LUKE CAGE is a show that people usually cite as a good example of representation. It does its best to represent the cultures it encompasses in its plotlines and takes care to write realistically about the struggles of black people and other people of color. However, the recent season shone a light on a glaring problem with representation in the show: the LGBT rep is sorely lacking.

In season 2 of LUKE CAGE, we have three examples of LGBT people — of those three, two are dead. In fact, the show never even shows us one of the gay characters. The show only has characters mention him by name. The storyline between Comanche and Shades isn’t exactly a shining example of representation either, especially considering Comanche winds up dead.

The Dillard Family & Gay Erasure

We don’t find out until towards the latter half of the season that Jackson Dillard was a gay man. While the show already heavily implied that Tilda was not Jackson’s, and it’s not a difficult leap to assume who Tilda’s biological father was, there wasn’t necessarily a “reason” to make Jackson gay. It’s seldom that I argue that a character shouldn’t be gay — but the writing around Jackson makes me uncomfortable.

Firstly, we never even see Jackson. His name comes up a lot, sure, mostly used by Mariah as a political tool. However, we never get to see this man as a person. Jackson is merely, to borrow Mariah’s own words, a “fantasy.” Secondly, his character story is one specifically of erasure. Mariah’s use of Jackson Dillard helped “clear his name” in his death. Jackson Dillard is a character who Mariah (and even Tilda) erases and recreates to serve her own ends.

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It’d be one thing if there were better examples of gay characters in this season. Maybe, if there were other representations, Jackson’s purpose to the plot wouldn’t rub me the wrong way. However, he is the only character in the season that the show uses the word “gay” for. Shades and Comanche discuss their relationship, and it’s made somewhat explicit, but we aren’t given any labels. Jackson, the only LGBT character in the season with a set label, is a ghost who is being mistreated even in death.

Bury Your Gays

It’s arguable that Jackson also falls into the “bury your gays” trope since he is a dead gay character. Even without arguing for that, however, Comanche definitely fits the trope to a tee. The trope refers to the fact that gay characters in media very seldom live to the end of the story. The only LGBT character who survives season 2 is Shades, and even then he’s the one who murders Comanche in the first place, and he ends up in prison.

representation LUKE CAGE
Image courtesy of Netflix and Marvel Entertainment

Bury your gays has been pinpointed as a trope to highlight that LGBT people are almost always subjects in tragedy. It’s not very often that we see stories of LGBT people thriving and living happy lives — media instead gives us stories like BOYS DON’T CRY or BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. The problem isn’t that it’s a bad thing to highlight the struggles homophobia causes… it’s that LGBT people grow up never seeing an option where they can be happy in this world.

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LUKE CAGE season 2 falls right into this pattern, sadly. Jackson Dillard was a gay man whose family rejected him, forcing him to hide his sexuality in both life and after his tragic death. Comanche and Shades are both trapped in lives of crime, and neither of them makes it out — one ends up dead, and the other ends up in prison. There’s no specific reason that the gay characters in LUKE CAGE had to be tied only to the villains’ side of the story… and yet, here we are.

More Harmful Tropes

When it comes to personal tastes, I was all over Shades’ and Comanche’s relationship like white on rice. I love tragic evil people. That said, my personal tastes aren’t what we’re examining here — we’re examining how stereotypical tropes can do real harm. The idea of men getting together sexually because of prison is already laden with a ton of negative assumptions. The storyline that continues through the season around the tension between Shades, Comanche, and Mariah doesn’t make things any better.

representation LUKE CAGE
Image courtesy of Netflix and Marvel Entertainment

Shades’ side of things involves a lot of internalized homophobia. He insists that his relationship with Comanche only sprung forth out of necessity. He values his relationship with Mariah — a heterosexual relationship — as more “real” than the one with Comanche. This by itself is painful enough to watch, but there’s a special sprinkling of homophobia from Mariah’s side of things as well. Her belief that Shades can’t fully commit because he was in a relationship with a man before and her bitter jokes about BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN struck a nerve.

