Marvel’s Luke Cage on Netflix is one of the best-reviewed shows to debut this fall, proving that a leading Black man in a superhero action role can find success. Throughout the series, several nuggets referencing Black history and culture appear that gives Luke Cage a flavor all its own.
Luke Cage was created by Marvel in the early ’70’s and was stylized over the early part of his appearances as a super-powered version of Richard Roundtree’s Shaft. Taking the genre of “blaxploitation” and giving it an updated hip-hop twist, the current Luke Cage series uses the historic backdrop of Harlem as the perfect canvas to tell its story. Showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker is a former music journalist who moved into scriptwriting. He, along with Donald “Childish Gambino” Glover of Atlanta on FX and Issa Rae or Insecure on HBO are among first-time Black showrunners debuting this fall TV season.
In one of the opening scenes, Cage, played expertly by Mike Colter, argues playfully with friend and employer Henry “Pop” Hunter, played by Frankie Faison. The pair debate celebrated Black authors Walter Mosley and the late Donald Goines. Cage finds Mosley’s Easy Rawlins a far more superior fictional figure than Pop’s affinity for Goines’ Kenyatta character.
Cage, a fugitive with a mysterious past, proves he’s more than muscle as several scenes show him reading books like Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man among other Black literary works.
In a tense moment, an armed hoodlum attempts to intimidate the bulletproof Cage in front of the Crispus Attucks building that houses keys to a criminal enterprise. Cage tries to school the youngster on Attucks’ role in Black history as the first person to be killed in the American Revolutionary War.
Other nods to Black culture occur on the show, such as each episode titled after vaunted underground rap duo Gang Starr tracks. Harlem’s famous street names bearing connection to their famous inspirations also loom heavy in each episode.
The music, look of the show, and its unflinching view of Blackness in America has given fans a different but still valuable hero to rally around.