Keeping Hope Alive
Resisting is EXHAUSTING. Calling out our president’s constant lies and hate-mongering, and trying desperately to protect those abused and traumatized by his policies, have been so wearying to our souls.
That’s why we need hopeful stories as much as ever right now. Stories – in film, TV, books, theater, dance, or some other form – have a profound ability to comfort, encourage, and inspire. They can lift our hearts and sustain our motivation during hard times, like this Trumpian dark age, which has sucked so much life out of so many of us.
I sometimes find hope in true stories. But I’m also renewed by fictional tales, especially those set in superhero, sci-fi, and fantasy worlds. Those genres don’t suit all tastes, I know. Yet even if you’re not a nerd, if you are a fellow Trump resister, I believe there’s no better story to sustain your activist spirit than Marvel’s new TV superhero series on Freeform, Cloak & Dagger.
It certainly has refreshed me. So seriously, binge it now before the next episode comes out this week! But if you remain unconvinced, read on!
The Start of a Beautifully Complicated Friendship
The show centers on two teenagers living in present-day New Orleans. One is a Black young man, 16 years of age, named Tyrone Johnson (played brilliantly by relative newcomer Aubrey Joseph). He lives with both of his successful parents in a big house in a country club community, balling for state championship-bound St. Sebastian’s Prep and singing in the school choir.
The other protagonist is a White young woman, 17 years of age, named Tandy Bowen (played with great emotional range by Disney Channel alumna Olivia Holt, who also sings on the show’s soundtrack). She’s living alone in an abandoned cathedral, providing for her own needs through petty thefts and con jobs. Tandy’s most stable relationship is with her partner-in-crime, Liam, who’s also her partner in sex, though she wouldn’t call him her boyfriend.
The pivotal event in both Tyrone’s and Tandy’s lives was the catastrophic explosion, eight years prior, of an oil rig owned by the company Roxxon Gulf on Louisiana’s Lake Borgne. Back then, a young Tyrone, big brother Billy, and their parents lived in New Orleans’ inner-city Ninth Ward. Young Tandy’s family, on the other hand, was quite well-off, especially from the salary drawn by her dad Nathan, a Roxxon scientist.
At the very moment of the explosion, tragedy struck both youngsters. Suspected of theft, Tyrone and Billy had been chased by policemen to the Lake Borgne boat docks. The blast startled one officer, causing him to fire his gun and striking Billy twice. Seeing his brother fall into the waters below, Tyrone desperately jumped in to save him.
The blast also triggered a massive car wreck on the bridge crossing the lake. While driving Tandy home from her ballet class, Nathan took his eyes off the rain-slicked road when he saw the Roxxon rig in the distance, engulfed in flames. Their car smashed into an 18-wheeler, knocking Nathan unconscious and plunging their vehicle into the lake.
The ensuing events would lead, miraculously, to Tyrone’s and Tandy’s first encounter, as well as their survival. It would also mark the moment when the children received their powers, though neither would know it until their very different lives collided eight years later.
Yin and Yang
It’s these powers that give the show its name. Tyrone’s and Tandy’s shocking second encounter, in the present, activates their powers. He gradually learns that he can teleport, initially using a black bed sheet like a cloak of teleportation. With practice, she finds that she can create daggers of light sharp enough to cut through metal. They also discover that their powers are inextricably linked, causing their new relationship to take on a seriously push-pull dynamic.
In a scene that epitomizes this, Tandy’s use of her abilities at a Roxxon company party teleports Tyrone to her exact location – a huge problem because he’s playing in the state basketball championship game. Irritated, he demands that she do something to send him back. She immediately pushes him over the second floor railing, believing that will help him to learn to teleport himself.
Tandy sums up their relationship, saying, “When we touch, shit goes boom. So the first question is, how close can we get to each other without triggering our crazy?”
Of course, the biggest questions really are Why them? and What for? As of episode six we don’t have a definitive answer, but the show has hinted that unseen forces are helping them to right the wrongs done to their families. There’s also the strong suggestion that these forces may soon need them to save all of New Orleans.
And if the original, comics version of Cloak & Dagger is any indication, at some point in the future, they’ll experience romance. Currently, though, that seems very far away.
They’re the Inspiration
But how is Cloak & Dagger the perfect story for resisters needing some emotional refueling? Let me count the ways it is for me! In truth, I could name a whole bunch, but TL;DR, you know? So here’s a few.
First, I’m inspired by Tyrone’s and Tandy’s fight against individuals and organizations with Trump-like values. Tyrone faces corrupt, even brutal police officers who don’t give a damn about Black lives. Tandy fights a massive corporation whose leaders sacrifice lives for profits. When I cheer them on, I feel like I’m cheering us resisters on, too.
