“You cannot dream to be anything unless you’ve been told the story that you can do it. And where do we get our stories from? We get them from our parents, we get them from friends, we get them from what we read, but we also get them from cultural queues.” ~Justin Simien
I want to preface this post by saying that I am a 39-year-old white woman living in Wisconsin. While I grew up in a Black neighborhood in the south and have had Black friends throughout my life I still benefit greatly each day from my white privilege. It is through this lens that I see the world. And whiteness is the perspective from which I write this post.
My family and I are major Marvel nerds. Seriously, we see EVERY Marvel movie at the first showing, on the first night (Thursday, not Friday), and in IMAX. We have every opening night poster, and most of them are framed. Back when those first showings weren’t until 10:00 pm or even midnight we would even let our kids go in late or stay home from the next day. In our home, there are three things that ALWAYS trump school: God, family, and Marvel. You have to have priorities. So when Netflix announced that they would be doing original Marvel series we were stoked. And while I like them all Luke Cage is undoubtedly my favorite. He reminds me of a couple of friends I had as a teen and has a desire to help those in need. One of the things I like most is the different portrayal of a Black man, particularly in regards to how Black men are typically portrayed in television and film. When we see Black men in sitcoms they are generally the success stories from their family who have pulled themselves up by the bootstraps and made it to the promised land, a.k.a. the burbs. These stories fail to show the value in Black culture and how hard it can be to break out oppression. Luke Cage shines a light on the difficulty of re-entering society after being in our prison system, but also sends the message that it can be done. The bond that Luke has with Pop and his regulars is a very realistic portrayal of the types of relationships I’ve seen in Black communities. This series highlights some of the beautiful aspects of Black communities while refusing to show everything through rose-colored glasses. It is also well written, directed, acted, and produced. And it is representative of the primarily Black community that is Harlem, at least the parts that haven’t been gentrified. In his article “Luke Cage and the Racial Empathy Gap: ‘Why Do They Talk About Being Black All the Time?'” Nico Lang addresses what I choose to refer to as whining from white people. For one of the first times, Black Americans have what Lang refers to as an “unapologetically black” show. Since the invention of silent films Black people have been unrepresented, underrepresented, and misrepresented on the large and small screens. Instead of praising Luke Cage for the engaging entertainment that it is too many white people have spoken out about how offended and uncomfortable they are with the lack of white representation in the show. I have no patience or empathy for these people or their bigoted points of view, but just for the record, I counted at least 13 white people in the first episode. The “problem” for the whiny white people is that none of those white people had lines or were obviously placed. To that I say, it is about time. White people have been overrepresented in media and it is time for a change.
Luke Cage isn’t the only series on Netflix to feature an underrepresented cultural group in the United States. In 2017 Netflix also dropped the satirical comedy Dear White People. To me, this is one of the greatest gifts bestowed on television watchers ever. Of course, I am a snarky woman with little patience for bigotry and white fragility. Dear White People addresses real concerns from Black students on college campuses all over the country and also the struggles of trying to balance being loyal to your community while still being yourself. I know that there are many who find this series to be racist because of its name or because it’s revealed that Sam sent out the invite to the blackface party. To those people I would say, keep watching. You find out why she did what she did. I have also seen people say that things like blackface parties rarely happen. Well, that isn’t entirely true either. They have happened too often in the United States over the last few years that I have been watching for them. And it isn’t just blackface parties. Racism on U.S. campuses, including Colorado State, is all too common. People still throw bling parties, others show up to parties in blackface, and on August 19, 2017, a noose was found dangling from the stairs in front of the door to the floor that had a Black resident assistant in Colorado State’s Newsom Hall. As long as racism is alive and well there is a need for shows like Dear White People that aren’t afraid to speak the truth. After listening to Justin Simien’s interview on The Business I have no doubt that he would much rather be writing screenplays about the success our country has had through addressing the hard issues of racism. It is clear that he would like to see people in the U.S. address this issue as Germany addressed anti-semitism after World War II. But like he said in the interview, we choose not to address the wound that is racism. And when you ignore a wound it festers and becomes gangrene.
On a somewhat lighter note, this year Netflix introduced viewers to Monse, Ruby, Jamal, and Cesar, four friends entering high school in South Central Los Angeles. Moments of sobering reality are interspersed in the comedic coming of age story, On My Block. What some may find surprising is the number of truly good kids and families in the neighborhood in which On My Block is set. For the most part, homes are well maintained and while they don’t hide the reality of gangs in the area they are hardly the central theme of the neighborhood that they’re often portrayed to be in other shows. The writers and directors, some of which are from the area being portrayed, have done an excellent job of highlighting the same issues that all teens face along with a few that are unique to that part of L.A. All in all this is a relatable and enjoyable series that shows a more realistic look of what life in South Central is.