Luke Cage (2016) ,Season 1, Video Essay
This video essay examines the first season of Marvel Studios’ Netflix series Luke Cage (2016), and it’s endeavour to embody a multifaceted representation of contemporary Afro-American culture, specifically through the themes of politics and geography. This comes with consideration of the show’s critical reception, as some critics called it blaxploitation meets Hip-hop-western, praising Cheo Hodari Coker’s presentation of Harlem, black culture, and a groundbreaking black superhero for Marvel, whilst others disagreed, stating that the racial politics get “lost in platitudes”, and it “failed” to “connect with black culture”. Luke Cage‘s exploration of the themes of politics and geography are linked to the notion of Afro America’s developing landscape through the character of Luke Cage (Mike Colter) (Marvel’s first African American hero to feature in his own standalone comic), and his character’s growth in a ‘hero’s journey’ narrative.
The show presents an objective stance on the ongoing discussion of police prejudice in black communities, as it portrays a juxtaposition of scenes of both police brutality, and police ally-ship. It also draws in a contemporary discourse of black politics, significant to the current socio-political climate in the US in its mentions of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Coker’s show examines an aspect of the gender politics surrounding roles and relations of black men and women through character developments. For instance, it challenges traditional notions of patriarchy and common codes of black culture in black American film and television, in the death of Pops (Frankie Faison), and the destruction of his barbershop. This is shown too, through portrayal of the dynamic between the characters of Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) and Cornell ‘Cottonmouth’ Stokes (Mahershala Ali), played out in scenes in which emphasis is placed on their power and villainy through the composition of mise en scène.
In addition, the importance of geography in series is highlighted in it’s being set in an incarnation of modern day Harlem, wherein a sense of community is heightened by Luke’s gradual acceptance and assimilation into the area, as he reckons with his role as Harlem’s hero.
The ‘hero’s journey’ narrative is layered with intertextual links to famous figures of black history and culture via references made within the diegesis, conveyed as being a part of the a backbone to beliefs of some of the show’s characters, for example in Pops and Luke’s discussions on notable writers and literature Harlem as Luke begins to consider partaking in heroic acts.
Oftentimes during these acts of heroism, the representative nature of his abilities is highlighted in visual stylisation, such as overhead lighting and low angles, in a manner typical of comic adaptation aesthetics. As well as this, Luke’s hoodie, modern-day interpretation of his character’s costume, has a symbolic quality to it as a recurring motif throughout the show, intended for making a social commentary on the treatment of African American men in public by the police in the US. It’s representational value as a visual marker of ‘urban-ness’ is subverted to instead represent a sense community, purveyed by the members of Harlem’s community who express solidarity with Luke’s evasion from the police.
Luke Cage and it’s titular protagonist convey the series creator’s intentions to create a show which supplies an approach to representation and discussion of the complex dialectical of black culture in contemporary America.
by Lauren Nwenwu
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