How Luke Cage got Marvel to let it say the N-word for the first time in its universe

'They had some trepidation, I’m not gonna front'

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The Independent Culture

Marvel and DC content has always been a bit conservative, or “absolutely right wing”, as Birdman director Alejandro G. Iñárritu once put it, opting for a safeness that won’t threaten its multi-million dollar success in its global territories.

It came with a jolt of surprise then, when new Marvel show Luke Cage aired this dialogue exchange:

Antagonist Cottonmouth: "But when the smoke clears, it’s niggas like me that let you hold on to what you got."

Politician cousin Mariah. "You know I despise that word."

Cottonmouth: "I know. It’s easy to underestimate a nigga. They never see you coming."

The N-word is used repeatedly in the show, in passing, in songs, and at one point head on, when Luke tells a stick-up boy who has just used it: “I’m not tired enough to ever let nobody call me that word.”

Though commonplace on Netflix, through which Luke Cage airs, Marvel initially had its concerns.

"They had some trepidation, I’m not gonna front,” show creator Cheo Hodari Coker told Vulture. "But my whole thing was that, in using this word, I didn't want it to be comfortable. I wanted [it to be] that, every single time that it's heard, you think about it."

Though Coker is initially trying to use any jarring qualities to his advantage, he looks forward to the word being just part of the show’s vernacular.

"I also really wanted the show to kind of live on its own terms of, This is what it's like when you eavesdrop on black people talking to each other," he added. “That word, at times, will come up in certain ways.”

Mahershala Ali, who plays Cottonmouth, pointed out: "The word has dexterity in black culture.

“You could literally say it one way one second and say it a split-second later and mean a totally different thing and a person can pick up on it.” 

Luke Cage is not the only show dealing with the complex issues surrounding the word this year, with FX’s Atlanta having touched on discomfort around white people using it.

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