Culture Reviews

ToD Review: Luke Cage Premiere: Harlem, Black Power & Respect

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Marvel’s superhero of Harlem, Luke Cage, premiered last night at the AMC Magic Johnson Harlem 9, and the two episodes we were teased with was enough to leave me wanting more. Luke Cage, played by Mike Colter, is a bulletproof black man with super human strength that stands strong and takes initiative with a little bit help from other characters. After awakening with new “abilities” Cage restarts life in Harlem and picks up multiple jobs. One is at a barbershop owned by an OG of the neighborhood named Pops (Frankie Faison) and the second is at club that is owned by Pop’s prodigy, Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes (Mahershala Ali). These two characters tie in closely to Cage finding where he will fit into the neighborhood. Afree Woodard’s character, Mariah Dillard, is the cousin of Mr. Stokes and is a local councilwoman. Her platform is to “keep Harlem black” but at what expense will she will go to push this stance? Besides the characters, we have underlying messages and symbolism found within the two episodes that will resonate through the series. I won’t give in spoilers of course but I do want to cover these aspects.

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Mike Colter as Luke Cage

Early on you will catch on to this narrative of “keeping Harlem black” which correlates to the gentrification that is happening within Harlem. This need to uphold black power and wealth pushes Mr. Stokes further into his life of the streets as he tries to seem legitimate by opening a club with “government funds” but still getting his hands dirty. Dillard on the other hand is no angel and she also is playing the same card but she has a more “green” way of doing things. It is interesting how we have this modern day setting with a dialogue such as gentrification mixed in but yet see aspects of old Harlem like the Cotton Club, mob activity, chess at barbershops and more.

The “n-word” is also brought to light in this series as we have Cage and Dillard who despise the term but Mr. Stokes however uses it freely. This also ties into our society today as people still are divided on whether or not it is okay to use the n-word within the black community and let alone other cultures. I feel as if the writers are wanting us to subconsciously think about how the characters who despise the word uphold themselves and the ones who use it, what standards they have about themselves. Do you respect yourself or your community if you use this word seems to be the underlying connected message.

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Left to Right: Mahershala Ali as Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes & Afree Woodard as Mariah Dillard

Color symbolism is major in this series as it guides emotions and clarity of the characters and if you pay attention it gives out major clues. Huge splashes of red are mainly seen around Mr. Stokes which can symbolize his temper, devilish ways and bloodshed. Cage is seen with shimmers of gold and a lot of shadows to show that he is strong, powerful, kingly and reserved. There is one scene that presents a woman in a flashy, blue dress with one of her lines being, “…sometimes you have to fit in”, when Cage comments on the length of the dress, foreshadows her occupation. The cinematography used is key because you have these colors alongside this 30’s-40’s play-on backdrop with modern discussions that have translated from the comic book to screen very well.

Two spoilers that I will give are that Raphael Saadiq and Faith Evans show up as entertainment in Mr. Stokes club, adding on to the great soundtrack that the series has. I give the first two episodes a 4.5/5, only because I did not like how some of the dialogue dragged out but everything else was phenomenal. You can get hooked to Luke Cage just like me tomorrow, Sept. 30th, via Netflix. For now, watch the trailer below.

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