- “Luke Cage” producer Gail Barringer spoke to Business Insider about the show and the importance of representation in superhero stories after “Black Panther.”
- She also discussed balancing the expectations of the show and those of the greater Netflix Marvel universe that includes “Jessica Jones” and “Daredevil.”
- She spoke about whether mass shootings in America cast a shadow over another Netflix Marvel show, “The Punisher.”
When “Black Panther” opened in theaters earlier this year, it became a box-office and cultural phenomenon, stirring conversations about a lack of superheroes of color on the big screen. But on the small screen, there was already Netflix’s “Luke Cage,” whose first season premiered in 2016, two years before audiences fell in love with “Black Panther.”
The second season debuted last month to positive critical response. The season has an 84% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes, and the show overall has an 89%, making it the best-reviewed Netflix Marvel series to date.
The show follows Cage, played by Mike Colter, a bullet-proof hero of Harlem based on the Marvel Comics character. Season two follows the events of Netflix’s “The Defenders,” the “Avengers”-style team-up show that brought together Cage, Jessica Jones, Daredevil, and Iron Fist.
Now that the second season has dropped, Business Insider spoke to the show’s producer, Gail Barringer, about representation in superhero stories and where Luke Cage fits into the larger Marvel universe. Barringer also produced the first season of Netflix’s “The Punisher,” which was postponed following the Las Vegas shooting in October (the show follows Frank Castle, played by Jon Bernthal, an ex-soldier who takes lethal revenge against those who murdered his family).
Read the interview below, which has been edited for length and clarity.
Travis Clark: “Black Panther” brought a lot more attention to the importance of a black superhero and a predominantly black cast, so do you think that changed how people would react to “Luke Cage?”
Gail Barringer: We all knew that “Black Panther” was coming out. When I saw it I was like, “Hey, we did that!” It’s so rare to see a black superhero on television anywhere. The Marvel television superheroes are grounded in reality. They live in New York City, they interact with their community on a day-to-day basis. Whereas the movie-side, it’s sensational. Wakanda is fantastic and ours is grounded in reality. I never had this in my childhood and to see this come to life, it’s so meaningful to me, and meaningful to the community. It’s important. These stories should be told and it makes you feel fantastic. “Black Panther” was such a great movie, and it made me feel excited for people to see “Luke Cage” season 2 because it hadn’t dropped at that point.
This is season 2 of “Luke Cage” so we had an existing audience. But I think what “Black Panther” did is bring awareness to the lack of black superheroes in film and the lack of black characters and casts in television and film. We need more of it, there’s so many stories to tell. You see it now with “Atlanta” and “Luke Cage” and “Queen Sugar” and “Power” … but there’s a lack of it, you need more of it. That’s what we tried to do with “Luke Cage” for sure.
Clark: Do you think that there’s any specific way that this sort of genre can do more for representation?
Barringer: We just need the air time, the stories are out there, they just need to be made. And it’s starting to happen. There’s so many different formats to watch these shows, whether it’s Netflix or Hulu or Amazon or network TV.
Clark: Do you think a show like “Luke Cage” works best on Netflix?
Barringer: I do, because it’s a story that benefits from binge-watching.
Clark: And you can binge the other Marvel shows with it.
Barringer: Right, because his character originated in “Jessica Jones,” which was great, too. So you can start with “Jessica Jones” season 1 and you see who he is and meet him and then you get into the nitty gritty with “Luke Cage.” With season 2, we really learned about Luke as a man in his community. What can he do for his community? How do you give back and take this gift that you have and pay it forward?
Clark: How important was it to make Luke the sort of character who’s involved in his community?
Barringer: Our showrunner [Cheo Hodari Coker] is brilliant and he had Luke’s arc all figured out by the time we had started prepping season 2. It’s a very Harlem-centric show. Our goal was to make Harlem a character in the series, and to make Luke’s struggle to give back to his community part of the series. And my job is to execute that vision, and that’s what we did. We had to shoot it in Harlem. We can’t be anywhere else. Again, we’re grounded in reality and realism. We want to keep the locations real, and that was important to Cheo and the writers.
Clark: Does Cheo have an arc in mind for a potential season 3?
Barringer: We’re just on cloud 9 with season 2. It’s just so exciting. It’s a long time after we wrap to relive the moments and episodes we shot, but nothing’s really happened with season 3. There’s a seed planted with the him I’m sure but we can’t really talk about it.
Clark: Do you find it challenging to balance the expectations of the show on top of the expectations of the grander Netflix Marvel universe?
Barringer: What’s challenging, but in a fun way, is you’re balancing the storytelling and on top of that you throw in the Marvel stunts, and there’s a lot of preparation for the execution of the stunts – a lot of meetings, a lot of [pre-visualization]. And Marvel does it so well because they mandate that you really put the time into that, which we love to do. And on top of that, you throw in the musical acts which are unique to “Luke Cage.” It’s a lot of juggling but I love it. It’s super fun. We get to meet all of these musical acts. We had hip-hop royalty on our set. It’s challenging but a lot of fun.
- Patrick Harbron/Netflix
Clark: The first season of “The Punisher” was pushed back after the Las Vegas shooting. And since then there has been the Sutherland Springs church shooting, Parkland, Capital Gazette … do these tragedies cast a shadow over the show?
Barringer: I think Netflix and Marvel were very sensitive and smart about pushing the release based on that horrible tragedy. I think what made it a special show was the fact that we spent a lot of time focusing on characters with PTSD and showing that Frank Castle was a sympathetic character. It’s sensitive material but I think the story behind the violence is important and gets overlooked a lot. Soldiers with PTSD are really suffering and there’s not enough help out there for them. So I think it was smart that the release was pushed but I think the show was really well-done and needed to be aired and shown, because you need to see the other side of it. It’s not about Frank Castle going around shooting people.
Clark: Do you think that Luke Cage and these other characters would work in the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe?
Barringer: I think they’ve found a great home at Netflix. It’s a great place to work and they let you do what you want to do. It takes place in New York and again, they’re grounded in reality. That’s what makes it so fun to watch is that they’re grounded in the same world we are.