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How CLOAK & DAGGER Is Addressing Real Political Issues

Not only are comic books themselves thriving, but television and film adaptations are at an all-time high, with studios and networks throwing real money at prestige comic book fare. As great as this is, it also means that we’re flooded with so much content that it can become difficult to pick which shows to keep up with or movie to pay to see. Marvel has yet another series about to premiere in the form of Freeform’s Cloak & Dagger, but don’t write this one off as just another comic book show. Cloak & Dagger is the comic book series that we need right now.

Based on the popular comic book characters Cloak and Dagger, who first appeared in 1982’s Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man, Freeform’s adaptation follows Tandy Bowen (Olivia Holt) and Tyrone Johnson (Aubrey Joseph), two New Orleans teenagers from very different backgrounds who find themselves armed with new superpowers that are mysteriously linked to one another.

Their lives couldn’t be more opposite, and yet they keep getting pulled back towards each other, especially when they realize that their powers work better together than apart. Tandy’s power is creating light daggers and Tyrone has the ability to control the power of darkness. While this sounds like the makings of a great comic book series on its own, what makes Cloak & Dagger must-see TV is how it frankly addresses sensitive real-world issues without censoring anything. It’s altogether impressive and surprising, considering this is the first Marvel series on the younger-skewing network Freeform (formerly known as ABC Family).

The first few episodes alone tackle sociopolitical, economic and health issues with grace, and with an honesty and awareness that doesn’t pull its punches. From sexual assault and the lack of justice that comes to victims reporting the crimes, to police brutality and racism that results in the horrific trend of officers shooting unarmed black men, to addiction and the opioid epidemic currently plaguing our country, Cloak & Dagger is putting the spotlight on it all to give its younger audience respect and awareness of what’s going on in the world today.

Nerdist, along with a small group of reporters, sat down with the cast and creative team behind Cloak & Dagger to dive deep into how Marvel’s latest series isn’t holding back when it comes to facing these all-too-real and prevalent issues.

How did you reach the point of developing a comic book series so focused on real-world issues like sexual assault, police brutality, and addiction?

Jeph Loeb (Head of Marvel TV): We’ve always felt at Marvel that the best stories that we do are the ones that take the things that are going on out there and put them through the Marvel prism and have them come out as what some people might see as a superhero genre show. But if you come away from this and that’s all you get, then good for you as long as you enjoyed the show.

But if you come out of it and you have a sense of that the world out there is a complicated place, particularly for young people—particularly for young people who are so socially, economically, politically active, their phones are 24/7 news all the time—and then to see how they themselves become heroes in our world by standing up when others are being told to sit down, and you get that out of it, then good for us for telling that kind of story and making you have, as we like to say, the feels.

Cloak & Dagger‘s overall tone feels darker than what fans may be expecting from Freeform’s first Marvel series. Was that a conscious choice?

Gina Prince-Bythewood (Executive producer/pilot director): Given that we were dealing with these real-world problems, we did not want to romanticize it at all but stay true and be authentic.

Joe Pokaski (Executive producer): Every time I wrote something dark and edgy, I half-expect a call like, “Now you’ve gone too far.” And every single time, [Marvel and Freeform] were like, “That was great, that felt real, that felt grounded.” We live in a world where police do look at people different from each other. We do live in a world where women walking home from the ballet aren’t safe. We wanted to tell a story of the world the way it is and then present these two characters who are going to change it as best they can.

Loeb: It’s a shame that the stories we’re telling are not going to solve the problems of the world, and we wish that we could have that kind of ability. But the more you talk about them the better it is.

Pokaski: Here’s the thing. These things have always been happening. People now just have phones and people in the news are now being forced to pay attention and cover these real stories instead of ignoring them. The more we can talk about things like this, the more we can shine a light where there hasn’t been light shone before, good.

The first four episodes alone bring awareness to the lives and perspectives of marginalized youth like Tandy and Tyrone, a homeless girl and a young black man respectively. What does it mean to you, getting to tell these kinds of stories in the current climate especially on a show geared toward young people?

Aubrey Joseph (Tyrone, a.k.a. Cloak): It’s especially important right now just because we have two groups of people—black men who have been completely dehumanized in our media and society, period, and women are always minimized—they always have to fight for equal pay or ask to be represented as equals. So we have this show that brings humanity to these two groups of people and it’s just time. It’s time for this to come out. I think this is going to jumpstart the new normal.

Olivia Holt (Tandy, a.k.a. Dagger): [Cloak & Dagger has] been around for 30 plus years. It started in the late ’80s/early ’90s and it was perfect for that time. But changing it up a little bit and making it more current and talking about topics that are happening right now in 2018 makes it more relatable. The audience is going to connect to it in a way that they wouldn’t if it was based in a different era or if they were going through things that were happening back then. Now it’s more current and talking about what it’s like to be a young black male in America in 2018 and what it’s like to be a young white female in 2018 is something that we’re excited about. And they’re not just learning how to cope with real teenage life stuff. They’re also learning how to cope with powers on top of all of it, so they’ve got a lot on their plate.

Was it the Marvel-ness of the project that made you want to be a part of Cloak & Dagger, or was it the subject matter that attracted you to these roles?

Joseph: Being a superhero, but also being a part of a show like this that stands for so much and has such a powerful message is the perfect situation. I’m honored and ready for you guys to see it.

Holt: It’s not just about the superheroic team that they are, but it’s also about them as humans and individuals and the things that they go through in reality, which is so important. I think that’s what separates it and makes it stand out. It’s very rare that you see on television a show tackling such heavy topics. It focuses on sexual assault, police brutality, addiction and so much more, and the fact that we’re doing that in such an effortless way and an organic way and also in an honest, raw way is so important for us, especially because we’re young and we’re able to use our voices and our platform to tell a story that is so honest. Ultimately that’s what we want, to not just entertain people but to move them and impact them in a way that’s going to push the culture and change the game for as long as we can.

Did you catch the premiere of Cloak & Dagger? Let us know what you thought!

Images: Freeform

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