I’m a white male. I was raised upper-middle class. Most people would justifiably say I am the definition of white privilege. I attended a boarding school in Connecticut where I met kids from families who were much wealthier than my family would ever be, but the simple fact that I attended the boarding school in the first place is proof of my status. I’m not rich now, but that history invariably changed the way I see the world.
For those reasons, and the fact that I’m not black, I’ve put off writing this review. I’ve felt like I didn’t belong in this conversation. But Luke Cage is too good. Even from the trailer of him just walking down the hall, bullets bouncing off of him, I was sold. As a skinny geek, I’m a sucker for invincible. So, yeah, Wolverine is my favorite of the X-Men, and Hulk of the Avengers.
THE VIEW FROM THE TOP
Prior to watching Jessica Jones, I’d never heard of Luke Cage. But, I’m not black. The existence of a black superhero isn’t as significant to me as it is to black people.
One of the facts of being a white male means that I’m in a world constantly telling me how awesome it is to be me. And that feels good. It wasn’t until I really started listening to my friends who are women and people of color (read: anyone not white) that I began to see that the media portraying how awesome white men are by default portrayed women as objects, asians as servants and other PoC’s as criminals.
As a privileged white male these things had never occurred to me. Why would they?
My friend and brilliant fellow filmmaker Lexi Alexander tweeted about the whitewashing of Asians in Hollywood movies (whitewashing is the practice of taking a character that was originally a different race and casting a white person instead).
I asked Memi, my Japanese wife, if that’s how she felt. Memi’s response was so powerful I replied to Lexi quoted Memi, who said that whitewashing Asians makes her feel “like we’re not important. You want us to be your doctors but you don’t want to look at us. White people see us as diligent worker bees. We’re employees.”
I keep hearing things like this the more I choose to listen. It makes me really angry because it’s injustice. And, even though I’m the beneficiary of this inequality, and even though equalizing it may mean I get less, things have to change.
WHO SHOULD ACT?
Jimmy Fallon had Donald Trump on his show. My activist friends started talking about how Jimmy didn’t risk his position of privilege to ask Trump any of the really hard questions that needed to be asked. This was before Trump’s sexist comments from the 90’s were made public, when racism was his primary issue.
I follow Kara R Brown on Twitter. She tweeted “It must be nice for Jimmy Fallon’s all-black band to watch their boss pal around with a white supremacist.”
I replied, “It would have been powerful if they’d walked off stage in protest!”
Then, another brilliant activist friend I know only as Femme Malheureuse replied to me, “Ever been so stunned by something so bad you were speechless, frozen? That...”
The conversation continued. I replied, “I get it. Also, job loss and banned from the Industry. But it would have been epic.”
She responded, and this is why I bring it up, “We can’t keep asking the victimized to solve a white-created problem like Trump and enablers like Fallon.”
The problem we’re talking about is entrenched entitled people who like their position and are unwilling to give it up, and who may not even see that their benefit comes at the expense of a lot of people. It’s highly likely that those privileged white people (and I was one of them for much of my life) will never willingly change their way of life. Who then is left to give the disenfranchised enough hope to believe that they can change the world
ENTER THE HERO
I’ll bet you think I mean Luke Cage.
But, Luke Cage isn’t real. He’s fiction.
The real hero in this story is the person who came up with Luke Cage because he’s the one who has created a vision of what life could be like. Like Martin Luther King’s ad-libbed “I have a dream” speech, this story’s hero talked about the world he lives in and how it could be different.
The hero is a black nerd artist named Cheo Hodari Coker. He’s mentioned how he felt like he was pushed around and how he dreamed of what it would be like to be strong, sexy, and nearly indestructible. Out of that dream came Luke Cage.
Coker takes us into what it’s like to be black in Harlem.
Yes, I know it’s an amplified version of Harlem. All movies are amplified. But for those of us who have always been on the outside, it’s a powerful glimpse of what it’s like to be something other than white male.
This portrayal is so undiluted that even black people referred to it as “unapologetically black,” which is a term that initially made me angry because why would they need to apologize? Then I remembered that people like Donald Trump and his racist supporters exist and in the past have enslaved and murdered black people and the idea of apologizing or keeping a low profile was a necessary survival mechanism.
If all Coker had done was to show Harlem in the same way that Spike Lee has shown black culture, I feel it would have been enough. But, Coker went much further. He talked about what it feels like to have members of your disenfranchised group murdered by the people who are supposed to protect you (#blacklivesmatter). And then he showed what it might feel like to have a hero that the government couldn’t murder.
It wasn’t just Luke Cage standing on a platform shouting “Plymouth Rock landed on us,” as Malcolm X did. That was powerful stuff when it happened, but the racist leaders of the United States have designed effective counter-attacks against that. No. Coker took those points of racial agony and encased them in a compellingly human story of a superhero.
Luke Cage isn’t just another forgettable superhero show. Luke Cage is a powerful social commentary cased in entertainment, one that gives an abused and disenfranchised people hope and shows them that they can be more than what they’ve been told by white male media.
And Coker kept going! He also created powerful, fully-formed women who were perfect counter-balances to Cage. Maybe it’s having not been privileged that lets Coker see that other people suffer too, and that caused him to fight not just for his own strength, but to empower black women right alongside black men.
LUKE CAGE IS ART
I wrote an essay called Defining Art. Art has three required components: talent, skill, and dialogue with culture. Things can have those components and not be art, but nothing without them ever is.
Whatever motivated Coker, he created something that transcends the comic culture, and speaks louder and clearer and more appealingly than a soapbox preacher. Luke Cage is the best thing Marvel has come out with so far, by far. And I say that as a fan of most of their stuff. Luke Cage isn’t just a forgettable movie. Luke Cage is cinema because it’s not just escapism. It’s done with the powerfully talented mind, with skills honed by years of writing and experience, and is a dialogue with black and white culture, thus it is Art!