Netflix Is No Match for Audiences’ “Luke Cage” Cravings


So many fans wanted to watch Luke Cage, the highly anticipated Marvel superhero show, that Netflix crashed and no one could watch for a few hours.

It happened to HBO Go during the True Detective season one finale and the Game of Thrones season six premiere. And now, it has happened to Netflix. On Sunday, the streaming service was down for more than two hours – a window that coincided with the debut of Luke Cage, Marvel’s latest superhero show.

Created by Cheo Hodari Coker, a writer on shows such as Southland and Almost Human, Luke Cage follows a former convict who fights crime in Harlem using his superhuman strength and impenetrable skin. It’s the third entry in Marvel’s Defenders mini-franchise, succeeding Daredevil and Jessica Jones, in which Luke Cage appeared as the titular detective’s love interest, and preceding Iron Fist, which will star Game of Thrones’ Finn Jones as a martial arts expert (yeah, sigh). If all goes according to plan, the four superheroes will come together in a Defenders crossover miniseries, similar to the way Marvel’s cinematic efforts culminated with The Avengers.

Although Daredevil and Jessica Jones received plenty of hype, never before has demand for a single show caused Netflix to crash. The difference? Luke Cage features a majority-black cast, including Mike Colter as Luke, Rosario Dawson (at last a series regular after popping up in guest roles on Daredevil and Jessica Jones), Mahershala Ali, Simone Missick, and Alfre Woodard. It’s a sorely needed outlier amid the otherwise lily-white superhero landscape, in which people of color are relegated to sidekicks and cartoonish villains, if they’re visible at all. Furthermore, the show actively engages with race, commenting on relevant issues such as respectability politics and police brutality.

Ideally, Marvel, Netflix, and other studios will see this incident as evidence that, contrary to ignorant beliefs, there’s a sizable audience for stories with people of color at the center. Marvel’s future projects, most notably Ryan Coogler and Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther and a Spider-Man movie with Zendaya as Mary Jane Watson, suggest that the company is beginning to see the value in demographics other than white men. Realistically, though, Luke Cage will likely have minimal influence on the status quo. After all, numerous movies and shows about people of color have achieved success before, only for the powers that be to dismiss them as flukes.

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Part of the problem is that because streaming platforms decline to release in-depth viewership data, we have no way of knowing how popular Luke Cage and other Netflix shows actually are. That means executives can claim The Ridiculous Six is the most-watched movie in Netflix’s history and expect people to just take their word for it. In general, attempts to distill TV viewing habits into hard numbers are flimsy, as DVRs and streaming render live-viewing increasingly obsolete, and networks factor social media chatter into their assessments of a program’s success. Still, transparency would force Netflix to support their boasts with something at least resembling tangible proof.

For the time being, we’ll have to rely on technical difficulties.