Luke Cage is a Hero in A Hoodie
The wonderful thing about TV is that it tells visual stories. Some stories are familiar. Others may be stories you may not see otherwise. Many stories make you think about what’s really happening in our world. The really compelling ones punch you in the gut. An article from the Guardian a few years back made the bang-on argument why TV is better than film. Some points in praise for TV include the ability to unravel the story over a longer period, richer roles for women and minorities, and it gave us Netflix. Yay Netflix. I may be their best, unpaid spokesperson. See here and here.
My latest deep dive on Netflix was the Luke Cage series. It’s based upon the Marvel character and comics where a southern, African American - or as the show refers to as black - wrongfully convicted prisoner escapes and moves into Harlem and becomes its reluctant, unofficial law enforcement. Luke Cage’s power is that he is seemingly un-killable. His skin is rock hard, impenetrable by bullets, knives, and the strongest of punches.
Over the thirteen episode first series, his clothing being punctured by bullets becomes a bit of a joke. He is repeatedly needing new clothes post throw down. For most of the series he wear dark wash jeans, honeycomb long sleeve thermals, and a dark zip up hoodie. Under normal style circumstances there would be nothing noteworthy of this common “everyman” look. It's just jeans and a hoodie. But that was a deliberate choice of the wardrobe team and actor, Mike Colter.
Before I dig into that let’s take a step back to gather some perspective, shall we? The Luke Cage character was the first black superhero of Marvel. He first appeared in the 1970s at the height of the Blaxploitation period in pop culture. The point of Blaxploitation was to over emphasize “blackness” in movies, music, art, etc as a way of celebrating, and poking fun at black culture. But let’s be clear, like the brand F.U.B.U. that Solange reminded us on track 13 of her latest album, it was “for us, by us.” It was black artists telling black stories. Like any cult following phenomenon its fringe audience grew larger than it’s original, intended audience. That fringe audience understood that while they can enjoy the stories it was not made with them in mind. That’s why telling stories is so great. Outsiders can respectfully peek in too.
Zoom back to the Netflix adaptation of Luke Cage today with me. The team behind the Netflix show shared with NPR that they wanted to update the pimp-tastic-meets-Blank-Panther look that the original comics used. Luke Cage 2016: meet the hoodie.
The use of a hoodie a bit of a F-U- to horrific, unjustified police brutality and mass incarceration in the United States targeted at people of colour. Colter shares his personal connection to the choice of hoodie in a recent NPR article. The quote is so painfully truthful that I’m sharing the whole section:
“As a black man, I'll be quite honest, full disclosure, when I was a young man, my mother and I talked about not being ever confused for anyone else, because something could happen. And the hoodie, it was a thing that she felt like could be misinterpreted. And so out of fear, I never bought a hoodie. Because I knew I wasn't going to wear it. And then when the Trayvon Martin incident happened, I was upset because I felt like, it's not fair. It's not fair to always have to think about this kind of stuff, because if you're a black kid you have to think twice. You put that hoodie on, all of a sudden you could be unfairly targeted and it seems that the person could get away with it. It doesn't make sense to me. I can't fathom it. So all of a sudden I went out and bought hoodies, because I felt like I needed to somehow make a stand and I felt like I was tired of walking around thinking about this subconsciously.
It's a difficult subject but I felt like what we're doing with the show is saying there can be some heroes in hoodies.”
There is a part in the show, no spoilers, that other men in Harlem wear hoodies that have holes in them too. It was a brief montage of solidarity and I saw it as an effort to normalize the garment. again. More specifically it may be an attempt to challenge the wrongful profiling that exists. Though it's rooted in something heavy and real, it had lightness. Hope, perhaps.
I realize what I think about the hoodie doesn't matter. Admittedly, I must check my privilege. I am caucasian, middle class, Canadian female. I'm a "have", not a "have not." There is no way to for me personally to truly empathize with this inhuman reality.
I have the complete luxury of wearing whatever I fancy without fear of being shot at or taken into custody. Be that outfit comprised of a ball gown or a “normal” zip up hoodie.
I never understood that luxury until the past decade or so. I have had privilege to take time to understand. Not have it thrust upon me as a child.
I've never worried that someone may think I'm up to something just because of a hoodie. Again, I've had that privilege since birth.
I think what this show, in its own way, is saying that it wishes people of colour could have that same opportunity too. The chance to not worry about what could happen if they simply wear a hoodie. They might just be a hero.