Skip to content

Luke Cage: Don’t Believe the Hype

October 4, 2016

I wanted to love this series. I wanted it to be what Jessica Jones was for me; a feminist conversation and lesson. Except, you know, about Blackness. I wanted to see the iconic Black hero, doing what he does, being invulnerable and full of integrity while unapologetically Black. I wanted that. But I didn’t get it.

Instead I got the shell of that. Worse, I got, we all got a show that is pretending to be unapologetically pro-Black while actually reinforcing the worst kind of stereotypes. We deserve better.

Look, part of this can’t be helped. The source material is made of racist stereotypes. That’s just factual.   A Black hero in the 1970s had no chance of being anything other than Blaxploitation and that’s pretty much all Power Man has ever been. The comic was racist. The villains were racist stereotypes just like the hero and the story was made of racist tropes. It’s generally not a great comic and has always been problematic. It’s just that, at the time, that was all we had. So we accepted it, bad as it was because representation matters.

But Marvel and Netflix had managed to make Daredevil not terrible and Jessica Jones really good, so believe me when I say I went into this show prepared to sing its praises like most other people are doing.

But I can’t.

Because this show is racist as hell and as I mentioned we deserve better.

It started out racist and it stayed racist the entire time.

Literally, the very first thing we see Luke do is blow off the darkest skinned femme protagonist, well non-antagonist, in the entire show who is hitting on him in front of her son, of course she has a son. Of course we can’t have a professional woman with sort of dark skin simply being awesome and owning her sexuality. Nope. There are whole levels of why she’s not attractive to him in the few scenes she has and they’re all centered on colorism and misogynoir.

But he hooks up with Misty Knight, who is lighter than the first woman, that same night.

And he ends up with the lightest woman.

Because, of course he does.

Let’s be clear, the “darkest” woman isn’t all that dark. Every woman in the show darker than her is a villain.




This is Misty Knight, by the way. Much darker than her actress.

Luke himself is also a problem. He is the quintessential “good” Black man and a large part of the narrative presented as to what makes him good is that he is tame in the beginning. He is the most physically powerful Black human in the Marvel TV universe. He could be a costumed hero. Or, you know, not a costumed hero because all of his costumes are awful. But he could be anything. Except the person they created is properly diffident; head down, voice soft, eyes generally cast down. And no matter how good the fight scenes are, and they’re not actually that good, he is tamed in the end as well. The extremely powerful Black man is, in fact, caged as the resolution of the entire story arc.


They love us in chains.

To be fair, I will acknowledge the power of seeing a Black man in a dark hoodie walking through a hail of bullets but I also have to acknowledge that Luke Cage is, and has always been the embodiment of the unstoppable Black beast, a stereotype that regularly gets actual Black people killed.

A good writer would have used that contrast. They would have shown us the trap that Black people are forced into by the stereotypes used to dehumanize us. Black men are either rampaging monsters or properly emasculated. Women are either light, bright, and damn near white Mammies, dark Jezebels, or Sassy Sapphires like Black Mariah.

I will admit that Black Mariah is a vast improvement over her comic character but since her origin is an elephantine monster made of African American Vernacular English as filtered through white ears, that’s not saying much.

This show suffers the same issue that so much mainstream entertainment aimed at Black audiences suffers. It doesn’t examine or deconstruct White Supremacy. It just accepts its tropes and uses them to enforce its structure.

Luke Cage isn’t our superhero show. It’s a show about white fear. It’s a minstrel show.

Minstrel shows are offensive. Always. Doubly so because it is presented as for us, by us. We presume that our own people have our best interests at heart. This is forgivable, especially when the entertainment is advertised as if it is revolutionary or progressive or groundbreaking or anything other than more of the same.

For me, the biggest problem is the conversation on policing that happens throughout the show. The pro side of the self-policing argument is a white cop who turns out to be corrupt. The person he’s arguing with? Misty fucking Knight who is given the pro-police side. The inevitable police violence is perpetrated by a Black cop. The only person who steps forward to lead the community against police violence? Is Black Mariah who is doing so for her own reasons and advocates greater arming of the already militarized police.

The conversation is muddled and plodding and badly written as is the rest of the show.

And we deserve better.

We have to stop simply accepting anything that is served to us as long as the hand doing the serving is Black. Because all of our skinfolk ain’t our kinfolk. They don’t have our best interests at heart. Neither do they have any motivation to do their jobs well unless we motivate them.



We were all thinking it.


