Netflix’s Luke Cage has become a phenomenon, like its predecessors Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Many people are talking about it, and while not everyone enjoyed the show, the overwhelming majority appear to be pleased. This isn’t a review of Luke Cage, though, as there are hundreds out there – this is a discussion about a different type of reaction. The response to the show’s “blackness,” or (more accurately) mentioning the show’s “blackness.”
Less than a day after its public release, articles appeared discussing the racial aspects of the show. One writer declared Luke Cage “the unapologetically Black superhero show I’ve been waiting for”, another called it “unadulterated, bulletproof, kick ass, Wu-Tang blackness, with a Marvel twist”, and most recently a group of fans discussed how the series “uses blackness” and whether it lived up to their hopes. There was no denying the importance of Luke Cage and its relationship with the African-American community.
Except, that’s precisely what some viewers did: deny everything “Black” about the show.
“The more we scream about being inclusive the more we insist on being different and separate,” declared one person, who decried the need to focus on race or ethnicity. Some questioned why Luke Cage was so different when there were “plenty” of Black superheroes, like Blade. (And Blade pretty much was the sole go-to for many, apparently clueless about any other PoC characters.) Another poster asked media to “just stop”, joined by someone who accused articles like this of “perpetuating racial division with this virtue signaling, identity politics BS.” As can be guessed, the majority of those contrary to the attention were White, yet even an African-American fan was upset, questioning, “why is it more black than ever just because its in the ghetto?”
The problem with most of these responses (and those were among the more civil comments), is that they are mired in ignorance, fallacy, and (in some cases) the very racism they accuse the media of causing.
The biggest problem is fans who can’t understand why Luke Cage is different from other superheroes of color. Too many are ignorant of the history of Hollywood or comics, and how producers or executives would change Black representation to cater to predominantly White audiences. Cliché stereotypes or tropes, changes in vernacular, “safe” storylines or relationships… all approaches taken to make “Blackness” palatable to the majority. The concept that Blade, a single PoC vampire in a sea of White supporting cast battling in Euro-Techno clubs, was not representative of Black culture or issues was lost on so many. It was like they couldn’t tell the difference between a Will Smith movie and a Spike Lee film.
Of course, there were far more ugly perceptions underlying these posts and beliefs. Misunderstanding of (and disregard for) observations or organizations that focus on disenfranchised groups. No comprehension why color-blindness is improbable in this biased society, or why recognizing race is important and necessary to guarantee equality. Some even fell victim to a flagrant generalization of African-Americans, revealing their inherent biases. Luke Cage may have attracted fans for many reasons, but bringing up the “blackness” of that show made some of the more closed-minded or less worldly ones uncomfortable. Was it really because the mention of race was divisive? Or was it because these individuals were suddenly confronted by their own inherent prejudices?
The thing is, race is important whether these people like it or not… and almost every counterargument against that concept has been ignorant fallacy. Luke Cage stands apart as a show that unabashedly focuses on a demographic’s culture, music, and issues while presenting African-American characters, relationships, and storylines without being watered down for White viewers. If that makes someone uncomfortable, maybe they should stop blaming the mention of race and instead look within… to why the mere discussion is so troubling. That’s one of the biggest things this show does best, exposing audiences to a world they so often stereotype or disregard, and it does so without apology.
As it should.