Netflix announced Tuesday that Lucy Liu would direct the first episode of “Marvel’s Luke Cage” when the series returned for its second season, and the news was met with a bit of head-scratching and ambivalence. Sure, Liu has had a successful TV and film career, but is still making a name for herself behind the camera.
Upon further examination though, this is a really savvy move on Marvel’s part. Here’s a breakdown of why Liu joining the Netflix series is great news:
More Attention to Female TV Directors
The industry appreciation for female film directors is on the rise, and we see the parallel trend happening on TV albeit in a quieter way. While the likes of Mimi Leder, Michelle McLaren and Susanne Bier are leading the charge, many more longtime, hard-working female directors have yet to get the recognition they deserve.
Hiring Liu, who is a household name, has drawn attention to women directors as a whole, and their woeful lack of acknowledgement and inclusion. “Luke Cage” is no doubt a testosterone-driven show and only hired male directors in its first season, but having Liu on board is a heartening step in the right direction.
More Asian Americans Behind the Scenes
Recently, the presence of Asian Americans on TV have shown advancement with shows like “Fresh Off the Boat,” “Master of None” and “Andi Mack.” Unfortunately, with two main Asian American actors exiting ‘Hawaii Five-0” over pay disparity, clearly there’s more work to be done.
One way Asian Americans are seeking to provide more representation is by controlling the narrative behind the scenes — either by producing or directing shows. Daniel Dae Kim may have left “Hawaii Five-0,” but he isn’t leaving TV. His 3AD production company has a handful of shows in development, and its series “The Good Doctor” will debut on ABC this year.
Similarly, Liu has used directing to tell underrepresented stories. Her short film “Meena” is based on the true story of an Indian girl who was sold into prostitution, and calls attention to the ongoing problem of sex trafficking.
Liu Is a Visually Arresting, Emotionally Nuanced Director
Besides “Meena,” Liu has directed four episodes of her CBS series “Elementary” and an episode of “Graceland.” She is also a visual artist, having attended art school for drawing, painting and sculpture and has had several gallery shows showcasing her collage, paintings and photography. Liu has parlayed those visual arts skills into an eye for staging interactions and setting a scene, which will come in handy in the vibrant Harlem that Cheo Hodari Coker faithfully created for “Luke Cage.”
She also has a deft hand with telling characters’ stories, as seen in the heartbreaking “Meena,” which is only told in 20 minutes, and in “Elementary.” Liu recently directed “Moving Targets,” which was one of the best episodes of the show this year and featured the final, emotional scene for the late Nelsan Ellis’ character Shinwell. Although his character had been missing for the episodes prior, his last scenes were compelling and nuanced thanks to Ellis’ performance, the writing and Liu’s direction.
The pacing of “Elementary” and how it weaves together a mystery that must be unraveled by episode’s end has also been a good training ground in how to build an episode.
Liu Has the Action Cred
From an actor’s perspective, she knows action. Appearing in “Kill Bill,” “Charlie’s Angels” and hell, even “Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever” means that she knows the value of a well-placed punch or satisfying fight scene. This experience, paired with her visually strong directing skills promise for an exciting first episode back.
Liu Understands What It Means to Upend Race Expectations
“Luke Cage” is unique in how it brought Harlem to life on TV and presented a more earthbound superhero we haven’t seen the likes of before, one who proudly and fearlessly wears a hoodie. By virtue of being a black superhero, Luke Cage is automatically political simply because of today’s racially tense climate.
Liu has done her share of playing typically Asian roles but has also gone beyond those expectations also. She is one of the actors we can think of who has been cast in a racebending and genderbending role as Joan Watson, based on the white, male character John Watson from the Sherlock Holmes books. Grace Park is the other, who played Boomer in “Battlestar Galactica” (originally played by a black actor in the original series) and genderbended again as Kono on “Hawaii Five-0.”
Very simply put, being an Asian American woman who has succeeded in multiple fields and has defied expectations gives Liu a unique perspective that can only help to push a show that is already changing outlooks even further. Kudos to Marvel and Coker for having this foresight. Now if only “Iron Fist” had had such vision…