'Luke Cage' is the blackest show on TV, and I am totally here for it.

A spoiler-free review of the power-packed Netflix original.

Before this weekend, I didn't know I needed Luke Cage in my life.

The latest superhero TV drama, airing on Netflix, stars Mike Colter as Luke Cage, an escaped fugitive living in Harlem who has had greatness (in the form of superpowers) thrust upon him. Now he's using abilities to right wrongs in his community.

Luke Cage (Colter) surveys some damage. Image from Marvel's "Luke Cage," courtesy of Netflix.


I'm now halfway through 13 episodes of bone-crunching, gun-bending, superhero content from the same universe that gave us "The Avengers," "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," and "Jessica Jones." And so far, I have no complaints.

Before this weekend, I didn't know I needed a show that is blacker than black.

"Luke Cage" isn't "sassy black friend" black. Nor is it "consult a magical negro" black. It's "playing chess in a barber shop" black. It's "history lessons on Crispus Attucks while being mugged" black.

This show is truly, deeply, proudly black.

Image from Marvel's "Luke Cage," courtesy of Netflix.

Between kicks and punches, "Luke Cage" addresses issues like the criminal justice system, fatherhood, and the n-word. It name-drops writers like Donald Goines and Chester Himes in one scene and cuts to a blink-and-you'll-miss-it nod to famous New York street photographer Jamel Shabazz in the next.

"Luke Cage" is not blackness for the masses. It's blackness for black people. And if you don't get it? Too damn bad.

This blackness is no accident, either. It's by design.

"I’m not one of these people that says, 'Oh, Luke Cage happens to be black,'" creator and show runner Cheo Hodari Coker told Vanity Fair. "No, he’s black all day because I’m black all day. There’s just no way around that."

Image from Marvel's "Luke Cage," courtesy of Netflix.

Before this weekend, I didn't know I needed a show that centered on Harlem not as a setting but as a character.

Even after only one episode, we're shown a full and diverse Harlem community: political leaders, business owners, parents, seniors, kids on basketball courts, and dudes in barber shops. Not just black people, but Asian-Americans, too. And Latinx and a handful of white gentrifiers. There are families who've been in Harlem for generations and those just settling in. This is the real Harlem.

Luke Cage (Colter) and Claire Temple (played by Rosario Dawson). Image from Marvel's "Luke Cage," courtesy of Netflix.

The characters seem to know each other. They know their mamas; they know the parks they hang out in. This is important because Harlem is not just a setting for an action show. Harlem is a character, commentary, and changing world. Harlem shows that these are real people affected by the larger-than-life supervillains of any Marvel outing and also by the low-level street toughs.

Plus, characters on all sides are fighting to take their community, Harlem, back. Cops, criminals, and politicians (and even Cage himself) think they know the best way to do this. Only unlike other shows or characters with similar goals, this time we recognize clearly exactly what and who they're fighting for.

"I don't believe in Harlem," Cage says in one scene, "I believe in the people who make Harlem what it is." When Cage believes, we believe too.

Before this weekend, I didn’t know I needed a show with women who kick ass and take names.

The women of "Luke Cage" are more than sex objects or empty motivators for our hero to act. They are complex, highly capable, talented, and driven.

Detective Misty Knight (played by Simone Missick) is a familiar face from the original Luke Cage comics, and while she's not fighting sharks (yet!), she's a badass detective and a hero.

Missick as Misty Knight. Image from Marvel's "Luke Cage," courtesy of Netflix.

Councilwoman Mariah Dillard (played by Alfre Woodard), is a complicated character who wants to reclaim her community for the black families who've always called it home. But her vision for a New Harlem Renaissance comes at a heavy price, and we see Dillard weigh these consequences against a future she desperately wants for herself and her constituents.

Woodard as Mariah Dillard. Image from Marvel's "Luke Cage," courtesy of Netflix.

And you can't forget Dr. Claire Temple, Connie Lin, or Reva. No matter how often or how long they're on screen, these women do more than just serve male storylines. And it's about damn time.

Before this weekend, I didn’t know I needed a show with a bulletproof black man wearing a hoodie.

But I did. I really, really did.

After a summer with too many bullet-ridden bodies, it was satisfying to watch a character like Luke Cage own the screen.

Image from Marvel's "Luke Cage," courtesy of Netflix.

He's the son of a preacher, a stand-up man who doesn’t swear. He reads voraciously, works two jobs, knows how to make a damn good cosmo, and he somehow never gets ashy. I'm pretty sure he's one of the "strong black brothas" En Vogue sang about in "Free Your Mind." Bullets bend and ricochet off his body, leaving tears in his clothes but never on his smooth brown skin.

Luke Cage has strong arms and a stronger character. He cracks bones and twists guns in half not for the hell of it. He does it for his neighborhood and his chosen family. And he does it all in a hoodie (yeah, that's no accident either).

GIF via "Luke Cage."

After too much injustice in our world and too many deaths, I as a black woman just needed to feel like I was on a winning team. Even if it was just for a few hours from the comfort of my couch. "Luke Cage" gave me something to cheer about. It reminded me just how strong we already are.

