'Luke Cage' Both Embraces and Transcends its Blaxploitation Roots

‘Luke Cage’ Both Embraces and Transcends its Blaxploitation Roots

Of the 40-plus new shows premiering this fall, none arrives with higher expectations or stakes than Marvel’s Luke Cage. It’s the third Netflix-Marvel collaboration, after Daredevil and Jessica Jones, and it’s the first live-action superhero series to star an African American actor. Making its debut in a year of boiling racial politics, Luke Cage is the story of a reluctant superhero, endowed with extraordinary strength and bulletproof skin, who takes on violence in the streets and corruption in the government—threats far more relatable than the alien hordes and sentient robots invading other superhero franchises. The series is loaded with allusions to black culture (the Harlem Renaissance, Jackie Robinson, Walter Mosley, the Tuskegee experiments, Malcolm X, Roots), but the most pervasive influence is the crop of swaggering crime thrillers, including Super Fly and Foxy Brown, that grew into their own genre in the 1970s. “I hate the term blaxploitation; it’s black…

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