A version of this story on Mahershala Ali first appeared in the print edition of TheWrap Magazine’s Fall TV Issue.
Mahershala Ali plays the nemesis to Luke Cage, a former convict with superhuman strength, in Marvel Television’s Netflix adaptation of the comic-book series that emerged in the wake of the popular blaxploitation films of the early 1970s.
Tell us about “Luke Cage,” and about your character.
“Luke Cage” is about a reluctant superhero who lives in the shadows in Harlem. He has to decide if he’s going to step up and fight for the heart of the city, and defend the people against Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes, my character, who kinda wants to keep everything in order and intact. I’m the criminal element in the story.
Were you a fan of the “Luke Cage” comics, or a comic fan in general?
No, I honestly wasn’t. I really wasn’t into comic books growing up. But I definitely appreciate the genre, because a lot of it is being explored, and some of the better characters are in the comic book genre right now.
Do you think it’s a big deal to have a show like this, in this genre, with a predominantly black cast?
You want to get to the point where you can just take it for granted, right? So the fact that that’s part of it that gets so much attention is more of a statement on why we need it.
You want entertainment in general, every aspect of it, to be more of a reflection of the diverse world that we live in. Cultures and races are mixing in a very organic way in the world, and that should be reflected in film and television.
I loved going to superhero films growing up — you come home and you pretend to be those people, and it ends up informing much of what you aspire to be. And that’s what I will say is important about the genre.
As young people you want to see people who in some way look like you to some degree, because it makes it a little easier for you to aspire to take on the qualities of those people.
Netflix will begin streaming “Luke Cage” on Sept. 30.
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