Before this weekend, I didn't know I needed "Luke Cage."

And I don't need Luke Cage the way I need water or air. But I do need him the way you need to remember the lyrics to a song you once knew, a song that made you dance with abandon.

"How does it go?" you ask no one in particular. It's inescapable, unresolved. And then, suddenly, when you least expect it, there it is. Like an old friend. And you wonder how you managed without that missing piece, however small, for so long.

I didn't know I needed Luke Cage. But I really, really did.

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As a child, Dr. Sangeeta Bhatia's parents didn't ask her what she wanted to be when she grew up. Instead, her father would ask, "Are you going to be a doctor? Are you going to be an engineer? Or are you going to be an entrepreneur?"

Little did he know that she would successfully become all three: an award-winning biomedical and mechanical engineer who performs cutting-edge medical research and has started multiple companies.

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"They made enormous sacrifices to pick a town with great public schools and really push us to excel the whole way," Bhatia says. "They really believed in us, but they expected excellence. The story I like to tell about my dad is like, if you brought home a 96 on a math test, the response would be, 'What'd you get wrong?'"

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Don't test on animals. That's something we can all agree on, right? No one likes to think of defenseless cats, dogs, hamsters, and birds being exposed to a bunch of things that could make them sick (and the animals aren't happy about it, either). It's no wonder so many people and organizations have fought to stop it. But did you ever think that maybe brands are testing products on us too, they're just not telling us they're doing it?

I know, I know, it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but that's exactly what e-cigarette brands like JUUL (which corners the e-cigarette market) are doing in this country right now, and young people are on the frontlines of the fallout. Most people assume that the government would have looked at devices that allow people to inhale unknown chemicals into their lungs BEFORE they hit the market. You would think that someone in the government would have determined that they are safe. But nope, that hasn't happened. And vape companies are fighting to delay the government's ability to evaluate these products.

So no one really knows the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use, not even JUUL's CEO, nor are they informing the public about the potential risks. On top of that, according to the FDA, there's been a 78% increase in e-cigarette usage among high school and middle school-aged children in just the last two years, prompting the U.S. Surgeon General to officially recognize the trend as an epidemic and urge action against it.

These facts have elicited others to take action, as well.

Truth Initiative, the nonprofit best known for dropping the real facts about smoking and vaping since 2000 through its truth campaign, is now on a mission to confront e-cigarette brands like JUUL about the lack of care they've taken to inform consumers of the potential adverse side effects of their products. And they're doing it with the help of animal protesters who are tired of seeing humans treated like test subjects.

The March Against JUUL | Tested On Humans | truth www.youtube.com

"No one knows the long-term effects of JUULing so any human who uses one is being used as a lab rat," says, appropriately, Mario the Sewer Rat.

"I will never stop fighting JUUL. Or the mailman," notes Doug the Pug, the Instagram-famous dog star.

Truth, the national counter-marketing campaign for youth smoking prevention, hopes this fuzzy, squeaky, snorty animal movement arms humans with the facts about vaping and inspires them to demand transparency from JUUL and other e-cigarette companies. You can get your own fur babies involved too by sharing photos of them wearing protest gear with the hashtag #DontTestOnHumans. Here's some adorable inspo for you:

The dangerous stuff is already out there, but with knowledge on their side, young people will hopefully make the right choices and fight companies making the wrong ones. If you need more convincing, here are the serious facts.

Over the last decade, 127 e-cigarette-related seizures were reported, which prompted the FDA to launch an official investigation in April 2019. Since then, over 215 cases of a new, severe lung illness have sprung up all over the country, with six deaths to date. While scientists aren't yet sure of the root cause, the majority of victims were young adults who regularly vaped and used e-cigarettes. As such, the CDC has launched an official investigation into the potential link.

Sixteen-year-old Luka Kinard, a former frequent e-cigarette-user, is one of the many teens who experienced severe side effects. "Vaping was my biggest addiction," he told NowThis. "It lasted for about 15 months of my high school career." In 2018, Kinard was hospitalized after having a seizure. He also had severe nausea, chest pains, and difficulty breathing.

After the harrowing experience, he quit vaping, and began speaking out about his experience to help inform others and hopefully inspire them to quit and/or take action. "It shouldn't take having a seizure as a result of nicotine addiction like I had for teens to realize that these companies are taking advantage of what we don't know," Kinard said.

Teens are 16 times more likely to use e-cigarettes than adults, and four times more likely to take up traditional smoking as a result, according to truth, and yet the e-cigarette market remains virtually unregulated and untested. In fact, companies like JUUL continue to block and prevent FDA regulations, investing more than $1 million in lawyers and lobbying efforts in the last quarter alone.

Photo by Lindsay Fox/Pixabay

Consumers have a right to know what they're putting in their bodies. If everyone (and their pets) speaks up, the e-cigarette industry will have to make a change. Young people are already taking action across the country. They're hosting rallies nationwide and on October 9 as part of a National Day of Action, young people are urging their friends and classmates to "Ditch JUUL." Will you join them?

For help with quitting e-cigarettes, visit thetruth.com/quit or text DITCHJUUL to 88709 for free, anonymous resources.

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