Unless you spent the weekend in an underground bunker, you already know that Luke Cage dropped on Netflix last Friday, and the reaction from fans and critics alike has once again been extremely positive.
One man who’s sure to take some of the credit for that is executive producer and show-runner Cheo Hodari Coker. The topical nature of the series (given the recent spate of shootings of young black men in America) has certainly given him a lot to chew on in interviews and, speaking to Deadline, he gave some thoughtful commentary concerning the sudden arrival of a bulletproof black man on television screens across the world.
I wasn’t trying to be glib. I wasn’t trying to set up this whole thing. It was what I was thinking. The thing I thought about was all of the heroes that I’ve had, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, Tupac Shakur, Christopher Wallace aka the Notorious BIG, Big L — all dead by gunfire. Particularly when you look at political figures and you think about that and you think about what it would mean when you’re melding these two worlds of hip-hop and superheroes – what if they were bulletproof?
He then went on define the thematic arc for Luke’s character, as a game-changing hero who’s newly acquired status is as much a problem for himself as it is for his opponents.
Really, the arc for the first season of Luke Cage is hero. How does one become a hero? What does one feel about being a hero? How does one live their life and eventually go through the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross stages of grief until the acceptance is fine, I’m a hero. This is what it is.
When asked about the significance of an African-American superhero show released to the backdrop of a protest movement like Black Lives Matter, Coker points out that the series isn’t actually an exercise in opportunism – but that it does necessarily reflect many of the concerns it’s raised in recent months.
It’s like people talk about Black Lives Matter. If you think about black art, all black art, whether it’s Invisible Man or whether it’s James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Zora Hurston, or Richard Wright, they all deal with elements of identity and trying to humanize our experience and our struggle in the world where people have been indifferent to who we are and what we are. It’s basically just saying that our lives have meaning. Artistically that’s always been discussed. I mean I know now it’s a hashtag and people have various feelings about it, but really if you look at all black art, even in hip-hop, it’s all about that I exist and these are my feelings and this is what I feel about the world. It’s always been an undercurrent.
Concerning the show’s use of musical and iconographic references, Coker spoke about how they’d made a conscious effort to emulate the approach of hip-hop’s culture in terms of sampling and reworking – while emphasising the diversity of movements and styles that exist within modern day black culture.
My whole thing about this show was like we have influences everywhere. So one of the things that’s really the cornerstone of ’90s hip-hop is sampling, so we have a lot of influences that we wear openly, like Tarantino’s been doing for years. In much the same way, yes, it’s an appreciation, but at the same time with the different elements that we’re putting together I think what makes it feel new is the fact that we’re showing you can be both. We’re showing that you can do Ralph Ellison at the same times as you’re doing Chester Himes.
There were these moments where they were like who is Dapper Dan? Do we have to have him? And I’d say, Yes, because I know the reality of Harlem and the fact that this is a Harlem icon in the same way that the Marvel shows might have a Stan Lee cameo or there are certain things you might mention that the geeks are going to go crazy for. You put Dapper Dan into that scene it gives it a certain like oh-my-God to the people that are in Harlem. And that’s a part of Luke Cage’s world, so it should be there.
Deadline then went on to press him about how Luke’s arc is likely to work within the wider Marvel Netflix construct. For those now waiting for next years much-vaunted team-up, he had this to say.
Well, yeah but The Defenders is its own trip, Daredevil Season 3 is its own trip, so is Jessica Jones Season 2. The only thing I can worry about is my swimming pool and keeping the leaves out of my swimming pool. I can’t worry about what’s happened to my neighbors. Eventually, I’ll go over to their house and they’ll come over to my house, but I’ve got to work about what’s happening here.
My thing is that I know where I want to go for Season 2, knock on wood that we get it. What’s interesting is I know Luke’s arc. I know the things that I would love to explore with Alfre and with Theo and other things.
Luke Cage is available now on Netflix.