Okay. This might be a little obvious.
But seriously, Luke Cage — the series — is black (and amazing). I don’t mean in terms of humor, I mean it’s a series with an African American protagonist in an African American community with a main cast that’s almost completely composed of African Americans. Sure, there are some caucasian extras and minor characters, but this is not a “white” show and — believe it or not, Twitter noticed.
I’m not patting myself on the back with this post because I watched it and didn’t really feel any of that. It’s true that it didn’t occur to me that I really didn’t see white people as part of the cast until I saw a complaint about it. It’s also true that after I saw the complaints, I was able to see it for what it is, a rare story not told from my cultural perspective.
That’s really what the complaints are,they’re a soupy lament that this story was told from a perspective that’s agnostic to the white point of view.
It wasn’t anti-white, it just wasn’t concerned about connecting to the white viewer in particular. It wove a complex, interesting tale and did it in a way that was unapologetic and richly told, but failed to bend the knee to my culture. A comment that sticks out summarizes it nicely, “im not racist but why is luke cage so political why do they talk about being black all the time where are the white characters :/” (sic).
First, any sentence that begins with “I’m not racist, but”, shouldn’t. Just keep that thought in your head because it’s probably the most racist thing I’ll hear all day. There’s an inside voice and an outside voice, keep that mess inside.
Where are the white characters? How many shows have we watched over the years where there was either an all-white cast with one or two peripheral black characters who were only there for “color” commentary or none at all? Plenty. It’s funny how white people don’t complain about that.
One of the things this new superhero genre is doing really well is giving voice to segments of society who don’t always have a voice in our entertainment. Jessica Jones is a compelling tale with a strong female protagonist and a largely female cast, weaving a tale of surviving abuse. Too often, female characters waffle between too “Xena” and “damsel in distress”. Jessica Jones toes the hard line of creating a real character who has depth and breadth of emotions and feels real because she’s like a regular person — capable of great compassion and wrath.
Luke Cage is a real human being in the sense that he isn’t the stereotypical anything. He’s sharp and can have a quick tongue, but thoughtful. He’s much more controlled than Jones, and where she draws in on herself, Cage seeks community. Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes and Mariah Dillard (cousins, he a club owner and drug and gun runner; she a city councilperson who wants to remake Harlem but can’t get past her own hubris and history) are both complex characters who demonstrate a wide range of emotion. Stokes is coldblooded but tender. Dillard has big aspirations, but a cold pragmatism that leads her to dark places when she’s confronted by her own woundedness and anger. Out of the whole main cast, Willie “Diamondback” Stryker is really the only tw0-dimensional character. There’s a small arc, but he’s driven by his vendetta against Cage.
The point is that what makes these shows so compelling is the fact that they’re not from my point of view, and it’s a bit of a stretch out of my normal mindset to watch them. What we white males can learn from this is what it’s like to watch movies for people who aren’t white males. We white males are not always the heroes. It’s not abnormal for a black man or a woman to be a hero. It’s also the case that the reason we get responses like this is because in our entertainment culture, it’s abnormal for a black man to be genuine and be a hero.
I’m reminded of two things I read recently. One was a test children took where they identified pictures as “good guys” or “bad guys”, and overwhelmingly, the pictures of black males were the bad guys and white males were the good guys, even with African American children. What must it be like to look in the mirror with that bias?
The second is the story of an African American man who goes to ComicCon as Batman, and is regularly fussed at for not choosing to play a black superhero. Upon meeting a young African American boy, the boy stopped in his tracks and wanted to meet the black Batman. He said something along the lines of, “Does this mean I can be Batman too?”. Batman began to cry, and said, “Yes you can”.
We live in a world where everyone has their own story, where we’re all both the lead and supporting cast. Yes, we have predispositions according to what we look like about what’s “normal” and we always will. The thing we need to break down is the cultural assumptions about what’s normal and what’s not normal.
Imagine a world where we all can look in the mirror and say, “I can be a hero”.