With Netflix’s Luke Cage dropping September 30th, we may have to name October Black Superhero Month, because we’ll be celebrating for several weeks after it drops. Black Girl Nerds got a glimpse of the shows unapologetic blackness and awesomeness during this year’s San Diego Comic-Con on what I like to call Luke Cage Day. If The Get Down weren’t coming out in just a few weeks, ahead of Luke Cage’s premiere, it would have been the first black show on Netflix. To be second is just as big of a deal. With the way Netflix has changed the way television is viewed, and awarded, the fact that it took this long (4 seasons after Orange is the New Black premiered with its Emmy and Golden Globe nominated PoC cast) for black-led shows to debut on the streaming site still blows my mind.

With Netflix’s presentation of shows that wouldn’t appear on mainsteam television, you’d think they’d have looked to black content sooner. But late is better than never, I guess. Perhaps Netflix is finally seeing the value of PoC voices. I certainly hope so, because Luke Cage is going to bring a lot of black viewers to Netflix and we’re going to want to see more content that looks like us.

First, Jamie and I went to the press roundtables, then Cynthia and I went to the panel with the trailer reveal and several awesome clips.

Part One: The Roundtables

At the roundtables, BGN got to meet several members of the cast and production team for Luke Cage, including Mike Colter, showrunner Cheo Hokari Coker, Simone Missick, Jeph Loeb, Theo Rossi, Frank Whaley, Mahershala Ali, and Alfre Woodard. What’s important about this list is not just it’s diversity — Luke Cage is authentic in its voice because the people behind it are members of the community its discussing. The nuance that the show brings is almost a little jarring — “Do we really want white people to see this intimate aspect of our lives?” — but important, as discussions of white writers doing #BlackLivesMatter storylines and the #OwnVoices twitter hashtag for book authors make rounds. 

From our meeting with the cast, I could tell this was not only a tight-knit group, but they were invested and dedicated to this groundbreaking show. It was apparent in the way they went in depth on the questions we asked. Knowing this team was behind Luke Cage made me not only more excited for the show, but made me know it would be a safe space for black viewers to enjoy their blackness being presented on TV. You’ll hear some of our roundtable discussions on the BGN podcast, but here is some of what struck me during our chats.

Mike Colter and Cheo Coker: Luke and the Importance of Harlem

Mike and CheoYou can tell how much Cheo Hodari Coker cares about his cast and his characters from the moment you meet him. Not that this should be rare or a surprise, but it was actually quite heartwarming to hear him talk about Luke, Misty, and the other characters with such conviction. Knowing that you have a showrunner who cares is important and when you know that, you can care about the show that much more.

We spoke with Mike and Cheo about Luke’s motivations — when we first meet Luke, it is from Jessica’s point of view. We didn’t learn much about him from her perspective; they’re both highly interested in keeping their secrets. But this is Luke’s story now, and he’s reluctant to act. He’s afraid of being held to a higher standard, but his neighborhood needs him.

Harlem is clearly another character on the show. There are so few shows set in Harlem, I once counted. There are maybe two or three? And they were clearly shot on an LA soundstage with B-roll of some random Harlem streets (I’m looking at you Wayans Brothers). Luke Cage was shot directly in Harlem. I pass by certain locations every week. This show is important to me because it shows my neighborhood. It shows the darkness (it is basically a crime drama, after all), but it also shows the light. It shows the park in the daylight, it shows some of Harlem’s churches, it’s music spots and eateries (and not just the gentrified ones). This is one of the first times Harlem is being depicted on a TV show in this way and it’s important to show what Harlem really is if we are to believe Luke needs to save it. Mike and Cheo spoke about how they wanted to balance all of those elements of Harlem, with throwbacks to the Cotton Club and The Godfather, odes to Lenox Lounge and Shaft. The show isn’t just about Harlem being a background character, just like Luke must learn to act and become a hero, Harlem must learn to stand up for itself.

Mike Colter said he didn’t read the Luke Cage comics, but you don’t have to in order to enjoy the show. It’s set now, not in the 70s (though there are some references to Luke’s 70s look…), so harking back to the comics wasn’t a necessity. They wanted to show Luke’s struggles in a 2016 world.

Cheo said that the way our society binges TV is how we used to listen to records: all the way through. We’d sit down, lay down the needle, and listen to a James Brown record. It’s harder to do with iTunes and the radio and Spotify or Pandora, but Cheo (with his history in music journalism) wanted the show to feel like we were sitting down and listening to a record. All of the episode titles are Gang Starr songs and music plays a very heavy role in the show. This ties back into the Harlem-as-character, because Harlem has such a distinctive sound.

Lastly, the guys talked to us about the comparisons or homages to Blaxploitation films. Cheo said that all those films were really about black heroes getting to do the same things white heroes were doing. Knock down the villain, be the hero, get the girl. It was about empowerment, which is what Luke Cage is also about.

