Bulletproof Love: Symbolism and Racial Injustice in Luke Cage

Method Man plays himself in episode Soliloquy of Chaos and offers a soliloquy on racial injustice through his rap Bulletproof Love. He prefaces the performance by stating, “Bulletproof always gonna come second to being black…You know, there’s somethin’ powerful about seeing a black man that’s bulletproof and unafraid.”

Method Man contextualizes Luke Cage’s superpower within the black experience. He acknowledges superpowers provide privilege, but that privilege is qualified by being black. The statement not only informs a black superhero’s experience, but also the experience of blacks accessing others forms of privilege. The dialogue surrounding Colin Kaepernick’s recent protests during the National Anthem embodies this concept. Detractors tried to delegitimize his protest because his background and profession give him access to privilege, which wholly discounts Kaepernick’s lived experience as a black man.

Method Man’s strong introduction to Bulletproof Love, however, is juxtaposed with strained lyrics. The tribute to Cage involves comparisons to historical figures in the Civil Rights Movement. Method Man compares Luke Cage to Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., “And the cops got it wrong We don’t think Cage involved/Look, dog, a hero, never had one/Already took Malcolm and Martin This is the last one.” The comparison falls flat where King and X were outspoken against racial injustice, although with differing solutions to the problem. Tragically, they were not bulletproof and assassinated. Cage, on the other hand, is bulletproof but silent on racial injustice. The comparison highlights Cage as an inversion of X and King. The lyrics project an ideal onto Cage rather than reflect his ideals.

Method Man’s lyrics also raise a more controversial comparison. He describes two men that held up a convenience store as “thugs,” but also describes Cage as a “bulletproof thug.” The term “thug” is often used as coded language to refer to a person’s race without using racial identifiers. The term has been used to describe protestors of racial injustice, and using the term is often met with backlash because of the connotation. The lyrics create a dichotomy of “good thug” and “bad thug” without a clear delineation. What makes a person a “thug” is ambiguous and potentially dangerous where the commonality in the show is skin tone. The ambiguity, however, is expected where the term is also used affectionately within communities to describe a person displaying “a healthy sort of countercultural initiative.” The ambiguity of “thug” parallels the ambiguity of the “N-word,” which is interesting where Mike Colter, the actor that plays Cage, believes that Cage is “not a person that used that language.”

Bulletproof Love is played over a montage of black men wearing hoodies that emulate Cage’s bullet-riddled hoodie. Outside the Marvel Universe the hoodie became a symbol of social injustice after George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin. Celebrities, athletes, and politicians donned hoodies to show solidarity with black communities that face significant disparities in police brutality and violence. Acknowledging whether race-based disparities in policing even exists varies greatly along racial lines, which made the hoodie a divisive symbol.

Method Man’s lyric, “Give up my life For Trayvon to have one,” demonstrates that Trayvon Martin’s death is not detached from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, nor is the symbolic use of the hoodie. Mike Colter acknowledges the nod to Trayvon Martin, noting that the show is not avoiding the political implications. The show’s creator, Cheo Hadari Coker, has also stated, “I’m not going to shy away from who this character is and what it represents and the possibilities of it.” Aside from these remarks, the interaction between the title character and the symbolic clothing lacks meaningful chemistry. Cage does not engage contemporary dialogue on race that is suggested, if not demanded, by the hoodie. The garment is saturated with complex racial issues, but Cage himself is simply left dry.

Moreover, the show’s use of the hoodie becomes confused when Cage is stopped by police officers in episode DWYCK. He is condescendingly questioned by one officer while another officer identifies as him as a wanted person. Cage is ordered to put his hands behind his back and to get on the ground. Cage, however, raises his hands up, and starts to take a knee. One officer tells Cage he is under arrest, and Cage slaps him unconscious. Cage then slams the other officer onto a police cruiser.

Cage’s raised hands evoke the “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” protests that emerged after Michael Brown was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, MO. The “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” protest mantra has been used to demonstrate nonviolence, but Cage uses his raised hands as an offensive tactic. He psychologically disarms the police to have them believe he is complying with orders and then uses his superpowers to attack them. This scene contrasts with those who embrace the meaning behind “Hands Up Don’t Shoot.” Montague Simmons, head of the Organization for Black Struggle, stated the mantra informs others that, “Just because I’m black and male, and you may have thoughts that I am criminal or I am a threat, doesn’t make it so, and doesn’t give you an excuse to kill or injure me.” Cage appears to reinforce rather than subvert the stereotype noted by Mr. Simmons.

Bulletproof Love addresses race issues, which is what Marvel wanted to occur throughout the series. To the show’s credit, there are many ways this is done successfully. Bulletproof Love, however, highlights that Luke Cage is a symbol of racial injustice without substance. He wears the politically charged hoodie over bulletproof black skin, but he remains silent on discriminatory policing. Ironically, it appears that Cage uses his superhero privilege to refrain from engaging the symbolism that pervades the show: he puts bulletproof before black.





One thought on “Bulletproof Love: Symbolism and Racial Injustice in Luke Cage

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