Over the weekend, many Marvel fans have been enthusiastically working their way through the debut season of Luke Cage, which recently arrived on Netflix. Though it shares a city with Daredevil and Jessica Jones, this latest Marvel series moves the action uptown from Hell’s Kitchen to Harlem, where bulletproof dishwasher/floor-sweeper Luke Cage becomes a reluctant hero for the neighborhood. Like its fellow Netflix series, Luke Cage is intended for a more mature audience than the big-screen Marvel Cinematic Universe adventures, featuring more sex, violence and cursing (the Swear Jar fills up very quickly). It’s also more overtly political, which has led to a bit of confusion regarding the continuity of the MCU’s political landscape.
Real-life President Barack Obama is repeatedly name-dropped in Luke Cage – in a song performed at Cottonmouth’s (Mahershaha Ali) club, and in conversation among the characters. Among the more notable mentions, TV journalist Thembi Wallace (Tijuana Ricks) says “Remember when Obama sang Al Green?” when convincing Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) that her interview should be “fun,” and Diamondback (Erik LaRay Harvey) refers to one of Mariah’s rivals as “Diet Obama.”
However, as a number of viewers have pointed out, Obama is not President of the United States in the MCU. The current President, as seen in both Iron Man 3 and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., is Matthew Ellis (William Sadler), and since the timeline of the MCU is roughly concurrent with our own (a close-up of Luke’s ID shows a February 2016 expiry date), Luke Cage must be set during Ellis’ presidential term. So, why is everyone in Luke Cage talking about Obama instead of Ellis?
One explanation is that it’s just a continuity error – something that slipped through the cracks due to the ever-widening rift between Marvel’s movies and TV shows. While the Chitauri invasion of New York (referred to as “The Incident”) is a prominent piece of backstory for Marvel’s New York-set Netflix series, the Defenders universe doesn’t really have ties to any post-Avengers events in the MCU. For example, there is no mention of the Sokovia Accords, even though legislation to control “enhanced” individuals would surely be of concern to a character like Luke.
However, before we write this off as a plot hole, it’s important to note that there have been previous hints at Obama’s existence in the MCU, even though he’s never been mentioned by name before now. As noted by ComicBook in an article from 2013, Matthew Ellis says in Iron Man 3 that he was elected on a “single platform” of “protect[ing] this country at all costs” – indicating that he used the Chitauri invasion as the springboard for his presidential campaign. That would mean that Ellis wasn’t elected until 2012. Moreover, a scene in Iron Man 2 showed Tony Stark holding a poster of Iron Man based on the design of Shepard Fairey’s iconic “Hope” poster, which was used during Obama’s 2008 election campaign. Finally, ComicBook notes that President Obama’s White House Press Secretary Jay Carney is shown in news footage at the end of The Avengers.
It makes sense that Marvel’s feature films would want to skirt any potential controversy by avoiding mention of Obama by name, but the evidence suggests that Obama was President of the United States in the MCU timeline from 2008-2012. In 2012, the Chitauri invasion gave Matthew Ellis a single-issue platform that he used to win the election. This makes Thembi’s reference to Obama singing an Al Green song during a 2012 speech a little dubious, since it would have happened during a failed re-election campaign, and you could question why Obama is still dropped into conversation so frequently despite the fact that he’s not the President any more. For Marvel fans who are looking to make sense of this continuity issue, however, the “Obama wasn’t re-elected” explanation fits well enough.
Daredevil season 1 & 2, Jessica Jones season 1, and Luke Cage season 1 are now available on Netflix. 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.