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Thursday, 19 February 2015

A review of Luther

The first 3 series of Luther with reference to race, gender and sexuality

A white man in a suit runs for his life through an abandoned building as a large black man in shabby clothes runs in pursuit.

This is our first glimpse of Luther and the only time any reference is made to Luther's race throughout the three series. An interesting choice. This moment is when Luther has had all his humanity stripped away from him and becomes a cold blooded killer out of anger at what his victim had done to others. This is the threat that hangs over Luther throughout the first series and less literally the capacity for Luther to lose his grip on the slippery slope and become the scary black man once more hangs over the last two series as well. The wretched stereotype of race is used to highlight through cultural prejudice the danger Luther poses and then the allusion to stereotype is dropped once the viewer is made aware of the real complexities of the situation. This is a subtle but brilliant move because Luther never abandons morality, not completely. The threat that looms over the series never truly strikes.

Now if I may I will explain why I am doing this review now. Partly it's because Idris Elba was considered by the media for the part of James Bond and Virgin Media had all three series of Luther available to watch so I did but also I just got out of yet another stupid gender and sexuality in Doctor Who argument and so Luther seemed a natural way to talk about these issues.

I grew up aware of racism and in a predominantly white neighbourhood so I am not always representationally savvy when it comes to race in my writing but generally race never seemed to be an issue. Of course with Ferguson and Idris Elba being touted as James Bond and the bloody flame wars I've experienced over the Master and the Doctor becoming female I expected my opinion to be changed. Clearly we in Britain must have a massive issue with regards to race. And having watched Luther my conclusion is basically we do and we don't. Let me explain.

So after Luther kills the paedophile that just told him where the missing kids were we cut to however many months or years later when Luther is a detective again. He's recovered. He's got his old guv back (a woman interestingly and pleasingly) and unfortunately for him his first case is the origin of Dr Alice Morgan. His Moriarty and Missy. I genuinely felt like I'd missed a series as in the very first episode we have dialogue and chemistry that usually comes after a long cat and mouse game.

What's interesting is the Alice Morgan is the villain by default with UST and dialogue that fits the form but is shown to be quite heroic and always ultimately in Luther's interest. Luther by contrast makes Gene Hunt look enlightened and pacifistic, is frequently doing illegal things and yet the good guy because script says so. I'm not criticising the writers of Luther for this. This is fantastic. The perfect juxtaposition and I love that Luther and Alice Morgan end up running away together. They complement each other so well. And race has nothing to do with it, aside for neat symbolism.

You see in Britain there is a lot of racism and shady "I'm not a racist but I still feel the immigrants need to stop coming over here stealing our jobs and stealing our taxes" yet simultaneously race isn't an issue because everyone recognises that those guys are racists and Luther feels completely natural because the colour of your skin only matters to racists. Luther is black but he's as British as they come and as he's working in the must multicultural city in Britain nobody gives a shit. And then I think of how John Diggle is treated in Arrow and how Raj is treated in the Big Bang Theory and I'm just "Why don't you get it? What's so different?"

Yes America had a civil war over the right to own slaves but Britain isn't exactly blameless in the slave trade. Let's be frank the ships that bought over tea bought over a fair few slaves too. We have blood on our hands too and our share of racists but it isn't such a sociocultural issue for us. Racism is stupid and immoral therefore fuck anybody who thinks otherwise. That's just how us Brits tend to think and Luther shows this because race is not in the slightest way an issue. What is though is the hot potato that made me write this, gender and sexuality.

Britain is confused about gender and sexuality. Majorly confused. Yes there are brodly the two poles of "Accept everything as all lives matter" and "When I was a child men married women and that was it" but even in the accept everything camp you have feminism, women against feminism, egalitarianism, humanism and then some confused men's rights champions. A bunch of nerds liking a tv show has people raging. Characters changing sex is greeted like the apocalypse. People affected by societal stigma for their beliefs are committing suicide. Petitions to end VAT on tampons are circulating. Many still do not understand what rape is and being exceptionally creepy toward women is seen as not only socially acceptable but the only way to get a date. And writers, we just suck.

Case in point. Series 1 of Luther is awesome for women. Luther's Guv is a woman. His ex/wife is a fully fleshed out main character. Alice Morgan the ultimate frenemy is a woman and never sexualised and in general all the women have important roles in the plot and aren't just love interests damsels or set dressing. Even if Luther's wife is killed in the series. Then series 2 happens.

Hey remember the skeevy investigator bought in when Luther was suspected of being dodgy? He's the new guv and Alice Morgan won't be popping back much. This is also the series where Luther has to rescue a prostitute from her pimps and lives with her for a while. So that's fun.

And in series 3 Luthor gets a new love interest, just so she can be damselled off and cause Luther tension with both the shady unit set up to bring him down and the vigilante Luthor is trying to bring down.

The thing is I genuinely don't know if my criticisms regarding gender and sexuality in Luthor are valid because things are so unsettled in Britain with regards to gender and sexuality at the moment. Like here's an argument that I find myself making from time to time "How is x gender related thing with negative connotations offensive? People are dying!" and I know that if I tried that argument with regards to race it wouldn't work ever, like unless you were literally 12 Years A Slave, depicting slavery and racism, its just wrong. When I was a kid in school I wrote an article defending the use of the word cunt but I won't go anywhere near racial terminology, like I hesitate to even refer to race because the entire thing seems so stupid and wrong. What's the difference?