Blackness in Media: Netflix superhero Luke Cage sets precedent

By Frank Wickizer (Entertainment Review) –

Media culture has a vast history of being discriminatory to people of color shown by the, but now a new show, on Netflix, based in Harlem, about Black superhero Luke Cage is increasingly likely to be empowering to people of color. What’s truly wonderful, is that, to the producers of the show, there is no personal benefit to the Blackness evident in the show, it is simply for the sake of identity politicization. There would be some, if they forfeited their views on blackness for a white dominated cast, that would make them more money. In this respect, Netflix might be the perfect avenue for proliferation of these ideas. This is due to its popularity, its demographics, and its separation from “normal” television.

The most important factor here is the absence of Black superheroes, which makes this much more important. Aside from Cage, there are few Black, or non-white superheroes. Aside from the most recent depiction of Killer Croc in Suicide Squad over this past summer, Teen Titan’s Cyborg, and the early 2000s movie depiction of Storm in X-Men, few come to mind. One way that Cage is able to connect with modern conceptualizations of Blackness is his appearance. He wears a hoodie almost always, but what is exceptional is that his hoodies have bullet holes in them. The reason being is that he is bulletproof, immortalized in the Method Man verse featured in the show called Bulletproof Love. This makes the “link to Trayvon Martin and how that is still something that is still a threat for Black males and they showed it in a way that we can find some good in this, fairly obviously,” said Freshman Tristan Swift, who has a depth of knowledge from debating high theory on Dr. Frank Wilderson’s ideas of Afro-Pessimism.

According to Barton Crockett, an analyst for FBR & Co., a web-based investment bank, in a research report said, we see Netflix as very likely to move towards 180 million global subscribers by 2020 (over 60 million in the U.S.).” He went on to say that “57 percent of the nearly 800 Netflix users queried said that, if forced to choose, they would keep Netflix over traditional pay TV.“ This quickly is being realized by many as a way not just to watch movies and TV shows, but also a way to proliferate and expand on thoughts, knowledge, music, art, and ideas. But “Luke Cage is an unapologetically black TV series,” said Abbey White, an experienced media critic on all things race related and writer for Paste Magazine in an article about five specific ways Luke Cage is unapologetically Black, which sets it above the rest.

To understand why the extension of this idea is important, though, one has to understand why Blackness is important. Swift said Blackness is important to him because it “pertains very much to my identity because, first off, I’m Black.” He went further to say that, “You need to understand what it is to be Black in order to help deal with the oppression that Black people face every day.” This discrimination is even evident on Netflix, and even in Netflix created shows such as the extension season of Arrested Development, which has a White dominated cast, just like so many other increasingly popular shows.

Nate Devivo, a #BlackLivesMatter photographer and activist from San Francisco also said that, “A lot of Blackness is tied to comic book culture. Listen to classic hip-hop, Wu-Tang has a lot of songs with superhero references. I think it’s important to have Black figures in comics to be in conversations with that community.” This is self evident when, in the show itself, there is the appearance of Method Man, a member of the hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan. This is not limited to acting, either, but his role is rather expanded on in an interview with Sway Calloway on Sway in the Morning. This folds into the overall aesthetic of the show, which is meant to play into the hands of Black Americans, but also shows a deep-seeded understanding for Black culture. Another example is the names of the individual episodes, which are also names of the songs by the classic rap group, Gang Starr, which along with the featuring of rappers Biggie Smalls, and the performance of “Long Live the Chief” by Jidenna.

The important distinction here, between apologetic and unapologetic Blackness, is that many shows in the past that exude Blackness have either been sidelined by their output company, or even cancelled. One prime example is the Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, which was cancelled, according to Comedy Central president Kent Alterman, for “business reasons.” This show was meant from the beginning to appeal to the Stephen Colbert’s audience they lost when he left Comedy Central, but failed in capturing the young, white, male audience that Comedy Central so covets. The, frankly, offensive part of this story is that they were still making money off of the show, but now they are actively trying to create a new show to fill their time slot featuring a White host, as shown by the moving of @Midnight to that time slot. This shows that, in an attempt to make more money, as disclosed by Comedy Central president Kent Alterman in an official statement, he said the choice to cancel the show was a “business decision,” but what he did not include in this statement is that this shows how Blackness in mass media is expropriated, and forgotten for the sake of money.

This is why Netflix might be the perfect space for Blackness to grow, diversify, and multiply. It is not bound by ratings so much as subscribers, so even if not many watch Luke Cage, they still have the money to continue production. This is the tragedy, however, for there will not be a second season of the show. But instead, he will be a major part of the Defenders Netflix created show, and he is featured in Jessica Jones. However, the benefits of the shows short run vastly outweigh the harms of its ending, for without it there is no precedent for unadulterated Blackness in mass media. This sends a message, saying that not only is it okay to be Black, but that Blackness is beautiful. To paraphrase Thoreau, rather than family, money, faith, or fairness, give me truth, and the truth that Luke Cage exudes, of the beauty that is Blackness, of the systemic racism in the US, and of how hard it is to be a Black male, is unwaveringly empowering.

Frank Wickizer
Frank Wickizer

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