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July 11, 2018

Producer Gail Barringer on Striking the Perfect Balance in ‘Luke Cage’

We talk to Gail Barringer about how ‘Luke Cage’ blends an engaging story with an ode to Harlem, a socially important message, engaging action, and soulful music.

The Marvel Netflix Universe is continuing along with the recent release of Luke Cage season 2. This new season shows Power Man (Mike Colter) struggling to find balance within his relationships, business, and emotional wellbeing as he accepts his role as Harlem’s hero. As new threats and dangers emerge, he has to overcome his problems in order to be the hero Harlem deserves.

I once expressed hope that Luke Cage season 2 would stand above the first season because of this show’s importance to television. Well, my hopes have been fulfilled because Luke Cage’s sophomore season is fantastic. It takes all the great aspects of the first season and builds upon its faults. Season 2 brings an engaging, action-packed story centered around Luke’s drive to grow into his role as Harlem’s protector. Backed by beautiful visuals and complimentary music, this season the villain vs hero dichotomy is much more focused than the first, providing an engaging story worth thoughtful analysis.

While Luke may be struggling with balance in his own life, this show itself has always shown incredible balance. Luke Cage has distinguished itself by juggling unique elements and perspectives unseen before in the superhero genre. It’s a superhero show with action and explosions, but it also remains grounded in reality through its celebration of Harlem, black culture, and music. It features a compelling story about a man trying to overcome the bad hand society gave him mixed into a family crime drama that spirals out of control.

We spoke to producer Gail Barringer, who also produced The Punisher and Person of Interest, about this balance that Luke Cage strives for. We talked about the importance of maintaining balance in the story and spectacle while also conveying important messages and celebrating beautiful culture.

This season, the story is pretty heavy, but it’s actually more thoughtful and comprehensive than the first. While watching Luke beat down thugs and gangsters is a lot of fun, this season also gives us a lot to think about. It reminds us that that sometimes you have to let go before you can push through. In order to bring us a compelling plot, Barringer remarks that they had to stay focused on what works in this show.

“We just wanted really concise storytelling by staying in the tone of family and family drama,” she said. “This is a true crime family, we watch the rise of some and the demise of others.”

Luke Cage is unique because it presents a socially important message within its family drama story that’s usually unattempted. It doesn’t shy away from tough topics like racism, but it faces them head-on. For a show like Luke Cage, it is certainly important to take advantage of your audience size and present messages that are challenging and compelling. Barringer explains that it’s their responsibility to bring awareness to what happens in communities like Harlem. To show how Harlem residents live day-to-day.

“We have a message and we’re going to put it out there and you can consider it preachy, but this is what’s happening in our world and we’re going to show it,” she said.

However, they don’t just show the sad, devastating effects of racism. They show the importance of overcoming your current trials. This season brings us on a ride through Luke’s character growth. In particular, Luke deals with a lot of anger with how society has labeled him which affects the relationships in his life. He has to learn to not just wallow in his grief and anger but to learn how to overcome his problems so that he can grow into the hero and the man he needs to be.

“You can push through it and come out on the other side,” explains Barringer. “But it’s not always simple. Which is why we didn’t fix his problem in the next episode, it took a whole season for him to come through.”

Luke Cage is more than just a rock ’em sock ’em superhero show. It blends thoughtful story and a poignant message within its fun action and adventure. It’s grounded in reality, which makes the trials that Luke faces oh so familiar. As we watch Luke grow and overcome his trials, it’s easy to see how relatable his struggle is. While the common man may not be dealing with gangsters and Jamaican bushmasters, we all know how important it is to rise up and conquer the issues that face us.

This show also tells its powerful story through its music. It uses beautiful music like soul, R&B, hip-hop, reggae, and the blues to convey the emotional weight behind the story. While many shows and movies use music to hone you into the drama, Luke Cage is unique. It uses music specific to black culture which parallels the story so perfectly, establishing just the right tone and vibe for the show. It’s powerful and tastefully well done.

“What makes Luke so special is a combination of three factors,” said Barringer. “It’s your hero grounded in reality, it’s your superhero element that everybody loves––the fighting, the explosions––and then you have the musical element, which is an essential part of the storytelling.”

Luke Cage captures all this while also showcasing the beauty and wonder of Harlem. This show does an incredible job at capturing the essence and the aesthetic of Harlem because it’s such an important aspect of the show. Harlem is so unique and intrinsic to the culture that they had to showcase the city as accurately as possible. They had to bring the audience to Harlem which Barringer believes is crucial to the nature of the show.

“It’s a love letter to Harlem,” Barringer said. “There’s just so much history, so much music, so much architecture. We wanted to show all the different areas of Harlem that not everyone sees. It’s such a beautiful part of the city and we loved being there. It was really important for us to show everything, to shoot everywhere. That you get the parks, the restaurants, the streets, the churches, everything was up there. We were really honored to be able to shoot there as much as we did. It’s a character in the show and it helped set the mood of the show tonally. You’re in this historic neighborhood and it enhances the story.”

Luke Cage season 2 really does strike balance perfectly. It features smart, engaging characters living through a thoughtful, provoking story, all while immersing you into the beautiful world of Harlem and black culture. Watching this show truly is a comprehensive and challenging experience and we can all learn from Luke’s journey.

All episodes of Luke Cage are available to stream now on Netflix.

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