Meaghan McDonough ’17 / TV Staff Writer
In the weeks since Marvel’s Luke Cage broke Netflix during the final weekend of September, showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker hasn’t gotten a break—and why should he? As the creator of Marvel’s most anticipated new series and the writer behind “the world’s first bullet proof black man,” Coker has earned the spotlight. Interviews with dozens of media outlets have shown Coker to be tirelessly geeky, socially conscious, and deeply steeped in Luke Cage’s lore and life; all the things one could ever want from the man behind Marvel’s first unapologetically black protagonist.
But Coker truly set himself apart from Marvel’s other creators by doing something few Marvel creators—nay, few men in television in general—have ever done: name-dropping female influences.
In a recent interview for The New Yorker, Coker, when asked about the importance of the diversity among Luke Cage’s black female characters, responded, “When you look at the success of “How to Get Away with Murder” and “Scandal,” and also some of the supporting characters on “Grey’s Anatomy,” Shonda Rhimes in particular was one of the first in a mainstream context to have very strong, complex black female characters. That was a huge influence on me.”
Name-dropping Shonda Rhimes, for Coker, is no small nod either; he knows the value of reference. Luke Cage is a painstaking homage black culture—the literature, the music, the history, the language, the community—and packs innumerable references in each and every episode. These references are designed for fans to try and pick out and dissect. Luke Cage demands that it’s viewers check source material to make sure no small detail is missed; all stones of black culture must be overturned. From the Gang Starr songs that title the episodes to the books on Cage’s bookshelf, no reference is too small not to mean something to the narrative.
In publicly citing Rhimes as an influence, Coker cites his source material. He recognizes the value of having black women write black women—what can be gained from a creator who understands their material because they are their material. Moreover, he’s giving credit where credit is so often forgotten: women writers inspiring men to write their women better.
In the male-dominated world of comic franchises, it’s not only hard to find strong women characters, but it’s hard to find strong women writers to write them. But with Coker citing Rhimes as his influence, there might be hope yet. Simone Missick, soon to star Misty Knight in her own spin-off series, is already calling to have Shonda as the showrunner.
Whether or not Rhimes will have time, with all her work in the wonderful world of Shondaland, is yet to be seen. But it’s still nice to have everyone at the table for the conversation.