In 2008, the Nerd Game™ changed forever when Iron Man dropped out of the sky like some fire ass Wu-Tang Clan joint (shout-out to the other, other Iron Man, Ghostface Killah).
It’s been eight years since that happened. And in those eight years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has managed to morph into a robust and interconnected web of franchises–or, as previously referred to, a universe.
As a longtime Marvel fan, it was a beautiful thing to watch. Marvel had heroes for damn near every flavor of person.
Iron Man for those who favor swagger (0r dickish-ness. You decide). Captain America for the lovers of honor and/or patriotism. Hawkeye for all the regular, smegular guys. Black Widow for proud femme fatales. Thor for the people with their heads in the clouds. Dreamers. Adventurers. Hulk for those who deeply sympathize with wanting to say “fuck it” and pick up the world and drop it on its ass.
There was someone for everyone.
Well…everyone who WASN’T a Black woman.
As much as I stan for Marvel every now and then, you can’t imagine how disappointing it has been being a fan of the Black femme variety. From the fact that Marvel hadn’t hired a Black female writer in its entire publication history UNTIL THIS YEAR to the fact that literally no Black femmes were visible in any of their productions prior to Luke Cage, I haven’t been able to the decide lately whether I love Marvel because of my nerdiness or if I love them because I’m a masochist.
For the world’s sake, I hope it’s just the latter.
Humor aside, go back and think about all the popular characters I mentioned. Think about their movies (unless we’re talking Hawkeye and Black Widow and if we’re talking Hawkeye and Black Widow…then…uh…my bad).
The Captain America franchise hasn’t featured a Black femme in a prominent role. The Iron Man franchise hasn’t featured a Black femme in a prominent role. The Thor franchise hasn’t featured a Black femme in a prominent role. And if we are to count the [indefinitely paused] Hulk franchise, that damn sure hasn’t included a Black femme in a prominent role either.
Hell, even if we include the oh-so-feminist Jessica Jones, the one Marvel/Netflix show to feature a female lead, Black women got shafted in that department too. Although, that occurrence didn’t shock me all that much considering how much nonsense White feminists have lobbed at Black feminists across history.
And before you come at my neck talmbout “LEX OH MY GOD LIKE THERE ARE GONNA BE BLACK CHICKS IN SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING AND BLACK PANTHER AND THOR: RAGNAROK”, consider one thing:
As in “in the future”. As in “upcoming”. As in “not presently”.
That’s the issue.
While the type of “inclusion” featured in the Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and Hulk franchises have certainly registered as insufficient, in the very least, the former three feature Black men in fairly prominent roles, albeit mostly sidelined roles.
Anthony Mackie as Falcon. Cap’s new Ride-or-Die. Don Cheadle as Rhodey. Tony’s longtime best friend. Idris Elba as Heimdall. The baddest™ gatekeeper in the universe. Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther. Marvel’s PREMIER Black superhero.
Those are the ones that immediately come to mind.
And this is bothersome, to say the least.
I say this because there is a history of pretending that the representation of 1/10th of Black people–i.e. representing only cis, straight, Black men–should be enough representation to go around (don’t believe me? Check out what happened to my homie @Steph_I_Will when she casually talked about wanting to see Black women in the MCU).
Just think about every time a network, show, or studio wants to pander to large quantities of Black people. What do they do? Throw a Black guy in their little pet project. Hell, if they’re feeling adventurous, they might throw TWO Black guys in it (only to kill one of them or both of them later….and, yes, this is an overt reference to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D). Then nobody can say a damn thing to them! Their shit is lit! It’s so diverse! Screw the haters! Am I right or am I right?
It’s that kind of logic, paired with the history that I mentioned, that has made it so that Black women are purposefully overlooked and ignored and shoved to the side when issues of representation come up.
And this is precisely why Luke Cage is so radical.
I personally would have been content only getting one Black woman in Luke Cage (specifically Misty Knight since I’ve loved her since forever. The only person I love more than her is Storm). It would have been more than any other production had managed. But instead…I got four (more than four actually if we’re counting supporting roles and appearances but I can only elaborate on so much).
Misty Knight. Claire Temple. Mariah Dillard. Reva Connors.
All of these women played such pivotal roles in Luke Cage. In fact, without them, Luke Cage doesn’t work. It’s just not as interesting.
Case in point, I had the honor of sitting down with Kugalimedia this past weekend and chatting on their podcast about the Blackity Black™ show that is Luke Cage and we all agreed that the women were the most compelling part of the series.
Misty’s persistence. Claire’s brilliance. Mariah’s political savvy. Reva’s ambition.
All of these things? All of these women? They made this show. They singlehandedly had me coming back for more and here’s why:
Because they’re real. They’re multifaceted. They are three-dimensional people in every sense of the word.
Imagine. Black women being portrayed in the fullest range of their humanity? It’s unheard of! Sacrilege! Where they do that at?
And that’s the reason I loved Luke Cage so much. It would have been one thing to just put these characters, these Black women, here for “diversity’s sake”. But instead, they get to actually do something. Be about something. And if we’re being honest, drive most of the plot too…while looking so good doing it.
Now, you may be wondering: what exactly makes their portrayal in Luke Cage so damn “radical”?
This is a good question. This…is the right question.