Theo Rossi and Jeph Loeb: The Importance of Good Storytelling

TheoNext, we sat down with Theo Rossi, who plays Shades on the show and Jeph Loeb, the Executive Vice President of Marvel Television. They both did the interview in their shades, because Jeph insisted. 😉

The two spoke about how Luke Cage is one of the shows in the Heroes for Hire series, but you forget it’s a superhero show — and that’s to its credit. What Marvel does best, and makes clear in it’s on the ground shows (as opposed to the movies, set in the air), is storytelling. That’s the most important part. It’s really a crime drama and a story of redemption. It’s not about explosions and punching — those are all extra. It was important to them that this be a compelling story first, a story that the audience will remember later. We invite TV into our homes, which is an intimate experience, so the story must be an intimate one as well.

Luke Cage is a story that could be told on its own, and that was also important to them. Some of us met Luke on Jessica Jones, but you don’t have to have seen that show in order to understand Luke’s story.

Simone Missick and Frank Whaley: The Importance of Liking Your Castmates

SimoneSimone Missick (Detective Misty Knight) and Frank Whaley (Detective Rafael Scarfe) sat down with us next. Simone spoke about Misty being a character in her own right, and not just in relation to Luke. As we know on BGN, a black female character having agency and not being told her story just in relation to a man is a rare sight on television. (But that doesn’t mean she and Luke don’t… have a little fun.)

What I got most from Simone and Frank was how they developed their bond to act as partners on the show, and how that chemistry existed amongst the whole cast. They are friends, they are able to laugh together at three in the morning, when it’s cold and raining. That level of connection in the cast is important as it transcends what they are able to do as actors and we the audience see the world they create truly come to life.

Mahershala Ali and Alfre Woodard: Getting into Character

AlfreLastly, we got to speak with Mahershala Ali (Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes) and Alfre Woodard (Mariah Dillard). The two play cousins who come from an old Harlem crime family, but Alfre’s character, the politician, is trying to be more legit. She wants to make Harlem better, building communities and taking back the heritage of the neighborhood against gentrification. Mahershala’s character (don’t call him Cottonmouth), is using the age old method of taking the streets by force. Despite Mariah falling in with Stokes’ methods in order to get funding, Alfre doesn’t see her as one of the villains. She’s just trying to introduce her family to a new way.

The attention these two actors gave each other as they spoke was amazing to watch. They share many scenes together and you can see their focus and attentiveness helped them to play off of one another well. They are Emmy, Golden Globe, SAG, and NAACP winning and nominated actors, after all. Having them on this show means not only is the acting being brought to another level with them on set, but these talented actors, who have a choice in the roles they say yes to, or even agree to look at, saw this script and saw its potential. Saw how good it was and said yes. I hope we get some awards out of Luke Cage (despite the Emmys snubbing Jessica Jones’ performances and only nominating it for best main title design).

Mahershala AliI’m not an actor but I learned a lot about performance from these two. They spoke about how they haven’t read the comics, because not only are they not really relevant to the 2016 set show as mentioned earlier, but you don’t get what is required as an actor from comic books. The two-dimensionality doesn’t translate. When I asked how they each get into character, Alfre spoke about how important dialect is for her, while Mahershala stated: “If it feels like you talking, you’ve got a problem.”

Neither of these actors seemed to be into comic books growing up, but it’s clear they didn’t dumb down their performances for a “comic book TV show.” It’s clearly more than that and they saw that and brought everything they’ve got. I appreciated that.

Part Two: The Panel

LC Cast

Later that same day, I attended the Luke Cage panel in Ballroom 20. I sat in the room for quite a few panels before getting right up front in the action.

Cynthia will have video soon, but let me just say that nothing can quite capture a Marvel presented panel.

There were surprises (Jon Bernthal and the Defenders title reveal), clips (can’t show you those, just know they were awesome), and the presentation of the cast during the panel. Most of us left B20 with no voice from all the screaming. Here are some of our panel tweets:

If you haven’t seen it already, here is the teaser trailer for Luke Cage:

Here is the Triptych Sizzle Reel for all three shows (Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones):

Here is the teaser teaser for Iron Fist:

Here is the Defenders title card reveal:

Here is a photo of Jon Bernthal during his surprise visit (just because):

 

A lot of what was said in the panel was spoken during our roundtables, and you’ll be able to see clips from BGN and Marvel/SDCC themselves, but as I said earlier, you could truly see how bonded this cast is, how much fun they had shooting the show, and how their work on both the professional and personal aspects of their relationships really adds another layer to their on-screen performances.

Luke Cage Day was definitely a success in getting everyone hype for the show. I’ve seen a bit of the show and canNOT wait to see where they take things. It’s a fantastic series, a great show that truly shows the black community (the good and the bad) — that was clearly written FOR the community by a member of it — and it’s a great addition to the Defenders series of shows. If our screams at the Defenders title reveal was anything to go by, when these four heroes team up, it’s gonna be beast.

Don’t forget to request September 30th off from work so you can binge Luke Cage. Then keep October 1st clear too, because you’re gonna wanna binge it again.

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