Luke Cage Showrunner Interview

When Luke Cage (Mike Colter) made his first appearance in Marvel’s Jessica Jones, he was the long awaited personification of one of Marvel’s seminal black superheroes. His own show was up next. Now that season 2 is here, Luke Cage is joined by Black Panther in theaters and Black Lightning on network TV – black superheroes are finally coming into their own on the big and small screens.

Season 2 of Luke Cage picks up with Luke trying to keep a low profile in Harlem but it’s even harder now that people have seen his heroics. They even came out with an app to track Luke’s movements. Bad guys try to find a way to hurt him, but even the Judas Bullets don’t pack the punch they used to. That is, until John McIver, AKA Bushmaster, comes to town.

Luke Cage showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker spoke with /Film by phone about season 2, which he hopes “breaks Netflix.” We’ll find out when season two drops Friday, June 22.

With the success of Luke Cage, Black Panther and Black Lightning, is there any sense of “I told you so” to the naysayers who doubted this over the years?

[Laughs] You could be very Kool Moe Dee, “How you like me now?” But it’s not honestly. It’s just honestly just pure joy and adulation. I’m just rejoicing the fact that film and television finally has the diversity of thought that hip hop music has always had. What I mean by that is that back in the day, you could be a fan of Outkast, A Tribe Called Quest, UGK, Hieroglyphics, The Dogg Pound without any of them cutting each other off. You could be a fan of east and west coast hip hop simultaneously because as a fan of hip hop, you’d want to listen to anything that was featured in Vibe or Source magazine. For film and television there were so few opportunities for any of us to shine, that it was always like isolated. And so here it is on one hand, you have this moment where there are so many different black superheroes but really at the same time, you’ve just got a global audience for everything. At the same time you’ve got Luke Cage and Black Lightning, even though they’re not superhero shows, you’ve got Atlanta, Insecure, Dear White People, Queen Sugar, The Chi, Power. All of these shows existing with all these different viewpoints and everybody’s celebrating everybody else because we’re fully appreciative of the opportunity that we all have in our own way to contribute to black culture at large.

You say there are so many black superheroes, but there’s three right now. That’s good but there can still be more.

Oh yeah, and there will be more. I think the thing is that there’s a lot of white superheroes but at the same time you still have tentpoles. When the smoke clears, it’s still Captain America, Batman and Iron Man. Everything else, you have stuff that’s out there but the big three are the ones that cut through everything else. I think the fact that Black Lightning, Luke Cage and Black Panther have each made noise in their own way will only lead to different superheroes and different genres. Hopefully, I personally want to see Idris [Elba] take on James Bond. Or at the very least for Ryan Coogler, who’s a huge fan of James Bond, to be one of those directors that’s considered very seriously for a Bond movie. The global success of Black Panther would at the very least get him a meeting. On one hand you can say a brother has to have the ninth best selling movie of all time in order to get that meeting and that being a problem. At the same time, I’m happy he has the ninth biggest movie of all time.

Bushmaster made the rounds in Iron Fist and Captain America. Was he ever in Luke Cage comics?

Yes, he was. He was directly from the Luke Cage comics as a character who actually survived the same process that made Luke so he has the same powers as Luke Cage. We tweaked it slightly differently so that we made Luke Cage bulletproof and we made Bushmaster bullet resistant, but then we also invented this thing called nightshade that will play off of the character Deadly Nightshade who of course Tilda Johnson turns out to be [in the comics]. The thing is, we kind of pick and remix all these different elements from Marvel to use the way we best possibly can in the show. There isn’t really one way that we do it. The main thing that I’ve learned over the years is that as long as you stay in the spirit of the comics and of the character, there are a lot of different things you can do.

Is the way the Jamaicans speak English authentic without being stereotypical?

Here’s the thing. The same way that Black Panther doesn’t have any one specific accent – there’s elements of South African culture, there’s elements of East African culture, of West African culture, all kind of an amalgam of what makes up Wakanda – we very specifically were going for a Jamaican vibe and influence of the culture for Bushmaster and for that world. Some people who have heard the accent say that we nail it. Some people say that’s more Trini. It’s not quite a Jamaican accent. What none of them say is that we did something offensive or did something where we weren’t trying to be as authentic in terms of the feel as possible. That really was the thing. We wanted to be as respectful as we could. And also hopefully have the opportunity to just shine light on other elements of the black diaspora outside of America and outside of Africa. The Caribbean is such a rich place and Jamaica personally is one of my favorite places in the world. I’ve been lucky to on various projects to have spent a lot of time down there. Having the opportunity to celebrate Jamaican culture within the show in a way that was a full celebration of the culture, not just ganja and menace, I’m hoping that people see that we really did try to provide a balance.

So if fans know who Tilda is, are you suggesting you will introduce Nightshade?

We were able to tweak the Nightshade origin story to fit our Luke Cage universe. It’s different than the comics. We really wanted to tweak expectations by calling her Tilda Dillard, the whole backstory we ended up doing with her and Mariah. At the very end, there’s a very specific moment in episode 13 when she finally claims the name that I think is going to be exciting for Marvel fans of the canon, but at the same time from an audience standpoint, people that like the show will say, “Oh my God, this whole thing came full circle in a way I never would’ve expected.”

Did you pick Bushmaster because you can only deal with bad guys who can’t hurt Luke Cage forever?

It came from A, virtually every decision I make on the show is music based. The whole idea to use Bushmaster came from a surprise birthday party that Mike Colter’s wife threw for him. I was there, Alfre [Woodard] was there, Charles Murray and a few other friends of Mike were there. There was no DJ so what Mike did was he put in Shabba Ranks on Pandora and then all these ‘90s reggae songs came up. The party was live. We were singing along to the songs. Mike spent a lot of time in New York in the ‘90s, the same way that I did. The reggae was always side by side with hip hop. So it made me realize okay, if we’re going to go for a reggae vibe, is there a character that has any kind of Caribbean background? It was one of these things where like okay, great, there’s this villain named Bushmaster who is a Luke Cage antagonist. If you look in his dossier, his origin is from a Caribbean island. Boom, let’s make it Jamaica and let’s use this. If season one is the Wu Tangification of the Marvel universe, season two could really be about addressing the origins of hip hop through the prism of the blues and Reggae culture.

Does social media play a role in the Wu Tangification or bluesification of the Marvel universe?

Only from the standpoint that we deal with it directly in the show. The fact that we give Luke an app, the Harlem’s Hero app that we’re basically following him around. People would take photos of Luke and mapping him. Like D.W. says, “It’s Waze for you.” It becomes this thing where he’s constantly followed and all eyes on him. We just really deal with it in a real way, what would it be like to be a celebrity superhero where everybody knows your name, at the very least knows where you hang out. What happens? How does that affect you? How does that affect you and your opinion of what you do in the world?

Was there less pressure to set up The Defenders this season, or was that not a factor in season one either?

All the seasons are be true to the character. Make decisions for the character within the confines of the show but also realize that you’re part of a larger universe. So if there’s opportunities for crossover that make sense, do it. It’s fun.

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