We deserve superheroes who are heroes. We deserve Black entertainment free of the restrictions of White Supremacy and which fight the tropes systemic racism has trained into us. We deserve better than this and the absolutely worst thing we can do is embrace this show. because if we do, we’ll end up with more of the same and we’ll have no one but ourselves to blame.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Neil permalink
    November 13, 2016 2:26 AM

    As a white person watching the show, I did enjoy it overall as a story, but was thinking that pretty much every person in the show was wholly or partially a stereotype, at least from my perspective, although I didn’t equate that with “racist”. When it comes to entertainment, my disbelief is easily and willingly suspended. I hadn’t noticed the different hues of the women Cage interacted with. I have to say I am truly sorry the show offends or disappoints you. It’s a shame considering how good the the other shows are. Thanks for the essay, it’s given me something to think about.

    • Stacey permalink
      November 13, 2016 12:16 PM

      All black people being portrayed as a stereotype = a clue that you may be watching something racist. Even if black people are in it.

      Most don’t notice what we accept as true. But critical thinkers will question when they see concepts that are “accepted as true” that we fight against. The hues of the women may be accepted subliminally. At the first episode I was repulsed by the way the darker woman was written to hit on Luke… with the utmost desperation, and his dismissal was cruel. By three episodes later, I was irritated enough to stop watching. My guy continued on through a few seasons and blurted out “they write us to look so stupid!” We stopped watching.

      Here’s the f*ckery – one episode at a time, you may not see it. Back to back, you’ll see how poisonous the content is. .

  2. Jeanie Hunter permalink
    November 13, 2016 4:31 PM

    that’s a shame to hear – since seeing a physically intimidating man sitting with a book in his hand made me roar with approval.
    getting flashes of actual history that pass by too fast for most kids to realize that a name might be buzzing in their heads a week later? is something that the white kids aren’t treated to.
    and to say Luke’s choices in women are racist? is to completely miss the huge, inter-generational controversy over tone – the color dynamics in the show are way more complex than I think you are presenting them as…and I guess the contrast between Mariah, Cornell, and Boone just flew by so quick you missed how fast he was to throw a dark cousin under the bus.

    the list of stereotypes in the Marvel universe is rich, and broad, and ironically important, because they give us a lens to look at history through.

  3. Rafeal Clements permalink
    November 13, 2016 6:16 PM

    Your post doesn’t give the series the credit it deserves, and calling it a minstrel show is inaccurate and totally wrong. Luke Cage doesn’t objectify women – so he could as easily not hooked up with that woman because he wasn’t looking for booty-call. Misty and Luke had a conversation over drinks – they got to know one another before they hooked up. Every female of color in the series is shown as a three-dimentional being with flaws and virtues. The people in authority in the series are all women – Misty, Prisilla Ridley,Betty Audrey, Mariah Dillard, Mariah’s soror and attorney. None of those women mentioned are shown as depending on a man to prove their existence and worth, including Claire Temple and her mother. You see the women show their sexuality and not be demonized by it – you see Mariah as a middle-aged, complex, black woman who is sexy and sexual and not slut-shamed. I just focused on how the women were shown in this series, but there was much that this show did very well. Expecting this show in 13 episodes to tackle all the problems and complexity of the black experience in America is to set it up for failure.

  4. November 16, 2016 1:24 AM

    I was/am (as I’ve still to watch it. Excited about this show as I enjoyed Jessica Jones. I will still watch it. But I’m sad to hear it won’t be what I was hoping for, like you.


  1. The Mushy Middle | Peggy Larkin

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Social Justice Xenomorph

White Lady Done Being Nice


Life at the Intersection.

the inadvertent feminist

Pansexual girl and accidental activist

Tall N Curly Comics

A webcomic about a tall and curly girl's life by Cheyan Lefebvre


A topnotch site

Grown and Curvy Woman

Where Style Has No Age Or Size

Hollis Plample

draws comics

Crystal St. Marie Lewis

savoring the wisdom of the world's religions

Politics - The Huffington Post

I am not nice, but I am honest and that is more important.

The Great American Memoir!

Like, share, comment, follow, tweet, etc.

Council House Scum

Welfare leeching wage slave writing all sorts of crap...

Radically Queer

Learn, Question, Make Change.

I am not nice, but I am honest and that is more important.


Ashley Howland Author site

Sarah Over the Moon

I am not nice, but I am honest and that is more important.


I am not nice, but I am honest and that is more important.

%d bloggers like this: