This trailer, like Luke himself, takes no prisoners.
When Cheo Hodari Coker, the producer of Netflix new series, said that ‘the world is ready for a bullet-proof black man‘, he was clearly referencing the appalling statistics of ‘death by cop’ in America. What is so fantastically brave and black life-affirming about the trailer is the way it confronts, visually, the idea of the ‘thug’ that racist discourse constructs to justify the murder of black men, by cops and in so-termed ‘black-on-black’ crime.
I want to break it down, frame by frame, just how the producers use every stereotype thrown at black men, to reconstruct a hero who is a big, super-strong, violent, bullet-proof, defiant, black man. Luke Cage is depicted here as ‘superthug’. He is every trigger-happy white cops worst nightmare. And he is a hero. He is the eponymous hero no less, this is HIS series. This is bold television, vital cultural intervention.
First up, the hoodie.
He stares right at the camera, but above and beyond the viewers eyeline, as he pulls the hood up and around his face. This is concealment, this is about disguise. And only a gang colours scarf over his face could have been a more provocative style choice. Hoodie rhetoric is all over Anglo-American white-dominated media.
Next, a slouching hoodie approaches a parked car, and rips the door off
Straight out of Law and Order. Every city car owner’s nightmare. The latest Captain America film discussed, post-fact, the impact of superheroes’ violence on the urban environment, but this goes straight to the heart of the matter – how do we judge a vigilante who isn’t wearing a government-approved ‘spangly suit’?
And the ‘property damage’ continues, and escalates:
If you aren’t sick of hearing about the phrase ‘property damage’, then you have not been reading much about the ongoing tensions in America in the last year, or remember the UK summer riots of the summer of 2011. Take a look at the news reports of the protests after the death of Freddie Grey in Baltimore in 2015, it completely derailed from reporting the concerns of black citizens about police violence, into white citizens concern for the built environment.
Then, there’s the violence itself, and plenty of it.
Look at his face; utterly serious, threatening, angry. And at this point in the trailer, we have no idea who the ‘bad guys’ are. The only suggestion that Luke is a good guy, a superhero, is that an older black man thinks he should be ‘out there, helping people’. We don’t see a cozy depiction of help, we just see fighting. This is a political statement from the filmmakers – sometimes violence is a solution, is a means to a good end. Whether you agree with them or not, this is quite a statement for a black-led television show in 2016.
Now we come to the ‘bullet-proof’ bit:
If you haven’t worked out that the bullets aren’t damaging Luke yet, you do here. Point. Blank. Machine gun. Fire. And he stands defiant, beckoning his assailants. Bring it on. The unkillable hoodie. If the point that this is the cops nightmare is not yet made apparent enough, a few seconds later we see Luke being shot at, through the bars of a prison-like gate.
That this isn’t, in fact, a cop shooting at him is not the point. The symbolism, the depiction, is crystal clear when followed by this
Yes, Luke Cage kicked open a cell.
Luke Cage is not here to appease white fears of angry black men. He is not here to represent the ‘good black guy’ in opposition to the ‘bad’ black guy. He’s a hero in Harlem, a black hero in a traditionally black neighbourhood. He is not going to pander to respectability politics. And he’s just getting started. Black Lives Matter.