent him to Seagate. He felt neglected by their father thinking he favored Luke since Diamondback was the product of a extramarital affair. He is the one that has produced the gun and bullets that can actually penetrate Luke’s skin and in the season finale he wears a suit that can not only protect him from Luke’s punches but he can dish out his own pain on Luke as well. Looks like weaponry imitating melanin to me. Also, Luke Cage was basically used as a guinea pig in testing whether the weapons would work on him. Blacks throughout history have been used as guinea pigs in all types of warfare.
Misty Knight (portrayed by Simone Missick) is the sexy NYPD detective and reluctant sidekick of Luke Cage who was raised in Harlem and deeply cares for her community. She does her best to abide by the law, the system, to bring about justice. Like Mariah, who was heavily influenced by Mama Mabel, she demonstrates a strength and determination to achieve her goals despite the odds; from my own experience that seems to be a common trait amongst Black-melanated women regardless of their makeup. Claire Temple (portrayed by Rosario Dawson) is a nurse who helps Luke when he is successfully injured by Diamondback, and develops a budding relationship with Luke towards the end of the season. I find it intriguing that Luke had a brief fling with Misty at the beginning of the season then turns around and develops feelings with Claire later on. What’s even more intriguing is the fact Misty and Claire, during a hostage situation in one of the later episodes, discuss their “interactions” with Luke without either one getting offended. Luke didn’t “belong” to neither one of them and vice versa, but he did have a intimate connection with them nevertheless. There was a time long ago when Black-melanated woman and men, indigenous cultures, were not possessive of each other when it came to intimacy and romance. In short, polygamous relationships were normal, prior to the introduction of religion and European mindframe of one man, one woman doctrine. Is it possible that can become acceptable again?
You may have noticed that I didn’t talk about Luke Cage himself. No offense to Colter, who did a brilliant job in portraying Cage, but there was not much complexity in the character. And that was by design.
In my opinion, Luke Cage is your typical superhero with the typical backstory, tasked with protecting the status quo only in blackface. He may have been a vigilante about it, which most superheroes are, but ultimately he wants to make sure that the “criminals” or law-breakers fall back in line like the rest of the sheep of Harlem.
The only problem the police and politicians have of superheroes is that they go above the law to get the job done. And superheroes can do it more efficient than they can. Nevertheless, the status quo being kept.
The real criminals, the powers-that-be are the policy makers who created the conditions and environment that birthed the Cottonmouths, Mariahs, and Diamondbacks of the world But that’s not going to be the forefront in a superhero show. The theme and plot must be kept simplistic for the average viewer, to make you go “Oooooo” and “Wowwww!!”
When watching a superhero flick/show, Try not to watch it through the archaic lens of good versus evil. I don’t adhere to that concept, the good guys versus bad guys, the law-abiding citizens versus criminals.
At the end of the day they’re one in the same. The only thing that separates the two is timing.
Overall, I got plenty of information from the show besides what the creators wanted me to receive. So it wasn’t time wasted, although I probably won’t series binge like that again for lonnngggg time. Thirteen hours worth of episodes is alot to consume in a short period of time.
Share your thoughts on the show as well if you’ve binged on it just like I did.
Peace and Love to my melanated family,
The Melanated Man