Second, looking at the terrifically diverse cast and crew, I’m reminded that though our politics are a mess, at least the arts are still moving in the right direction. And often, as go the arts, so goes the culture; as goes the culture, so goes the law.
Not only does the production feature a number of African American actors, there’s also Peruvian American Jaime Zevallos as one of Tyrone’s mentors. And Asian America is very well represented, with the ubiquitous Tim Kang and the positively wonderful Ally Maki playing a dad and daughter who are vital to understanding Tyrone’s and Tandy’s powers. (Maki’s character, the compassionate badass scientist Mina Hess, is the most multi-dimensional Asian American TV guest role I can recall.)
Among the crew, the folks overseeing episodes include several women, like acclaimed African American director Gina Prince-Blythewood and Asian American rising star Jennifer Phang. Marvel veteran Álex García López also takes his turn at the helm, as does Wayne Yip, whose credits include my beloved Doctor Who and one of its spinoffs, the BBC’s very cool adult-themed, teen-centric, alien-populated Class. (The fact that Yip is directing the Cloak & Dagger season finale, entitled “Colony Collapse,” has got me PSYCHED.)
As go the arts, so goes the culture; as goes the culture, so goes the law. We will prevail!
Third, my hope rises as I see Tyrone and Tandy boldly go where few Americans have gone before – into a conversation about privilege with someone from a different race, gender, and socioeconomic class! We Americans desperately need to have more such convos; without them, empathy for people who are different from us becomes harder to build.
And no president in my nearly 47-year lifetime has done more to deliberately stifle empathy than our current one. He intentionally dehumanizes people who are different to prepare the way for oppressing them legally.
Talking about privilege and building empathy pushes back on that. For our heroes, the conversation goes something like this:
Now, I definitely wouldn’t recommend that anyone try to cram multiple types of privilege into such a fast and furious discussion. And hopefully, the discussion could be a little less furious. But at least our heroes are having the conversation. And when I think about the thousands of Americans watching this, and the many who will then choose to discuss privilege for the first time in their lives, I can’t help but feel good.
Fourth, I’m thrilled when I see strong women characters, and Cloak & Dagger features a bunch! Each actor in every such role contributes to strengthening feminism in our society, and nothing combats policies that harm women like a growing wave of feminists taking a stand.
In this series, Tandy is joined by other badass women: Evita (played by New Orleans native Noelle Bercy), an African American student at St. Sebastian’s; Detective Brigid O’Reilly (New Zealand’s Emma Lahana), a New Yorker just transplanted to the Crescent City; Tyrone’s mother Adina (the great Gloria Reuben); and the aforementioned Mina Hess.
Some of the most eloquent lines of the entire season are actually spoken in praise of Adina. They come from her husband Otis, Tyrone’s dad, over breakfast in the Johnson home:
Otis: (Speaking to Tyrone.) You want a role model? Look right there. (Motions toward Adina, who is on the phone.) Eight years ago, fate pushed us down hard. She got up first and picked us up along with her. You know that, right?
Tyrone: I know.
Otis: Yeah, of course you do. Hell, be more like her.
This sets a great example for men and boys to look up to women as role models!
I also have to say that I’m heartened that the strong women characters that have scenes of physical and sexual intimacy in Cloak & Dagger have a clear sense of bodily autonomy – that is, they engage in what they want, and they reject violations of their consent.
For example, in one scene, two teenagers are kissing, and their kissing is deepening when the girl giggles. The boy stops and asks if she wants him to slow down. She says she doesn’t, explicitly saying, “Green light.”
As a women’s rights activist and a sexual violence prevention educator, I give major props to show runner Joe Pokaski and his writing team for this scene. One of every five American women will be raped in her lifetime, according to the CDC, and 44 percent will experience some other form of sexual violence at some point. Our country desperately needs to see more examples like this of seeking consent!
Because we’re not getting them from President Grab-Them-by-the-Pussy, who trampled all over the personal boundaries of more than 20 women that we know of.
It’s Your Turn Now
There’s a lot more I could say. I haven’t even touched on the major daddy-daughter storylines, especially because I don’t know how I could do so without giving away big-time spoilers. I also don’t have space to discuss the way Roxxon’s rig disaster echoes the real-life BP Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, or how the show uses New Orleans itself as a symbol of resistance. Perhaps most egregiously, I haven’t delved into the series’ very cool soundtrack!
All of the above makes Cloak & Dagger the perfect show for me during these draining Trump years. It’s a series that does more than just entertain me; it re-energizes me and restores my hope.
I trust it’ll do the same for you, too, my fellow resisters! Binge away!