Luke Cage footage 2

Netflix presented a panel on Marvel’s Luke Cage to the Television Critics Association. Luke Cage is the third Marvel TV series for Netflix, to be followed by Iron Fist and the team-up The Defenders. Showrunner Cheo Coker spoke about the show’s influences and tone, but first Alfre Woodard deflected a question about her role in both Captain America: Civil War and Luke Cage. In Civil War, she played a mother who confronts Tony Stark after her son dies in an Avengers battle. She is a lead character on Luke Cage.

“My name is Mariah Dillard,” Woodard said. “I was born and bred in Harlem and I don’t know what you’re talking about Captain America.” 

Luke Cage is set in Harlem, where Cage tries to work inconspicuously but ultimately gets drawn back into fighting bad guys. One of the main sets is Harlem’s Paradise, a nightclub owned by Cornell Stokes (Mahershala Ali), aka Cottonmouth. Coker said to expect some A-list acts performing in the Paradise.

“We always said that God forbid the show doesn’t work, at least we can book out the club,” Coker joked. “We were lucky enough to have, you know, Raphael Saadiq and Faith Evans and Charles Bradley, and a number of people that you’re going to see in these episodes. So, on one hand, it’s a living, breathing club and also, gangsters love music. So that’s the thing about what the club represents to Cottonmouth, as well as to his family. It’s really our Iron Throne, to a certain extent, is that club. Even the way that it’s established, it just really sets up our version of this universe in a really compelling, really fun way.”

Coker has the artists doing both original music and their top hits for Luke Cage, plus songs from artists who do not physically appear on the show “Jidenna does an original song, ‘Long Live the Chief,’ in episode 105 that’s really great,” Coker said. “Faith Evans does ‘Mesmerized’ in episode 102. I’m calling episodes songs. They are all musical. Each episode is named after a Gang Starr song. For me, the reason for that was because I liken binge-watching to what used to happen back in the day when a record would come out, and if Prince released Lovesexy or Sign o’ the Times, I would shut everything down and listen to the entire record, and the only time that we do that nowadays is with these shows. So the music kind of gives this undercurrent rhythm and it gives us a pulse for every single episode. We have hip-hop. At the same time, we also have needle drops from Mahalia Jackson and Nina Simone and John Lee Hooker, particularly in a very pivotal scene in episode 107.”

The show further touches on black culture, for example, with a barbershop conversation including topics such as Kenyan president Kenyatta, fictional character Easy Rawlins and NBA basketball.

“I’m a born geek,” Coker said. “People underestimate the complexity of comic books. One of my favorite graphic novels coming up was God Loves, Man Kills. Another one, also with Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, was the Wolverine miniseries. As a reader, was it just showed how many different shades, how much complexity within comics you can have. So translating that to this universe is, yes, we’re a hardcore genre comic book show, but at the same time what makes Marvel characters different than other characters is that Marvel characters live in the real world. It’s an alternative universe, but it’s still part of the real world. Luke Cage can also be a fan of Richard Price and George Feliciano and, you know, Walter Mosley, and to be able to debate about it, and Kenyatta versus “Easy” Rawlins.”

Tonally, Coker hopes to blend the serious drama with some comic book humor, as well as touch on current events like Black Lives Matter. “It’s the opportunity to address a lot of issues but at the same time have fun,” Stokes said. “I think it’s going to surprise people that you’re going to come in thinking it’s serious, and it’s fun. You are going to come in thinking it’s fun, and it’s serious. We kind of go back and forth, and there’s so much emotional depth to all of these characters.”

Coker inherits Luke Cage from Marvel’s Jessica Jones, where Mike Colter debuted as the character. Coker isn’t worried about any preconceived notions from that show because Luke Cage is from a different point of view.

Melissa Rosenberg provided such a great introduction for the character,” Coker said. “It wasn’t a question of shaking it up as much as it was in Jessica JonesJessica Jones is from the POV of Jessica Jones, and in our show, this is from Luke’s POV. So this is almost like, when Luke was off camera, what was Luke doing? Luke might have gone up to uptown to get a haircut and hang out, and so this is kind of, we are following that character and, as a result, expanding it. It’s not about changing it as much as it is now that we’ve shifted perspective, it’s allowed us to really get into a different world. What I liken it to is each of us gets to have a solo record, and then when we come together for The Defenders, you have a super group. So it’s kind of like the Beatles in reverse. Like, imagine, you know, John, Ringo, Paul, and George having solo records, then they come together as the Beatles.”

Luke Cage premieres September 30 on Netflix.

Update: An earlier version of this post erroneously reported that Jadakiss would be featured in Luke Cage. This post has been updated to remove him from the list of artists.

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