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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Shawn FINALLY Reviews Netflix’s Luke Cage

For over a year people have been asking me to review Netflix’s Luke Cage. Unfortunately due to my limited resources and long-term unemployment I wasn’t able to review the show when it originally debuted However, thanks to the help of a family member with a Netflix account I was finally able to take a look at the series. And I have to say it’s the best adaptation of a Black superhero to ever grace any form of media.

Unlike other Marvel Studios’ projects, Netflix’s Luke Cage is not an attempt to directly translate a comic book. It’s an adaptation that re-imagines Luke Cage and his supporting cast for the 21st Century. So viewers shouldn’t expect Luke Cage to follow the letter of the original concept or the original 1970s Blaxploitation era premise. However, it does capture the spirit of Marvel’s inner-city hero and his mission as he starts his adventures in the all-new, all-different world of the Marvel Cinematic universe.

What makes Netflix’s Luke Cage unique isn’t that it’s just a re-imagining of Luke Cage, but who is doing the re-imagining. The Luke Cage of this adaptation isn’t being written and designed by White men like his 1970s comic book counterpart. No, this Luke Cage has been written and designed by Black men for Black audiences. And because we are getting the story of a Black man from Black men at a Black production company it completely changes the narrative and the perception of the character.

From the Black male perspective we’re given a thorough more comprehensive story of Carl Lucas than we would have ever gotten in any of the Marvel comic books. On Netflix’s show, Carl Lucas is a richer more multidimensional character. A former police officer from Georgia who has been framed for a crime he didn’t commit, he’s an Inivisible Man looking for a place in the world where he can’t be seen. After getting powers as a result of an experiment gone wrong at Seagate Prison, the quiet soft-spoken man is looking to rebuild his life and move forward. Working two jobs, one at Pop’s Barbershop in the daytime and at Harlem’s Paradise as a dishwasher at night, he’s just looking to get his bills paid. He’s the Invisible Man watching a situation erupt as Corrupt City Councilwoman Mariah Dillard and her gangsta cousin Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes plan to make money off its people by exploiting the community. When a deal to sell weapons leads to things getting hot on the streets, the humble Cage becomes a reluctant hero who comes out of the shadows to protect the innocents caught up in an effort to protect his community from those who would exploit it.

 In this adaptation he’s not a hero for hire. But a Black man looking to do the work Black men do every day to support and protect their families and communities from the predators who plague it. What makes this Luke Cage different from his comic book counterpart is the foundation of his core values. This Luke Cage is a decent, working class man out to maintain his intangibles of manhood such as his dignity, his self-respect and his self worth. He is a man of conscientiousness and character, what makes him a hero is who he is on the inside, not the powers he has.  He’s a good man trying to make the best of a bad situation and doing his best to do the right thing in a world where everyone is out to do wrong.

Netflix’s story of Luke Cage isn’t just a story of a superhero but a story of Black men and Black manhood. That’s one of the things I liked most about this series how it made a focus on the role of Black men in the community as leaders and protectors. It’s a story that rarely gets told because there are very few Black men left in the community to tell it and tell it from their perspective.

Moreover, the series makes an effort to present the traditions and culture Black men used to pass down to one another. Not only did the producers focus on places like the barbershop, the basketball courts and other places Black men gathered and congregate, but they presented the history of these places and why they were important to the development of Black manhood and Black masculinity. It’s in these places that Carl Lucas is taught what he needs to be the man and the hero he becomes by the men in the community.

From what I’ve seen so far, there’s a lot I like about Netflix’s Luke Cage. It’s a contemporary reimagining, an adaptation that’s true to the spirit of the character, and a positive portrayal of Black men that presents a balanced picture of the Black. Moreover, it also presents who the real enemies of the modern day Black community are, Black democratic politicians and street hustlers who pretend to be the friends of all those in the community. The producers of this show clearly did their research on Black history and Black culture, weaving those elements seamlessly into this comic book adaptation.

