Oftentimes in filming movie and TV shows, scenes that are supposed to take place in a specific city are filmed in an entirely different city that acts as a stand-in for budgetary reasons. For instance, Marvel’s upcoming Doctor Strange takes place in New York but some scenes were filmed in London dressed up as New York. While these location swaps might be good for the bottom line, they can leave much to be desired as far as accuracy and suspension of disbelief.
When Netflix’s Jessica Jones introduced Mike Colter as Luke Cage, it was in Jessica’s stomping grounds in Hell’s Kitchen, not too far from where the events of Daredevil season 1 took place. Cage will largely be leaving Hell’s Kitchen behind for his own series, though, and will instead be fighting crime on the streets of Harlem. It won’t be parts of Vancouver dressed up to look like Harlem, either, but the real thing.
Luke Cage showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker spoke at a panel at San Diego Comic-Con along with some of the show’s cast, and CBR reported certain comments from him about the decision to film in Harlem instead of a stand-in location. According to Coker, the decision was a no-brainer:
“The opportunity to film it in Harlem was irresistible. I didn’t want us to talk about Harlem and then not film in Harlem. The people that live in Harlem will see places and see blocks and see the wide boulevards and go, ‘Oh that’s Lenox’ or ‘They’re over there by the Adam Clayton Powell statue.’ It was important that we really see it. The opportunity to shoot in New York and that we were able to do that was really special.
When we did the location scouting, there was another barbershop that would’ve been a little easier for us to shoot in and it was in the Village, and I said no. If we have a Harlem location that works and fits, let’s shoot on the block.”
With Marvel getting some negative attention recently for not just whitewashing but cultural erasure, Coker’s decision to film in Harlem was about not only presenting the borough’s culture intact, but drawing attention to the threats that culture is facing from the real-life forces of gentrification:
“I think sometimes people talk about Harlem in the abstract sense. And what we wanted to do was at once acknowledge the Harlem that currently exists and the Harlem of the past. Harlem as it currently exists is being highly gentrified. All the rents are going up like crazy. People are complaining about the fact that these restaurants and big stores are coming in that are ruining the personality and history of the neighborhood. So we wanted [Alfre Woodard’s character] Mariah and people talking about that.”
Harlem regulars will get a chance to see their favorite haunts in the background as Luke Cage does battle with crooked cops, corrupt politicians, and other shady characters this September on Netflix. With Coker calling the show “The Wire of Marvel television,” however, perhaps Harlem residents should hope that it doesn’t end up portraying the borough in quite as negative a light as David Simon’s critically praised HBO show did with Baltimore.
Daredevil season 1 & 2 and Jessica Jones season 1 are now available on Netflix. Luke Cage season 1 will arrive on September 30th, 2016. The Defenders and Iron Fist arrive in 2017. Release dates for Jessica Jones season 2, The Punisher and Daredevil season 3 have not yet been announced.