And for you…I have three answers:
1. They don’t get pigeonholed into the “love interest” category.
All four of these women I mentioned function as love interests at one point, be it implicitly or explicitly.
Misty is almost introduced as one during her first encounter with Luke. But instead, she flips the script on us, the audience, by revealing herself to be a cop and a major player in the story.
Claire almost gets the okey doke™ too (and it would have been so easy to put her in that role considering her history in Daredevil as a brief love interest) but rejects that role by being Luke’s friend first and keeping ol’ dude alive with her medical prowess throughout the entire series.
Mariah doesn’t really get introduced as this, per say, but because of Shades’, you know, interest, that romantic potential is obviously there. And yet, the show doesn’t let that define her. Instead, the show focuses in on her evolving values and her burgeoning villainy.
And as for Reva?
Woooooweeee. Hooooo boy.
I thought I had seen the last of her, but BOY was I wrong.
Like…I’m not going to spoil the incredibly huge twist that she is a part of, but by my mentioning that alone, Luke Cage takes Reva–someone we assumed was only “the dead wife”–and morphs her into the series’ biggest wild card.
2. They’re smart.
Starting with Misty, while I’m of mixed minds about her holistic detective skills, there’s no denying that Misty is incredibly gifted and can see right through the bullshit.
From her masterful deductive reasoning (portrayed with some beautiful cinematography) to her extensive knowledge of the streets and the community around her, she’s a force to be reckoned with.
Now with Claire, I want to say to say that she is quietly brilliant but even then, that would be wrong. She is full-blown brilliant (and valiant as well). Claire is out here putting in more work than people with actual medical degrees.
Claire also is “smart” in that she too knows her way around the city of Harlem. In fact, when she first gets introduced in Luke Cage, she manages to chase down her own purse snatcher and lay his ass out. She manages to get more characterization in this singular moment than she does across any other Marvel/Netflix series.
And, of course, then there’s Mariah.
If anyone can make a dejected, God-forsaken turd–that looks like it was dragged through the poison water supply of Gotham–look like a shining beacon of hope, it’s her.
She is a master manipulator. An unapologetic puppet master. She has the oratory skills of both a hotshot politician and a slick car salesman.
She’s the type of boss who would watch you watch your mom get shot Batman-style and then look you dead in your eyeball and say “it was for the best” and you would actually agree with her.
She is scary and I love it.
And finally, there’s Reva.
Reva reminds me somewhat of Rose Quartz. Both are definitely remembered more kindly than they should be and retain the right to be remembered as such because they were so important in the lives of the people they left behind.
Of course, Reva isn’t just a memory in the show like she was in Jessica Jones. We get to see her as both a loving wife and an ambitious, but ruthless psychologist.
In essence, she becomes a complete character.
3. They’re sexual.
This was by far my FAVORITE part of the entire series.
To explain, probably the most radical thing that Luke Cage did with the Black women in this series is allow them to be sexual and allow them to be in full control of that sexuality.
And here’s why it matters:
Black female sexuality is such a battleground on this planet.
Everyone either “doesn’t date Black girls” or “wants to fuck a Black girl”, but no one wants to respect her and God forbid that she respect herself because if she does…hoo boy…then that makes her ultra unworthy because she’s too “difficult” to deal with.
Considering all this, this context behind Black female sexuality, imagine my shock, awe, and elation when I got to see most of these of these women be sexual on their own terms.
Misty hooks up with Luke and it’s not a huge deal afterward. They part ways and she goes about her life…like normal. She puts on her Freakum Dress as easily as she puts on her badge and she’s not shamed for it.
Claire eventually gets a piece of this too. Previously, most of her time on these various Marvel/Netflix shows was spent simply patching up battered heroes and playing a healer to them.
She doesn’t get to do much more than that until she makes it over to Luke Cage where she gets to engage in a completely organic romance that she’s comfortable with. She even gets an opportunity to deviate from her usual, sage-ly self and say some freaky-deeky shit to Luke.
Like, what’s not to like about that?
Of course, the biggest surprise in all of this talk about Black female sexuality is Mariah.
Even though it shouldn’t be a shock that older Black women can (and DO) have sex, if you combine the fact that Hollywood loves desexualizing older women with the fact that the world loves desexualizing older Black women (read: Mammies), you can see why I would be surprised.
Which is why seeing Mariah on the receiving end of Shades’ affections made for some great ass TV and had me cheering (albeit reluctantly because both of them are pretty grimy) for their ship.
Mariah (and all these women by extension) gets to be a powerful, intelligent, ruthless, and sexy woman.
She gets to be all of that. They get to be all of that. And there’s no mystical force–fictional, creative, or otherwise–that tries to force them into a box as if they can only exist as one of these things at the expense of another.
This makes them complicated. They are complicated. And as Black women, seeing that complication rendered on-screen? In our own image?
That’s also what makes Luke Cage so special.
I know I told y’all before that Luke Cage is a love letter to Black people, but let me be very clear when I say this:
Luke Cage is a love letter to Black women especially. It is an acknowledgment that we are seen, heard, felt, and above all, understood.
And for that? I am eternally grateful.
Images From: Giphy, Tenor.co, Marvel, Netflix, Upworthy, Gossipandgab.com, Fansided.com, Comingsoon.net, Shadow and Act