With the right casting and more importantly, the right showrunners, Marvel has made it clear they are the standard for comics-turned-live action programs. This year is no different, as the latest series to come out of the Marvel/Netflix deal, "Luke Cage," premiered today with lots of hype.
Cheo Hodari Coker, the showrunner for the series, held a master class specifically for journalism students at Morgan State University on Thursday to share his experiences, offering insight into the direction for the series about one of the first black superheroes in the Marvel universe.
"I see ['Luke Cage'] as what I call 'inclusive blackness,'" said Coker. "When I say that the show is 'inclusively black,' I mean that it is a deep meditation on our culture, but it's done in such a way that when people watch the show, they don't feel like they're excluded from the story or the experience of watching the story."
"But I ultimately always wanted from a certain standpoint for Luke Cage to be a black superhero versus a superhero who happens to be black," he added.
Coker is known to most for his work as a producer in series such as "Southland," "Ray Donavan," and "NCIS: Los Angeles," but to hip-hop fans he is a famed journalist who wrote the screenplay for "Notorious," a biopic about the late rapper Notorious B.I.G. and also penned the 2003 Biggie bio, "Unbelievable: The Life, Death, and Afterlife of the Notorious B.I.G." Coker's background lends itself to the the gritty feel of Cage taking on the criminals of Harlem and the hip-hop influence that surrounds the series.
"I saw it as an opportunity because I like Luke Cage as a comic but also there are rare opportunities that you get as a black person in Hollywood to do a superhero story," he said when asked about his reasoning behind running "Luke Cage."
Addressing the recent issues in Hollywood with race, Coker cast the racism in the entertainment industry in a new light.
"The racism in Hollywood is not usually just 'Oh, you're black, you can't do it.' The new racism is not getting the benefit of the doubt, meaning that you're not considered for projects because you're black," he said.
The series follows the super strong black hero, who first debuted in Marvel comics in June 1972 in the "Hero for Hire" bi-monthly comic, as he tries to readjust to life in his home, his community, Harlem. Eventually, the Luke Cage character will be lead to a "Defenders" series, premiering in 2017, that will bring together Cage and other Marvel heroes from "Daredevil," "Jessica Jones," and "Iron Fist."
The work can be a bit of a stressful. Showrunner Joss Whedon, who has two "Avengers" films and the ongoing series "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." under his belt, spoke on the pressures of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
"I gotta say, it's been dark. It's been weird. It's been horrible. About a month and a half ago, I said goodbye to my kids, and I've been living in Burbank next to the studio. I feel every day like, I didn't do enough, I didn't do enough, I didn't do enough. I wasn't ready. Here's failure. Here's failure. Here's compromise. Here's compromise," Whedon said.
Coker doesn't let it get to him.
"Yes, but it's a different kind of pressure and it's not specific to Marvel. As a showrunner you're always under pressure because you don't run the show, the show runs you, that's just the nature of what it is," said Coker. Business decisions and making sure everyone falls in place is just some of the things showrunners do.
Coker, who previously worked as a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times and was a contributor at VIBE, Rolling Stone, and Essence, credits his background in journalism with helping him deal with executives and running the series.
"Say for example I want Luke to say an expression that they might not even understand because it's coming directly from our culture and I don't feel like translating it," he said, "when I'm writing these emails, I use my columnist skills to prove a point up, to come back to that point and artistically convince them that this is the way to go."
"Luke Cage" starring Mike Colter, Simone Missick, Mahershala Ali, and Alfre Woodard is now on Netflix.