A Superhero Story About The Black Experience




During the first season of Arrow, there was a line that resonated with me and not in a good way. The main character, Oliver Queen, was talking about setting up a club in The Glades. The Glades was considered to be the worst part of the city. Oliver’s confidant and pseudo partner at the time, John Diggle, commented on how basically how it was the rich and white society partying in the worst part of town but not really caring about the actual environment that they were in. It was swept under the rug and never commented on again. This is something that bothers me about the series as a whole. The show first started as something of an “urban superhero drama” but never explored it much. Oliver Queen was a rich white man and the cast is primarily composed of good looking white people. Roy Harper, a character who is from a poor family, was one of the most good looking people on the show. There is always a certain disconnect between what the show claimed to be and what it was.

So when Daredevil first premiered, it was a breath of fresh hair. While the show was still about  white guy wanting to clean up the neighborhood, it still reflected the world he lived in. The supporting cast was full of non Americans and people of color. Since the show is set in New York City, it had to reflect how diverse the city actually is. A frequent criticism of TV shows and movies about how New York City is how little diversity is actually featured. Then there were the issues about what Daredevil was going through. Though it was about a superhero against a crime boss, at its heart it was a story about how gentrification is an evil to those who are not wealthy. The antagonist, Wilson Fisk, was someone who rose from a poor upbringing to make something of himself…through illegal means. There was nothing really wrong with his general idea of wanting to clean up the city but it was apparent that he wanted it only to be for people of “high society”. This is something that is very much an issue within larger cities within America.

So now that Luke Cage is close to release, how will this show reflect the real world? Luke Cage is set within the same universe as Daredevil but as that series was set in Hell’s Kitchen, Luke Cage is set in Harlem. The population of Harlem is very different from Hell’s Kitchen. The cast of main actors for the series was released and there was only one white person in the main cast. The trailer for the show is no doubt a “black show”. That is not to say that this is something that people who are not black will not understand or can relate to. But it is clearly a show that is not toning itself down to appear “safe” to people who may not get it. There is a clear blaxploitation vibe going on through the trailer. It also harkens back to that era about one man going against the king of the neighborhood who happens to be a drug dealer.

Since Marvel Studios likes to keep the plots of its projects under wraps, not much is known about Luke Cage at the moment. Though there are elements that still play to the black experience that are inherent in the Luke Cage character. How did he get his powers? In a prison experiment? Why was Luke Cage in prison in the first place? For a crime that he did not commit. This is an inherent issue that faces that black man in America in the 21st century. Well obviously not the superpowers aspect but how mass incarceration is an inherent problem that faces that black man in America. This was very much a problem in the 70’s when Luke Cage was created and still a problem today.

One of the antagonists is Mariah Dillard played by Alfre Woodard. She is a local politician who is seen in the trailer talking about how Harlem is a symbol of hope and prosperity. It is not uncommon to see black women in a position of power. But how will this affect how she goes about things? Her cousin, Cottonmouth, is the big bad of the series and she is seen in his company in one of his legitimate fronts. Is she sincere in her hopes to clean up Harlem or is she more like Wilson Fisk who also claimed that but was willing to take shortcuts (such as murder) to achieve his goals. There is also Misty Knight who is a police officer and partnered with the one white cast member. Mentioned in their bios as no one wanted to take a chance on her except for him. It is already an issue with women in the police force but does her being a black woman also play a part in her hardships? No doubt that this will also be something touched upon.

I cannot say as a black man in America that I have faced a great deal of hardship. I grew up in a fairly nice neighborhood. That is also not to say that I was aware how fortunate I was as I did have friends who lived in less ideal places and saw many take different paths in life. So it is refreshing to see a show that I can relate to more. A problem with superheroes is how the protagonists are often wealthy and white who go to various areas and beat up on the poor and less fortunate who also happen to be people of color. This has always been an issue and one that continues on shows like Arrow. So Luke Cage is refreshing as it is someone who is from the neighborhood and wanting to do right by it. This will not be a show about the “white savior”. Instead it looks to be about the savior who just happens to be black.


3 thoughts on “A Superhero Story About The Black Experience

  1. I agreed with your post. Arrow felt contrived from the start. They kept trying to play up how gritty Hells Kitchen is. First of all nobody in New York calls it Hell’s Kitchen and second of all it’s as yupped out as the rest of the city — apartments rent for $2,000 a month and up. How gritty can it be?


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