Right now, Marvel fans are taking the train uptown to Harlem and making weekend plans with Netflix’s new “Luke Cage” series. All 13 episodes of the first season are now streaming, making Mike Colter’s Cage the first black lead of a Marvel Cinematic Universe project — be it television or film. The show proudly celebrates its heritage, too, through its opening credits, hip-hop score, Harlem setting and Gang Starr-inspired episode titles.
At the red carpet premiere of “Luke Cage,” CBR caught up with the series’ showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker. A veteran of such series as “Ray Donovan,” “Southland” and “Almost Human,” Coker’s putting his lifelong superhero fandom to work on “Luke Cage” — and he’s combining that love with his history as a hip-hop journalist as well.
CBR News: “Luke Cage” is going to potentially have millions of viewers, like the previous Marvel/Netflix series. What do you hope that large audience takes away from watching this particular series?
Cheo Hodari Coker: Community power. The fact that people have the opportunity to be heroes amongst themselves. Because what Luke Cage does is he’s reluctant about being a hero, but then once he does take the community on his back, he changes things for the better. But, at the same time, because we are kind of telling a Western story, he has to deal with his past. He has to deal with his connection to his past. He’s really trying his best to get along, but at the same time he has obstacles. It’s really classic storytelling, but because of the music and because of the twists we have, it’s just really a fun way to go about things.
How did you decide which music to use — like every episode being named after a Gang Starr song? Was there something specific about them?
Welll, very early, like — I was nervous when I first pitched [to Marvel]. When I pitched the show, I didn’t want to just pitch one story, I wanted to pitch an arc. And so, I kinda used an old trick from my hip-hop journalism days where when you were trying to title an article, you would take a song and use that as kind of like a cover line or a way to title your article. Gang Starr songs resonated with power in terms of the titles, and also Shonda Rhimes — because I’m a huge “Grey’s Anatomy” fan — also, each episode is named after a popular song. And so it was kind of a playful way to tell a story. And then it was interesting because when you take the title, you can extrapolate and it fits a certain theme.
The funny thing about it was that it had nothing do do with the content of the songs, so a lot of people ended up listening to the songs, but what ended up happening with that was all they got was a hip-hop education. I think people listened to it thinking they were gonna get some insights into what the show was about, but all they really did was get exposed to real hip-hop.
Have you heard from Gang Starr about your decision to name every episode after one of their songs?
DJ Premier is an old friend, and Primo is somebody I’m hoping to work with in the future so, it’s all love.
Executive produced by Cheo Hodari Coker, “Marvel’s Luke Cage” stars Mike Colter as Luke Cage, Mahershala Ali as Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes, Alfre Woodard as Mariah Dillard, Simone Missick as Misty Knight, Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple and more. The entire first season is now available to stream on Netflix.
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