It’s that fusion of Black culture, Black history and Black tradition that make Netflix’s Luke Cage a unique program. I understand why everyone loves this show and why it practically crashed the Netflix servers. This show is almost like the second coming of The Cosby Show back in 1984. After an over two decade long drought, we finally get a program made with black characters by Black people that presents a balanced picture of Black life onscreen. I’m hoping that the success of Luke Cage leads to a resurgence of positive Black media in America. As I see it, the whole landscape needs to change from all the buffoonery we’ve seen over the last decade and a half from minstrels like Tyler Perry, Shondra Rhimes, and Lee Daniels.

I also liked seeing all the beautiful sistas that are in Cage as well. The women of Cage are sexy, strong and intelligent, and we see a SPECTRUM of beauty from women of all skintones, from light skinned women like Reva Connors to dark skinned sistas like Misty Knight and the chocolate sista chasing after Luke in the barbershop. Black is beautiful and it put a smile on my face to see all those sexy sistas presented right at the side of Cage in this adaptation!

That being said, there’s a couple of things I don’t like about Netflix’s Luke Cage. I hate the fact that just as I’m getting to know a character they wind up dead on this show. And I hate all the gory deaths. But I understand that the producers of cage have a reason for all this By making us CARE about the characters they’re showing us the value of Black life by showing us how careless the bad guys are regarding taking other Black lives. It seems like Luke is the only one who really appreciates human life and the value of it, but maybe that’s because he’s seen so many people he care about lose their lives to those who didn’t care about the lives of others.

Production on Netflix’s Luke Cage is top notch, right on par with any of the Marvel Studios films. I know the filmmakers wanted to capture a 1970s vibe with their camera work but cinematically, the visuals in Luke Cage capture the energy and spirit of life in Harlem in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Every time I watched an episode of Luke Cage it made me reminisce about the times my father would take me to Tommie’s Barber Shop on Fredrick Douglass Boulevard for haircuts. Back then in that era before crack cocaine, there was still a semblance of community in the Black community, and while Black people were poor they still had pride in themselves.  

Netflix’s Luke Cage isn’t “Too Black,” the big problem is that most people haven’t seen a balanced picture of Black life in media in over twenty years. Back in the 1980s when Black men like Spike Lee, Robert Townsend and Bill Cosby had the money, we got balanced and different pictures like this all the time. But after the OJ Simpson trial all we’ve gotten in Black media from Black producers like Oprah Winfrey, Shondra Rhimes, Lee Daniels and Tyler Perry is a slanted picture of Black life from Black feminists featuring stories of dark skinned Black Brutes abusing Black women, light skinned saviors, Black people as perpetual victims and Black women lusting after White Men. Netflix’s Luke Cage rebalances the picture and changes the narrative. We need more stories like this from Black production companies and we need them ASAP.

I’ve been loving the acting on this show, it’s some of the best I’ve seen in a Marvel Studios production. Mike Cotler dominates the screen as Luke Cage. His soft spoken performance captures the voice of the character in the comic. He gives Cage a richness and multidimensionality that go beyond anything ever presented in the newsprint of a Marvel comic. Simone Missick steals every scene she’s in as Misty Knight. Her portrayal takes the character to another level Mareshela Ali is intense as Leon “Cottonmouth” Stokes, smoldering in every scene he’s in. Frankie Faison is amazing as “Pop” Alfre Woodard is powerful as Mariah Dillard. Thanks to the acting, every episode feels like a big-budget epic movie.

Watching the work of this Black-owned prodco, I wish I had the money to hire them for an adaptation of The Temptation for John Haynes, I know they’d do an amazing job adapting that novel and bringing it to life onscreen. I could easily see this prodco making that movie and directing stars like Keith David in the role of Lucifer, Salli Richardson-Whitfield as E’steem and Michael Ealy as John Haynes. I know everyone’s old now, but that was my dreamcast for that book about 12 years ago when I wrote it.

I highly recommend everyone go out and see Netflix’s Luke Cage. It’s a GREAT series that reinvents the Black superhero for the 21st Century and takes a character that was made to be a stereotype and reinvents him into a balanced, positive portrayal of a Black man and a role model for Black men. If you’re a Black person you’re gonna feel a sense of pride watching this series. Watch this show then watch it again. It’s that GREAT!

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff! I have it on my HD but haven't gotten around to watching it yet. After reading your thorough review, it looks promising!