The issue, again, really lies in the lack of a counterpoint. Shades and Mariah are villains. They’re very well-written villains. It’s not surprising that they spout homophobic ideas (even about themselves) or that they didn’t get a happy ending. The thing about representation is that one member of an oppressed group is assumed to represent all of them — meaning that without any protagonists or even civilians who are LGBT, Shades is the only example of LGBT life that we currently have in LUKE CAGE. Which…yikes.

Other Options For LGBT Rep in LUKE CAGE

I think the frustrating thing about the season for me is that the show could’ve made other choices. The LGBT characters that the season gives us feel poorly thought out, which is a shame for a show that clearly puts time and effort into the representation for people of color, especially black people. If creators treat representation like a punch-card or a quota rather than understanding why it matters, it can lead to issues like this.

Mostly, I wonder why the creators didn’t think to have to tie any gay characters to our protagonists’ stories. Is there any particular reason why D.W. couldn’t be gay? Or a reason why there couldn’t be an inclusion of some civilians that are gay? While I’d love for the show to confirm the main character as LGBT, even side characters could help balance out the way the gay storylines currently only tie into the antagonists’ stories.

Seriously though, catch me single-handedly crusading for this ship. Image courtesy of Netflix and Marvel Entertainment

If we leave our understanding of the representation of “there are gay characters,” we fail to understand how representation affects us more deeply. Sure, there are gay characters in LUKE CAGE… but what do those characters mean for LGBT viewers? Currently, not anything all that great. Especially when considering that we could’ve had, say, a relationship between Misty and Colleen, it feels a bit frustrating.

Representation, Netflix’s Marvel Shows & The Future

While the current state of representation irritated me, it’s not like I’m going to toss LUKE CAGE in the trash or write it off entirely as a show. As an LGBT person myself, the lack of good representation in the Netflix shows is starting to grate on my nerves, though. There’s no particular reason for it, either, and I think that’s likely the worst part. Marvel has gay characters, and as an adaptation, Netflix has the liberties to give us even more gay characters.

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Giving us more LGBT representation means more than just throwing a gay person randomly into the mix, though. Nowadays, LGBT people deserve stories where we can be the main characters and be happy. LGBT people deserve to see stories about their lives focused on something other than suffering. LUKE CAGE may be about the struggle in lots of ways, but it still allows its protagonists some happiness.

Is it so much to ask for LGBT characters to get that, as well?

Image courtesy of Netflix and Marvel Entertainment

There are other chances, of course. Season 3 of LUKE CAGE is already in the works, and we have more Netflix series to look forward to in general. I trust LUKE CAGE when it comes to representation for people of color, and I believe they could do a great job with their LGBT representation going forward. As of right now, we’re to a bit of a rocky start…but that doesn’t mean we’re stuck there. With a show that’s been getting better with each passing season, I have a lot of hope.

One Comment

  1. james romeo

    August 7, 2018 at 4:43 pm

    What? Luke Cage has at least 2 gay leads, and a major 3rd character. Yet you are still complaining? And D.W.? are you serious? Dude doesn’t even have an identified sexuality, HE COULD BE ANDROGYNOUS AND YOU JUST ASSIGNED HIM A SEXUALITY? wtf? If this show had any more gay intonations it would be Moonlight. I really don’t understand where this is coming from. Gay and lesbians are just now starting to have their own media, in the same era that gay and lesbian individuals are starting to come out of the closet. It didn’t take 275 years of open hatred and oppression. and it is still taboo in the African american communities to the point that even this, black men admitting their desires for other men is a huge step. We affirm the reality we want to see, and it sounds to me as though even if every single character were gay, trans , lesbian, or queer there would still not be enough LGBTQ in it. Instead of seeing the clear positive, hey theres a show with important characters of depth that are also homosexual, you look for the reality you want which is there is not enough. I watch Luke Cage and other Marvel for the action and drama but not the mushy relationships. Skip me on that stuff. Its so unneeded and unnecessary its become a Netflix marvel trope (btw i love your use of this word and your writing is so great.)


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