Warning: There are spoilers ahead for “Luke Cage.”
• “Luke Cage” features a black superhero who’s bulletproof and wears a hoodie instead of a super suit.
• Instances of police brutality on the show are committed by black officers.
• The series shows that the fight to end brutality isn’t simply black vs. white.
“Luke Cage” is the latest in a growing list of Netflix shows based on Marvel comic-book characters. Luke is incredibly strong and even bulletproof. Just as important to his identity is the fact that Luke Cage is black.
The show embraces and reflects African American culture in many ways, from musician cameos, to representing black perspectives on today’s social and political issues.
At the top of the list is police brutality. Cage forgoes a super suit and instead wears a hoodie, like Trayvon Martin, a black teen shot by a neighbourhood watchman in Florida. Lead actor Mike Colter recently told Business Insider this was intentional.
In the middle of the season, police stop Luke as he walks in the street, a parallel to Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, who was shot and killed by a white police officer. These two cases, Martin and Brown, sparked the creation and raised the visibility of the Black Lives Matter movement.
But it was the showrunner’s less obvious choice that really stood out to me as I binge-watched the show. All instances of police brutality against characters of colour were committed by black officers, and it shows how the fight to end police brutality isn’t black versus white.
There are two examples of police brutality in the first season of “Luke Cage.” Misty Knight, a black detective and arguably the second most important character in the show, has a rough day. A man, who we later learn is Diamondback, Luke Cage’s half brother, held her at gunpoint.
As a result, Misty loses it while interrogating Claire Temple about the location of Luke Cage later at the police station. She shoves Claire against the wall and begins choking her.
The second instance of police brutality comes two episodes later. Diamondback goes after and kills an officer, but the cops think it was Luke Cage. Police in Harlem decide to crack down on the neighbourhood to the point of harassment so they can squeeze Luke out from hiding. A black male officer brings in a young black teen to ask where Luke is, and the teen has no clue. But the answer isn’t good enough. When the teen tries to walk out of the interrogation room before he is dismissed, the officer gets angry and bloodies the teen’s nose.
Following this second incident, Harlem councilwoman Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) organizes a rally against police brutality. The councilwoman’s ulterior motives notwithstanding, this plotline makes an important point — that the Black Lives Matter movement was never a response to an issue that is black versus white. It may seem black versus white because many black and white Americans view police much differently — the percentage of black Americans who feel police officers treat racial and ethnic groups equally is drastically lower than white Americans. But to view the issue as one racial group versus another is too simple and inaccurate.
Current, and historical, conversations about police brutality do deal with race, of course. Statistics show a black person in the U.S. is more than twice as likely to be killed by a police officer. So it does have to do with race, but the Black Lives Matter movement has never been anti-white, though you would get that impression from those who insist on using the phrase “all lives matter” and accuse the Black Lives Matter movement of being racist.
Additionally, the movement, and the black community in general, isn’t against all police, but as the show points out, people will protest officers viewed as participating in brutality, including black ones. Following the death of Freddie Grey, a 25-year-old man who died from a spinal cord injury he suffered while in police custody, protests erupted in Baltimore and charges were filed against six officers, half of whom were black. None of the officers were convicted of a crime. Similarly, protests erupted after the death of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina last month, who was killed by a black officer.
What Luke Cage illustrates so well is that Black Lives Matter isn’t interested in blaming white Americans or white officers, but have focused on a specific trend of violence against black bodies, including when they feel that violence is committed by black officers.
The show does a remarkable job highlighting this issue, which weighs heavily on the hearts of so many Americans, while being sensitive to every party involved. Colter told Business Insider that the show doesn’t have a particular agenda. They take the time to examine the frustrations of the black community, but also the frustrations of black officers.
After Misty Knight assaults Claire, she explains how difficult it is for her to be a black cop in Harlem. She talks about the distrust and anger she experiences from the community until that same community needs the police. This sentiment is echoed by the black cops I spoke to earlier this year after a string of violence where black men and officers were killed.
The showrunners also examined the frustrations of black mothers who have sons on the receiving end of violence at the hand of police officers. In the show, after her son’s nose was bloodied by a cop, the teen’s mother comes into the precinct to speak with the highest-ranking officer there, Inspector Priscilla Ridley. Ridley is a black woman. The mother says, “You’d think a sister [black woman] in charge would change things, but you’re blue [a cop], which makes you just as white as anybody else!”
This feeling that sometimes black officers are more apt to support their fellow cops than the black community is also something all the black officers I interviewed mentioned in one way or another.
Nearly every character in “Luke Cage” is black, which from a television history perspective, is pretty significant for a mainstream TV show. But what this also means is that all the conversations about race and policing are stripped out from the black versus white narrative. It becomes a conversation between the black community and a group of police officers they can identify with on some level. It also becomes a conversation between the police and a community to which they belong. Perhaps if real life were more like this, where police more readily saw themselves in citizens, and vice versa, these conversations might be more productive. That’s not to say if everyone looked the same, everything would be better. What “Luke Cage” does is show the audience what the conversation could be like if we didn’t so readily frame the conversation as black versus white.
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