Luke Cage and the $40 Million Stereotype

Luke Cage is arguably the largest African-American superhero production in mainstream media. With a budget of about $40 million for its first season and an upcoming second season, it validates America’s interest in watching a black superhero fight crime. Yet after watching it, it feels like more of a slap in the face towards the black community rather than progress.

Let’s review what’s hot now and the way the characters are portrayed:

The Arrow: The Arrow’s main protagonist, Oliver Queen, is a multi-billionaire by day who runs a worldwide corporation. By night he is ‘The Arrow’ and fights crime to save Star City. There is even a point in the series where he becomes Mayor.

The Flash: Barry Allens is the speedster known as “the Flash”, who saves his city, Central City, from evildoers. Not only is Barry Allen a genius scientist, he is also an unrivaled crime scene detective for the police. With his super speed, he can perform several amazing feats, including time travel.

Iron Fist: Now a Netflix Original, Iron Fist fights against an ancient evil organization known as ‘The Hand’. He is a master martial artist and his superpower is channeling his chi into his hands to perform amazing feats. His wealth is derived from his family owning a multi-million dollar corporation.

DareDevil: Thanks to a freak accident, the protagonist Matt Murdock is blinded but his other senses are heightened to supernatural levels. By day is he a lawyer and at night he is the DareDevil protecting Hell’s kitchen.

As you look at these super heroes, you might notice a pattern of prestigious backgrounds. They are wealthy, smart, and well respected as professionals. Even if they were not superheroes, they would still be meaningful and impactful in society.

Now let’s examine Luke Cage. His superpower is his super strength and is skin and muscles are virtually impenetrable. Luke is coming from a disadvantaged background being born to a lower class family in Harlem. He grows up in and out of group homes, gangs, and eventually goes to jail (though he was framed). When out of jail he works several lower end jobs like bartending, and sweeping kitchen floors to make ends meet.

Aside from the many stereotypes, what makes Luke Cage a slap in the face for African Americans is his overall intelligence. During season one of the TV series, there was a defining point in a conversation with his love interest, Misty Knight.

Luke asks: “What do you do for a living”?
She replies: “I’m an auditor”
Luke (a near 40 year old man) asks: “What’s an auditor?”

It reinforces negative stereotypes. As a superhero, is that who the black community should look up to and be proud of? Should this be who black youth identify with? Take away the Hulk’s strength and you have a Doctor who is an atomic physicist. Take away Luke Cages power’s and you have a nobody. This is important. Continuing to paint a negative picture of African Americans does not help us move forward. We need to aspire to be business owners, scientists, and doctors. Not ex-gang members, out from prison, sweeping floors to get by.

Part of creating this image for ourselves and society views is supporting media that paints a positive and progressive picture. Digging deeper, the history of oppression around the black male has been around their strength. From slavery in the 1600’s, the black male was valued for his strength, considered exotic for his sex appeal, but overlooked for his intelligence and ability to hold positions of power.

Does Luke Cage change this image, or further play into it?