Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger is one of the most compelling new shows to come out of the superhero genre. Rather than deal with a villain of the week, the series is focused on very the real issues faced by the two teenage protagonists Tyrone Johnson (Aubrey Joseph) and Tandy Bowen (Olivia Holt). It’s these social issues that are drawing fans to care for these fledgling heroes as they try to cope with everyday life and grapple with their newfound powers.
FANDOM also had the chance to sit down the creators of Cloak & Dagger. Marvel TV President Jeph Loeb, Director Gina Prince-Bythewood, and Showrunner Joe Pokaski discuss why its so important for this show, in particular, to embrace these real-world issues.
“That’s how we define a hero. People who stand up to fight for issues when everyone else is sitting down. Whether or not they are teenagers or the Avengers, Marvel heroes are the same.” – Loeb
After experiencing an accident as children, Tyrone and Tandy are given powers: he the ability to teleport using a cloak of darkness and she the ability to create daggers made of light. The same night they gain their powers, each loses an important family member, setting the events of the show into motion and leaving lasting emotional scars. Tandy and Tyrone’s powers manifest in times of crisis, leading them confront their trauma and their connection to the other.
“Tandy and Tyrone are going to be heroes, the way the Parkland students are standing up. They are going to fight for the world the way it should be.” – Pokaski
Here are some of the grounded issues Cloak & Dagger tackles that make it way more than just a traditional superhero show.
Black Lives Matter
Cloak & Dagger is not afraid to tackle tough issues head on. In one of first scenes of the pilot, “First Light”, Tyrone watches his older brother Billy (Marqus Clae) get shot by a white police officer. The young black man is unarmed, holding only a car radio stolen by the young Tyrone (Maceo Smedley) in a show of bravado.
“I think we’re in an era where the police are looking at people differently.” – Pokaski
The event haunts Tyrone as he grows older and comes to define the Johnson family. As the only surviving child, Tyrone’s parents are overbearing and he in turn is crushed under the weight of needing to be perfect and well behaved in order to survive. He is also secretly hellbent on getting revenge on the officer, Detective Connors (J.D. Evermore) who shot his brother.
In using such a topical and important issue as the main focus of the show, Cloak & Dagger is helping to bring light to the issue of young black men being killed by police officers. The death of Billy is used as the emotional core of the first episode and continues throughout the early episodes of the series, proving it is not just a one time issue, but one with a lasting impact that affects families and communities.
Race in America
Other superhero shows like Black Lightning and Luke Cage have dealt with the issues of race, but Cloak & Dagger takes a unique angle. The Johnson family is an affluent black family; Tyrone attends private school. The New Orleans setting also adds another layer to the story, with the city’s rich history woven into the story of Tyrone and his relationship with his father.
“I wanted to separate race and socioeconomic structure. Tyrone, despite the fact that he’s wealthy, he has the weight of the world on his shoulders.” – Pokaski
Tyrone is faced with racism on a daily basis. His basketball teammates attack and insult him, making him work all even to prove he belongs. He is judged by his appearance as a young, black male and has to hide his anger and frustrations, especially when trying to find out more information on Detective Connors. On the surface Tyrone appears to be the perfect son and student, but it is this rage combined with his powers of darkness that make him such a compelling character.
The same night Tyrone’s brother was killed, Tandy lost her father in a car accident. His death left the family with nothing forcing Tandy and her mother Melissa (Andrea Roth) to leave their upper class lifestyle behind. Tandy’s grief-stricken mother turns to drugs as an escape and neglects her daughter in the process. Tandy is forced to take care of herself, even going as far as leaving home and living on her own in an abandoned church. Tandy too turns to drugs for comfort, running cons on wealthy men to steal their money in order to score.
“What we’re dealing with, in terms of themes, we wanted the authenticity.” – Prince-Bythewood
However, Cloak & Dagger makes it clear that Melissa is not the villain of the story. She is a woman clearly still reeling from the loss of her husband and stuck living in the past. There are some bright moments between mother and daughter, making their relationship all the more complicated. Tandy and her mother are stuck in a cycle of hurting themselves and each other to escape the very real pain of their current situation. Both use drugs as a coping mechanism. It’s sadly a very realistic portrayal of two individuals struggling with loss.
Another one of the major issues Cloak & Dagger tackles early on is sexual assault. One night Tandy robs a rich guy, only to have him attack her in an alley in retaliation. Before anything can happen, Tandy’s powers appear to protect her and she is able to fend off her attacker. However, the encounter leaves her shaken and confused in more ways than one. It’s a scary scene and one that could have gone much differently if not for her abilities.
“I wish this show was on five years ago. It’s great to see a woman as a superhero.” – Pokaski
It is not unfamiliar territory to use a woman’s trauma to bring about the awakening of some sort of powers. However, Cloak & Dagger sensitively handles the idea of a young woman being assaulted and the process of recovery. Tandy is a true survivor and her struggles are not easy ones. Both Tandy and Tyrone have both faced incredible amounts of trauma and their bond is only made stronger by their shared experiences.
Cloak & Dagger mixes impressive visuals with strong character based drama that makes it unlike any other superhero show on TV. With a focus on real issues the show is a realistic portrayal of what it is like to be a teenager today- albeit one who has to deal with superpowers as well as peer pressure.
Cloak & Dagger currently airs on Freeform, Thursdays at 8PM.