Marvel’s Luke Cage: Punky Reggae Party

Luke Cage (Mike Colter) is Harlem’s bulletproof defender and quite the celebrity. Spending his nights as a vigilante, he spends his days, still, in Pop’s Barbershop. Following the Battle of Midland Circle (in The Defenders), Detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick) is recovering from the loss of her arm and intends to retire from policing altogether until she sees that many of the criminals that were locked up under her crooked partner Rafael Scarfe (Frank Whaley) are now free. One such lowlife is Cockroach who’s looking to link up with Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard). But there’s a new adversary, John ‘Bushmaster’ McIver, fresh from Jamaica ready to take Harlem for a ride.

Not all stories set within the MCU happen in chronological order. Look at Ant-Man and the Wasp taking place in the ruins of Civil War. Season two of Luke Cage won’t have any characters succumbing to the Mad Titan’s infinity snap partway through the season. There are no references to his destruction of New York regardless of this season arriving a month after Avengers: Infinity War. Yet, this is why I love Marvel-Netflix more than the film universe, it’s so uncomicbook and you don’t get judged by salty fans if you don’t read any of the comics if you don’t bother with the source material, which is the reverse of what happens with the film universe.

Did I mention Luke is now a celebrity? His battle with Diamondback gave him legendary status
(Luke Cage, Netflix)

While season one was a brutal street-level, police-centric, hip-hop drama, season two is very much the same with a reggae fusion coming from ‘The Big Island” of Jamaica, in quotations because it’s what Jamaicans called it during the 1970s and 1980s after the immigration boom of the Windrush. Jamaica was “The Big Island” and the rest of the West Indies were the small islands. Luke Cage continues with his superhero antics from “Soul Brother #1” to “They Reminisce Over You.” Whilst Diamondback took on Luke Cage in a goofy costume that looked very comic book, Bushmaster (Mustafar Shakir) is no pushover, gaining his abilities from the nightshade plant.

One of my favourite scenes this season was in “For Pete’s Sake”. When we talk about Black History, people often talk about slavery and Civil Rights; they talk about Malcolm X and Doctor King. Seldom do we talk about the tribes that dwelled in the Caribbean before and during slavery. Bushmaster knows this. “Ya know the story of Nanny?” he begins. “The Maroons? She was Ashanti ya know?” And this is a part of Black History that I learned from my family. It’s the Black History that I wish was taught at school. The Maroons took their lives into their own hands and fled slavery for forests, fighting off the British for the best part of a century. Truly inspiring stuff!

Bushmaster (Shakir) knows his history and this entwined with genealogy is what motivates him
(Luke Cage, Netflix)

Season two shows a much more developed Harlem (like this district of New York is its own character). This comes with a colder, fiercer Alfre Woodard (Crooklyn) running tings as Mariah Dillard, starting the season longing for respect, wanting to sell off her gun stash. The buyers are the Stylers, a Jamaican crew headed by John McIver AKA Bushmaster, a man with a generation of hatred against her family. “Not Mariah Dillard” he says often, “Mariah Stokes, Stokes!” with a finesse. The power of a name is vital here, names drenched in blood, no matter if we’re talking the blood of Mama Mabel or The Slave Trade. McIver won’t let her forget the crimes of her ancestors.

“You don’t need to be bulletproof to be hero” says Mariah. “Black women have always been heroes turning pain into progress” – from Maya Angelou to Harriet Tubman, Angela Davis, Afua Hirsch and Chimamnda Ngozi-Adichie. Her ‘Family First’ initiative was built with blood and her misdeeds but Mariah’s heart was always for the cause. In both seasons, she comes out with great lines detailing her struggles in being black and woman and how the Black Woman (The African Woman) is the most-oppressed on Earth – from their portrayal in pop culture to the press and in history. And ‘Family First,’ in a nutshell, is what it means to grow up / be Black, especially in Europe and America.

Typically, Simone Missick slays as Detective Mercedes ‘Misty’ Knight
(Luke Cage, Netflix)

This season is 80% content and 20% kicking ass, and that’s no bad feat (even for a show whose lead character is impervious to bombs and bullets). This season is pure content. From the socio-historical and cultural to the psychological and political. I have nothing but respect for the writers in how they discussed colourism. “The Dillards are Creole and light-skinned, the good ones with the good hair” says Mariah’s daughter, Tilda (Gabrielle Dennis). “The Stokes are dark like delta mud, violent and complicated.” Mariah replies “You think I hate myself because I’m colour struck?” It wouldn’t be the first time black women were made to feel bad about themselves for being dark.

Everyone was giving the Iron Fist episode ‘The Main Ingredient’ lots of hype and when I finally saw it, I understood why. I am one of the few that legitimately enjoyed Iron Fist but I admit his scenes were better in The Defenders and his rapport with Luke in that show are on par with his single episode in this one. Once again, the writers’ approach to his privilege is excellent. “I just walked in here with a billion dollars, I’m not sure anyone wants to bust a cap in Steve Jobs” and Danny replies “You always have to make this about my money… I don’t even live off it anymore.” Danny is white and rich and he still doesn’t understand his privilege, especially in a place like Harlem!

They should do-away with season three of both these characters, just go ahead with ‘Power Man and Iron Fist’
(Luke Cage, Netflix)

Despite the bad accents, lines like “Wha gwarn? Babylon’s finest” and “Harlem, mi birthright” were hilarious. Going to the Jamaican quarter of Harlem with nods to Blue Mountain coffee, curry goat and Patois was good in setting the season’s tone. Not to forget to mention Gregory Isaacs’ Night Nurse in ‘Soul Brother #1’ (big up director Lucy Liu). Season two trumps season one: from the direction to the writing to the soundtrack (best of 2018 so far) and more, it’s a job well done.

Always forward

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