There's been a ton of lip service paid to the discussion of how "black" Marvel's new Netflix original series Luke Cage truly is. Showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker specifically calls the show "inclusively black," telling Complex that, while "you may not understand everything that’s being said," don't trip, because "you don’t feel excluded from the party." Luke Cage star Mike Colter explained the "statement" made regarding Luke rocking hoodies and how it's directly influenced from the tragic Trayvon Martin situation. In a world where #blacklivesmatter is a still-growing movement and hip-hop is the soundtrack, Luke Cage is without a doubt the hero Black America needs today. But to quote Childish Gambino, it's deeper than rap.
The idea of being a hero or a role model is a tricky one. Charles Barkley abhorred the label, suggesting kids look up to their parents or teachers instead. And while I love that sentiment, it's hard to believe kids will 100 percent look up to people who make them brush their teeth and go to bed before 9 p.m.; it's part of the reason we love our escapist entertainment. It's natural for people to look for inspiration in the entertainment that brings them joy, but when you're growing up in America and you're not a white dude, it's hard to really latch onto someone like Captain America. Truth be told, with the way black people have seemingly had targets on their backs over the last year/decade/400+ years, putting that much stock in someone who's dripped head-to-toe in the American flag can be off-putting. Plus, Steve Rogers is a square. Luke Cage though? This is the moment many comic book-loving black folk have been waiting for.
Off the rip, Luke Cage just exudes cool. He's a walking charm bomb, with a deep voice and strong build that has the ladies going crazy. Yet, he's also level-headed enough to stand for those who can't fight for themselves, even if a huge part of his story is the struggle of being heroic when he'd rather be left alone. These days, with people being more prone to pull out their smartphones and record a serious (or tragic) event for the 'gram (or for WORLDSTAR!), it says a lot about one's character when they will stand for their fellow man—or in Luke's case, put on for an entire city.
Luke Cage also has an appreciation for his people, which manifests itself in actions deeper than busting through brick walls and cleaning up the city. There's a moment in the second episode of Luke Cage (the first season of which dropped on Netflix today) when Luke gives a speech about his disdain for the N-word. In our conversation, Coker mentioned how, "It was not as much about having a message as it was about having a character in a hoodie saying that since 'thug' is the new N-word, somebody dressed like a 'thug' can also be a hero." On the other hand, he told The Daily Beast: "people take that word for granted. The thing about that word is that it’s used so much today and it has no meaning." The word's history runs right through the struggle black people have had in America, and anyone getting ready to watch The Birth of a Nation should be ready to feel the sting of its origins in the South.
Luke is extraordinary because, similar to Captain America, he's not out here being crude and rude, making crass jokes a la Deadpool while "fighting the good fight." Luke's a man of convictions, and the fact that he's trained his eye on someone like Cottonmouth, who's destroying the borough of Harlem, while not taking the word "n***a" for granted, shows his conviction to his people. Hell, there's even a swear jar in the barbershop Luke spends a lot of his time in. He's just that kind of gentleman, which is someone I'd want my son looking up to before someone like Tony Stark.
While Coker doesn't want Luke Cage to be "the Black Lives Matter show" just because Luke's a bulletproof black guy, it's a metaphor we can't look past in 2016. The movement, which arose back in 2013 after George Zimmerman was acquitted of Trayvon Martin's killing, has grown into an international call-to-action against systemic racism against black people. With names like Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Terence Crutcher, and so many others still ringing out in communities across the country, the idea of a black man who literally can't be murdered by police gunfire is an important image for those who need inspiration: a beautiful black symbol of brave opposition for those who are in need of a true icon in today's struggle.
Luke Cage is today's black hero because, ultimately, we need one. Not one who is going to crack wise and be a negative role model for the youth, but one who shows that you can still be cool without being crass. That it's important to put your neighbors ahead of you, especially if you're in a position to do what they can't. That there should be some sense of honor and respectability in the community. And that sometimes, when all else fails, you just have to put your fist in someone's face in the name of justice. Not because you can, but because there's just no other choice.