This post is a part of our New Voices Section.
Written by Courtney Small.
In season two of Netflix’s hit show Luke Cage, the titular hero (played by Mike Colter) finds himself in a downward spiral when his rage disrupts his relationship with Claire (Rosario Dawson). While this provides the show with one of its most honest emotional moments, the destructive ways love impacts the villainous Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) and her beau Hernan ‘Shades’ Alvarez (Theo Rossi) is equally captivating to watch.
Twenty years after Stella showed how she “got her groove back,” pairing older women with younger men is still treated as an anomaly in film and television. Women are rarely afforded the judgment free life that their male counterparts frequently indulge in. The numerous looks of disgust that Mariah and Shades’ romantic gestures receive is proof of this.
Mariah’s genuine affection for Shades causes her to overlook several of his costly mistakes. At one point even his friend Comanche (Thomas Q. Jones), cannot help but blurt out “that p**** must be ridiculous” after yet another irrational decision. Her love for him is real, but Mariah knows the true code to his heart has already been hacked.
Their connection will never be as deep as the one Shades and Comanche formed while incarcerated. It is because of this tender bond that Shades ignores the warning signs that Comanche might be an informant.
If there is one complaint to be had it is that the season does not go far enough with the Shades and Comanche arc. We have been conditioned by the media to associate sexual encounters between men in prison as violent acts. The notion of men finding true love behind bars has not really been explored since Oz went off the air.
Furthermore, Barry Jenkin’s Moonlight may have brought some mainstream attention to the complexities of love between men of colour, however, Hollywood has been slow to excavate this untapped mine. That film was only one minnow in a lake where LGBTQ lives are predominantly celebrated through a white lens (e.g. Will & Grace, Modern Family, Brokeback Mountain, Call Me by Your Name, to name a few).
The concept of love being the trigger that implodes a criminal organization is not new. However, in framing it within the confines of a female led May-December relationship and a male same-sex relationship, Luke Cage season two feels like a rarity.
Based in the Toronto area, Courtney is the founder of Cinema Axis and can be heard discussing film as co-host of Frameline on Radio Regent. He has contributed pieces to various publications including In the Seats, Black Girl Nerds, and Comix Asylum. Courtney also celebrates diversity in cinema as co-host of the Changing Reels podcast and is a member of the Online Film Critics Society.