tv series

Here is why the new Netflix show ‘Luke Cage’ is drawing rave reviews

Based on the Marvel superhero with bulletproof skin, the series is a compelling story set in the historically black neighbourhood Harlem.

On 30 September, Netflix unleashed the latest installment of the growing Marvel-Netflix universe, Luke Cage. Like its predecessors, Daredevil and Jessica Jones, the 13-episode first season follows the adventures of the titular superhero as he strives to bring some justice to the rough streets of Harlem. Where Daredevil has enhanced senses and Jessica Jones superhuman strength and endurance, Luke Cage has something much more meaningfully tied to his identity as a black man: unbreakable, bulletproof skin.

The series, starring Mike Colter, drops at a time when police violence and atrocities against the African American community have become burning issues that are at the forefront of many political, and civic conversations. One might be forgiven for thinking that the creators had a hard task ahead of them: to ensure the show didn’t seem wildly exploitative of real-world tragedies while still acknowledging the sheer power of a symbol like Cage and the context in which he operates. Indeed, there were rumours that the show would be delayed or its release rescheduled if another tragic shooting were to take place. But show runner Cheo Hodari Coker has lived up to the high standards set by his predecessors in the Marvel-Netflix powerhouse, delivering a season that not only tells a compelling superhero story, but makes sure the focus never wavers from the community in which he operates: the historically black neighbourhood of Harlem in New York City.

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‘Luke Cage’.

Luke Cage became part of the Marvel-Netflix-verse in Jessica Jones, where he functioned as the titular character’s love interest as well as the living, breathing testament to her greatest trauma. The Luke Cage series begins shortly after the events of Jessica Jones have come to an end. Luke is back in Harlem, where he works two jobs: as a janitor at Pop’s barbershop, a “safe space” in the troubled neighbourhood that is watched over by the eponymous Pop, and a dishwasher at a much more upscale location: Harlem’s Paradise, a club owned and operated by the notorious Cornell Cottonmouth Stokes (played by Mahershala Ali from House of Cards). As happens in most superhero movies, the big bad world, in this case, one of gangs, gun fights and political corruption, flings itself at those Luke cares about, and he has no choice but to step in and try to “do the right thing.”

The Harlem that Luke Cage brings to life is a hard world, riddled with violence, fear, and political corruption. It is also a place of aspiration, where dreams continue to rise, refusing to be quashed even by the snapping of bones or the spilling of blood. The heady combination of power and idealism has its dark reflection in the cousins Cornell Stokes and Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard), a councilwoman determined to “keep Harlem black” and retain her place on the political circuit, no matter what the price. The liaison of political and criminal power was touched upon in Daredevil, whose second season devoted itself largely to showing how broken the system of governance and law enforcement is, but that theme takes on a particularly human face in Luke Cage. Luke is vulnerable to it in a way that Matt Murdoch simply isn’t – a fact that’s painfully illustrated by the manner in which he gets his powers in the first place.

‘Luke Cage’.
‘Luke Cage’.

Colter shines as Cage, portraying the hero’s struggles with a quiet dignity, providing a centre of calm in the maelstrom of gunfire and violence that surrounds him. He is an aspirational figure, one who keeps his cool and even has the heart for silly, corny lines when the bullets have faded, or when he lies broken on the floor. Rosario Dawson reprises her role as Claire Temple from the preceding Marvel series, and her fans would be happy to learn that, as ever, she owns every scene she’s in, and takes quite the journey herself, from a nurse finding her feet in the world of super humans in Daredevil to a character who is making her own tough choices in Cage.

But the breakout character of this particular run of episodes has to be Simone Missick’s Mercedes Misty Knight, a hardworking, intelligent detective, set on protecting the Harlem she loves, even if it means taking a little professional risk now and again. Missick steals every scene she’s in, and it takes all of five minutes of screen-time for viewers to fall in love with and root for this character, a smart, capable black woman who refuses to take nonsense, no matter how high the person dishing it out happens to be.

Luke Cage runs on a great storyline, full of twists of plot you might never have seen coming. It’s weighted with some amount of pathos and pain, but the sunlight does shine through – in the characters’ humour, in the amazing soundtrack and music that is showcased, in the fact that at the end of the day, no matter how hard things get on the streets, life does go on. “Forward, always forward,” Pop tells Luke at the start of the series. Luke Cage surges forward with power, grace and undeniable style, and takes viewers right along with it.

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Do you really need to use that plastic straw?

The hazards of single-use plastic items, and what to use instead.

In June 2018, a distressed whale in Thailand made headlines around the world. After an autopsy it’s cause of death was determined to be more than 80 plastic bags it had ingested. The pictures caused great concern and brought into focus the urgency of the fight against single-use plastic. This term refers to use-and-throw plastic products that are designed for one-time use, such as takeaway spoons and forks, polythene bags styrofoam cups etc. In its report on single-use plastics, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has described how single-use plastics have a far-reaching impact in the environment.

Dense quantity of plastic litter means sights such as the distressed whale in Thailand aren’t uncommon. Plastic products have been found in the airways and stomachs of hundreds of marine and land species. Plastic bags, especially, confuse turtles who mistake them for jellyfish - their food. They can even exacerbate health crises, such as a malarial outbreak, by clogging sewers and creating ideal conditions for vector-borne diseases to thrive. In 1988, poor drainage made worse by plastic clogging contributed to the devastating Bangladesh floods in which two-thirds of the country was submerged.

Plastic litter can, moreover, cause physiological harm. Burning plastic waste for cooking fuel and in open air pits releases harmful gases in the air, contributing to poor air quality especially in poorer countries where these practices are common. But plastic needn’t even be burned to cause physiological harm. The toxic chemical additives in the manufacturing process of plastics remain in animal tissue, which is then consumed by humans. These highly toxic and carcinogenic substances (benzene, styrene etc.) can cause damage to nervous systems, lungs and reproductive organs.

The European Commission recently released a list of top 10 single-use plastic items that it plans to ban in the near future. These items are ubiquitous as trash across the world’s beaches, even the pristine, seemingly untouched ones. Some of them, such as styrofoam cups, take up to a 1,000 years to photodegrade (the breakdown of substances by exposure to UV and infrared rays from sunlight), disintegrating into microplastics, another health hazard.

More than 60 countries have introduced levies and bans to discourage the use of single-use plastics. Morocco and Rwanda have emerged as inspiring success stories of such policies. Rwanda, in fact, is now among the cleanest countries on Earth. In India, Maharashtra became the 18th state to effect a ban on disposable plastic items in March 2018. Now India plans to replicate the decision on a national level, aiming to eliminate single-use plastics entirely by 2022. While government efforts are important to encourage industries to redesign their production methods, individuals too can take steps to minimise their consumption, and littering, of single-use plastics. Most of these actions are low on effort, but can cause a significant reduction in plastic waste in the environment, if the return of Olive Ridley turtles to a Mumbai beach are anything to go by.

To know more about the single-use plastics problem, visit Planet or Plastic portal, National Geographic’s multi-year effort to raise awareness about the global plastic trash crisis. From microplastics in cosmetics to haunting art on plastic pollution, Planet or Plastic is a comprehensive resource on the problem. You can take the pledge to reduce your use of single-use plastics, here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of National Geographic, and not by the Scroll editorial team.