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How Ty's story in Cloak and Dagger changes the game for black male superheroes

Contributed by
Mar 20, 2018

Cloak & Dagger, naturally, tells the story of the comic book superhero duo Cloak (Tyrone "Ty" Johnson) and Dagger (Tandy Bowen). The new Marvel series will star Aubrey Joseph as Cloak and Olivia Holt as Dagger, and anticipation for this new addition to Marvel's slate of television shows climbed after it screened at SXSW to favorable reviews. While Cloak & Dagger looks to match the caliber of Marvel's other shows, Ty's story in this series adds a certain layer of depth to a perspective we already don't often see.

When it comes to Black superheroes that mainstream audiences can call out by name, the list is about as short as a first grader's pinky finger. When it comes to mainstream audiences specifically naming Black male superheroes… okay, now we're just asking for too much, and the list has gotten significantly shorter. Fortunately, there has been an emergence of more Black superheroes in television and movies; however, the representation is still lacking.

Black Panther exploded onto the scene and brought us Afrofuturism and fantasy, young Black girls as scientists, Black women as fierce warriors, and a hundred other things that made the community collectively froth at the mouth and empty wallets at the theaters. Black Lightning grounds audiences with a hero's personal demons and the effects of those demons on his family. Luke Cage gives us a Black man with impenetrable skin, literally bouncing bullets off of his body.

But what's missing from this lineup?

Well, a lot of things are missing, but one void that Cloak & Dagger fills is the portrayal of a new type of superhero. Specifically, a Black male teen with superpowers as the star of a television series.

Cloak and Dagger

Credit: Freeform

Gina Prince-Bythewood (Beyond the Lights, Love & Basketball) directed the two-hour pilot episode, and it is obvious that great care was taken to showcase these characters in the most organic way possible. During the Cloak & Dagger premiere at SXSW this year, Prince-Bythewood revealed that she was drawn to this project and knew she wanted to be a part of it when her young son asked her, "How come no superheroes look like me?" While she initially wasn't interested in doing television, the story won her over, and she quickly changed her mind. She told the audience at SXSW that her goal was to make her son's favorite show.

The YA superhero subgenre on television has only begun to be tapped into, and in terms of Black teen representation in starring roles, Marvel's Runaways gives us Alex Wilder. But the difference here is that Alex doesn't actually have any superpowers, whereas Ty does. To see that portrayal onscreen means so much to people who do not see themselves portrayed positively in media and definitely don't see themselves as actual superheroes.

In the series, Ty's story varies greatly from his story in Marvel's comics. Instead of New York, the show is set in New Orleans, and instead of being a runaway, Ty is living at home with both his mother and his father. When it comes to visuals and media representation, this is a change for the better because Ty's interaction with his parents helps deepen his story, and it also dismantles stereotypes by showing a stable Black family unit — something audiences are slowly seeing more of in modern television.

For example, once Ty discovers his powers (the ability to teleport himself through the Darkforce dimension), he starts to struggle in his everyday life, and his parents take notice. Specifically, his mother grows worried and bombards him with questions about what is going on in his life, but Ty believes that his mother is smothering him. When Ty tells her that she's just worried he's going to do the wrong thing and something bad will happen to him, his mother corrects him and tells him she's worried that even if he does the right thing, something bad will happen to him.

Pause for a moment of silence.

Cloak and Dagger

Credit: Freeform

That is the moment Ty's story goes from entertaining to relatable. So many Black mothers worry about their sons and what will happen to them every time they leave the house, and considering what happens to Ty early on in the show (which won't be spoiled here), his mother's concern is one hundred percent understandable. Ty's family is wealthy, but that doesn't make him immune to the realities of being a young, Black boy in America, especially being a young, Black boy in the South. He isn't invulnerable to gun violence and injustice, and that harsh fact is made clear during the very first minutes of the pilot episode.

The premiere of Cloak & Dagger is refreshing and organic in every way, and Prince-Bythewood brings a fresh perspective to an already crowded superhero narrative space. As a network, Freeform doesn't shy away from real-world problems in teens' lives, whether it be sex, addiction, or gun violence, and Tandy and Ty's stories look to be no different. Aubrey and Olivia have great on-screen chemistry, and it will be exciting to see what the show does next.

The only downside is that we have to wait until June to find out.

Cloak & Dagger premieres on June 7 on Freeform.