Feature written by Quan P. (Founder of BLACKAMAZING)
The grand opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the premiere of Luke Cage has me feeling more black and proud than ever.
Before I get into the discussion, you should know that this is actually Part II of an article that I wrote at an earlier time called Black Lives Matter in Sci-Fi Too.
In it, I explored the distorted depiction of diversity in television. In popular shows like “The Walking Dead”, the cast is predominantly white and there is a lack of quality black representation.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that black people aren’t there — you see them in the background, gathering wood for the fire and traveling among the group.
They’re usually very gullible — only making moves when they’re told and being killed off to make way for a new black character. As someone that enjoys Sci-Fi, this is extremely frustrating and disappointing.
When Baltimore-based writer URAEUS showed up to Comic-Con in San Diego with “Black Heroes Matter” t-shirts, people loved it, proving that a lot of people feel similarly about this.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he explained what inspired him to make the t-shirts:
“What we feel is important is putting out strong heroes and principled heroes and upright men and women of all colors. A representation of the whole ball of wax of what we have to offer as human beings, but specifically as black people in America. We want to show the children that it’s not a far-fetched goal to want to save the world and want to affect change in your community.” – URAEUS, The Hollywood Reporter
He also perfectly explained the issue with black heroes in Sci-Fi: “What you see in Marvel is a lot of what we call the hand-me down characters. All of a sudden you’ll have a black Spider-Man or a black Iron Man now, which is cool, which is great. But I’m a huge fan of Iron Man as he is, of Spider-Man as he is. I’d really love more to see an original character of color who could stand toe-to-toe with a Spider-Man.”
The fantastic thing about Sci-Fi is that you can create any world that you want. You can give people awesome superpowers while showing how they navigate the real world.
When you place a black character in an world that appears to be predominantly white, this sticks out like a sore thumb. Seeing how characters that look like me are killed off makes it seem like they are unfit to survive. The issue is that this is common in the majority of the shows that i’ve watched and discussed in Part I.
Marvel recognized this issue and made a series called “Luke Cage.” Prior to its debut, a trailer was released of Luke Cage in a black hoodie fearlessly walking as bullets bounced off his body, leaving nothing but holes in the fabric.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, Mike Colter spoke about why they made the hoodie Luke Cage’s signature outfit:
“It’s a nod to Trayvon, no question…Trayvon Martin and people like him. People like Jordan Davis, a kid who was shot because of the perception that he was a danger. When you’re a black man in a hoodie, all of a sudden you’re a criminal. That’s something we shouldn’t have to deal with, but we do. It’s a double standard. We can’t cover our head when it’s cold and raining because God forbid someone sees us and puts our life in danger. We wanted to pay homage to that—it’s not something we were shying away from.” – Mike Colter, The Huffington Post
Following the murder of Trayvon, black men, including myself were actually afraid to wear hoodies, worried that it might spark the same suspicion that it did for his killer (I still feel this way).
The symbolism of a black man from Harlem with a hoodie on speaks volumes. The bullets searing through his body and leaving nothing but holes is powerful imagery.
In real life, a black man that looks like Luke Cage is not bulletproof. He would be seen as violent and threatening. He would get followed around the store. People would watch his every move from afar to make sure that he didn’t do anything “crazy.” The lead actor, Mike Colter also told The Huffington Post that during this time, footage of Eric Garner being killed by the police was released:
“When we were filming this, there were different things going on. Eric Garner, the policemen were acquitted. No one was brought to justice,” he explained. “There was no handing out of any sentence. There are a couple of other things that happened during the time we were filming. We were watching the news, and it was always someone being shot who was unarmed, and there is no justification for it. It’s mind-boggling.”
This show addresses the stereotypes of black boys and men being violent and dangerous. Luke Cage represents someone that i’m sure that a lot of us wish that we were. With impenetrable skin, we could walk around our neighborhood without the fear of being gunned down.
It is more common to find images of mugshots and dead bodies of black people than it is to find positive ones. Positive black representation in this series is executed with a talented, dynamic cast and a storyline that keeps you engaged.
Marvel flipped this. Luke Cage has a big build but he’s incredibly kind-hearted and even a little shy at times. He loves to read and is very knowledgeable about history. In the beginning of the series, he discusses Crispus Attucks, the first hero of the American Revolution (as noted by Biography.com) — a lesser known but significant figure.
Luke Cage is not controlled by fear — he is the epitome of black strength. In the midst of drama and chaos, he keeps on moving — never allowing the hate and fear to bring him down. His mission is not to be a star with his face plastered on every screen and billboard but to save Harlem and help others. The idea of a black man being in control, nongullible and not having someone dictate his every move is unfortunately rare but very important.
He’s my hero. Harlem needs someone like him, especially with the gentrification that is going on. He would’ve made sure that people weren’t pushed out of their homes and that businesses were kept open.
The success of this show shuts down any assumptions that black heroes and positive black representation isn’t profitable or necessary. There are no excuses as to why more shows like this shouldn’t be produced. Hopefully this will be the start of an exciting change in how black representation is displayed in television and film.
To purchase Black Heroes Matter t-shirts, visit the official site
If you have not seen Luke Cage yet, check out the trailer below: