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*Luke Cage came out two months ago and for those of you who have not binged the show, this post is spoiler free. You’re welcome, but what are you waiting for?*
I currently have have an obsession with Luke Cage. From Jidenna, who completely steals the scene he is in (and for the record it is a damn good scene without him and he still blows it away), to the lush scenes of Harlem, I want to breathe it in, listen to it for days, and feast my eyes on it. I can’t help myself. The care that went into making Harlem more a character than a place is moving. If Mike Colter or the music of the show doesn’t draw you in with a sultry song, Harlem surely will and that is only one piece of a fantastic story that slow burns its way to your heart.
I thought before I saw the series that Mike Colter would be my favorite thing about this show because that man could melt butter in a snowstorm. He is Luke Cage and plays his reluctance to be the hero and still help people brilliantly, but that is only one of many great things about this show.
The part of Luke Cage that grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go are the ladies. In a time when it seems we can not get away from gender issues in politics, culture, and comics, Luke Cage gives us some women we can love and love to hate.
There are no slouching women in this show. No free loaders. No whining bitches. Not one of them is stupid. They make mistakes, yes, but none of them is useless. Every woman, every single one stands tall. Even if you don’t like what she stands for you admire that she does it with force and style.
They aren’t all heroes, sometimes they are downright villains, but they often, literally, pack a punch. It’s exhilarating to watch. If there is something that the Marvel Netflix Universe has been doing increasingly well, it’s allow the women to to come to the front of the scenes and take the storyline with them. Everything, from the way their dialogue is written, to the way none of them have an overly sexualized wardrobe, yells at you that you better sit up and take notice because these women mean business.
Claire Temple is played by Rosario Dawson and, try as she might, Claire keeps getting sucked into the lives of people with abilities. We first met her in Daredevil Season 1 and she has made appearances in all the subsequent Marvel Netflix series. She is a nurse, which is how she meets Matt Murdock, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage. When we see her again in Luke Cage, she is in Harlem staying with her mom and trying to escape from the events in Hell’s Kitchen. There are rumors that she will be the one to help bring the Defenders together in the Netflix version to come. She tells Luke multiple times she “knows a lawyer” who could help him.
What makes Claire commendable is her Reluctant Hero Syndrome and how it plays out in her character. This Reluctant Hero Syndrome is usually reserved for men in the comic universe (Luke Cage does his fair share of it), but Claire does it with way less angst and whining than normal. She sees people hurt or needing an extra boost and she only hesitates for a moment before jumping in and ordering other people to help out. She is more “Crap, here we go again” and less hand wringing while she tries to figure out what to do. Claire does occasionally need saving, she is just a nurse, but she is willing to run into danger with her friends and throw a punch when needed. She is beautiful, witty, and has grit. I loved her from the moment she helps Matt Murdock the first time in Daredevil S1.
Misty (Mercedes) Knight is played by Simone Missick and is characterized by her desire to find justice for people in a system that often mistreats them. Misty is a black, female cop in Harlem and she follows her moral compass without fail. She invests everything emotionally into her job and the people of her community. This leads her to make some regrettable mistakes. Misty owns them though and tries to make them right by fighting harder for justice.
Misty is fiery. She doesn’t give up, even when scared and wounded, physically and emotionally. Watching Misty’s arc in Luke Cage can be frustrating as she wrestles with some demons, because you want her to dig deeper, faster. You stick with her because you can see her strength even when she seems to falter. In a word, Misty is amazing.
I saved the villain for last, but I am going to use villain loosely here. For all her machinations, the writers have gone out of their way to show us how Mariah Dillard, played by Alfre Woodard, is not just fighting for herself, she really believes that she is fighting for Harlem. You know from the beginning that Mariah is not on the straight and narrow. She is working with, and related to, Cottonmouth, after all.
Mariah, more than the other two women, does have some men who push her one way or the other. Eventually, she begins to play her own tune with style, even if it is for nefarious purposes. As a viewer you can see her backbone straighten as she accepts the consequences of her actions. You’re not supposed to like her, but Mariah gets under your skin even as you are hoping for her demise. She believes in survival for herself, but Harlem is her focus throughout. There is something commendable about that. Like most villains, Mariah is blind to the collateral damage she causes, doing harm to the neighborhood she loves in her fight for power.
I have given up on TV shows who only had women as dressings for men, items for men to save, women who were consistently and irritatingly useless, or characters who were there only to cause problems. The older I get, the less I tolerate these types of women’s roles and so I appreciate it all the more when a show or franchise goes out of it’s way to create strong, amazing, beautiful women.
The women in Luke Cage are allowed to be both emotional and hard as nails in turn. It’s a balance we don’t see often and the writers have pulled it off here like a symphony. Too long we have been given women only on either side of the scale or we are allowed one well-rounded female character per show. Claire, Misty, and Mariah are not one but three women that you will love to watch because they are allowed to be complex and beautiful all while kicking ass.
It should be noted, that these characters are not only women, but women of color, something else that makes them and the show stand out. The majority of the cast, writers, and director/producers are people of color. For a mainstream television series, this is almost unheard of and Luke Cage did get its fair share of blowback for it. The criticism is ridiculous. I say, Sweet Christmas, it’s about damn time.
Thanks, ladies. You’re my new heroes.
Did you watch the series? Who did you love to watch the most?
Michelle’s current obsessions include: reading books with kissing while drinking craft beer, tiny houses in the mountains, everything Marvel, DC, and in between, Outlander, responding to emails with gifs, zombie apocalypse escape strategies, and maintaining the bare minimum of domestic order in my house. She writes the historical fantasy series Turning Creek (mountains, Greek mythology, and kissing!). Follow her on Twitter @wanderingeyre.
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