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Harlem is my birthright, it is mine!
~ Mariah to Diamondback.
I don't represent Harlem, I am Harlem!
~ Mariah before her interview.
As long as everyone here as been alive, there has been a Stokes patching that wall around Harlem. You need me out there. You want me out there. Because without me, God help Harlem. God help us all.
~ Mariah during her trial.

Mariah Dillard, also known as Black Mariah, is a recurring antagonist of the 2016 Marvel TV series Luke Cage, serving as a major antagonist in the first season and the main antagonist of the second season.

Mariah Dillard is the cousin of Cornell Stokes andw as the councilwoman of Harlem. However, after her criminal ties with her family shattered her political career, she murders Cornell in rage and succeeds him in his criminal empire. She soon became the second biggest crime boss in New York City, controlling most of the organized crimes and gangs that the Kingpin doesn't control. She had her own enforcer and consegliere (number one man) in Shades. Just like Kingpin is opposed to Daredevil, Mariah is opposed by Luke Cage, who continually fights to bring Mariah to justice and take down her criminal empire.

She was portrayed by Alfre Woodard.

History

Business with Cottonmouth

While visiting her cousin, Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes, in his nightclub Harlem's Paradise, she is informed by him that through his criminal operations, he will soon obtain a large sum of money which Mariah can use for her real estate project. Mariah implores Stokes not to waste his time with such low-life criminals and tells him that it is politics in which the true power lies. She also reminds him that a criminal empire can swiftly topple, as the empire of Wilson Fisk did.

An associate of Stokes comes to the table and is welcomed by Cornell and Mariah. They discuss business and Mariah is annoyed, claiming that Cornell is turning their families legitimate money illegal again. Stokes however replies that their project is hardly illegal, as it is protected by the constitution. It is revealed that Stokes is selling high-tech weapons to the man, who is a gang leader. The man agrees to the deal but later, during the exchange, both parties are attacked and shot by three other gangsters who escape with Cornell's money.

Mariah is deeply uncomfortable with the loss of the money, as it could potentially mean the end of her and her cousin's career. More than once, she urges Cottonmouth to retrieve the money. Although she is still not happy with Cottonmouth's criminal empire, she more than gladly accepts the benefits, be it monetary or otherwise, she gains from them. During a garden party in Harlem, in which Mariah is also interviewed by a TV crew, Cottonmouth visits Mariah. She is uncomfortable with the two of them being seen together with media nearby but also tells him that she urgently needs the money her cousin promised her. Stokes again promises that the money will be there in time. After having captured one of the attackers, Cottonmouth gets half of the money back, which he brings to Mariah. However, she reminds him that that money is not nearly enough and that they urgently need the rest of the money too. The two have a brief dispute and Cottonmouth, Shades and Cottonmouth's assistant then leave the office.

Later, at the nightclub, Cottonmouth is informed by his henchmen that the other attacker has been found and eliminated. Cottonmouth wants to meet with them on the roof and Mariah comes with him, claiming she needs to be there. On the roof, they are informed that while the two managed to get the money, back, Cottonmouth's assistant also killed Pop, the owner of the barber shop where the boy was located and a sort of legend in Harlem. When he is told that Pops was killed in the attack, Cottonmouth grabs the assistant and throws him off the roof. He then hands Mariah the rest of the money. Although she is not happy with the murder, she takes the money nonetheless.

After Cottonmouth informs her that some of his safehouses have been hit and that he plans to store all of his cash in one fortified safehouse, Mariah advises against it as she sees it as idiotic to keep 'all your eggs in one basket'. Cottonmouth tells her that the building is secure and that nobody will be able to attack it. During their conversation, it is also made clear that while Mariah really cares about her in initiatives and plans to create affordable housing in the area, Cottonmouth sees her projects only as the 'loundry mat' for his money.

When the safe room, located in Mariah's office, is indeed busted by Luke Cage, Mariah gets furious as her reputation might suffer from this.

After preparing for a TV interview in front of her home, Mariah is approached by Luke Cage. He reveals that he has come because of Stokes and that he will shut Cottonmouth and her out. Cage then leaves, leaving Mariah baffled. Mariah heads to her cousin's club, where Cottonmouth tells her that he shot the corrupt police officer Scarfe. She chides him for being stupid enough to shoot at a cop and tells them that both their empires could fall should Scarfe survive. Mariah then goes to the next topic - Luke Cage - and tells her cousin to deal with him. Cottonmouth replies that it is not so easy, as he has witnessed himself that Cage is impervious to bullets. Mariah reminds her cousin that he can still drown, burn or poison Cage. She also tells Cottonmouth that Cage might have a woman, which would be a weakness. Cottonmouth promises her that she shouldn't worry about Cage and that he will take care of him.

Back at her home, Mariah is having a live TV interview. During this interview, the host calls her out on her family relation, particular her grandmother, who was notorious gang leader in Harlem, and Cornell. She also inquires about the brutal assault on her office, where Cottonmouth stored his money, which was kept out of the news. The interviewer directiy links Mariah to all this, claiming that it tis difficult to say for which Harlem Mariah stands; the corrupt, criminal one or the hardworking, legal one. Mariah is taken aback and, after trying to save her reputation, ends the interview and throws the media team out of her house. After the team is gone, other reporters arrive at her house, asking her whether she wants to comment on the arrest of her cousin Cottonmouth. Mariah is shocked to hear that and has her assistant drive the reporters from her house.

The next day, Mariah holds a press conference in front of her house where she is asked whether her housing initiative is payed by drug money. In general, she is questioned about any involvement in Cottonmouth's empire which she denies. She claims that her cousin is no criminal, which is why the police had to let him go. After the conference she is visited by Shades, who claims that they need to talk. Shades claims that in the past, the name Stokes meant something and that Cottonmouth is on his way to drive this reputation into the dirt. Indeed, her reputation is tarnished enough that Mariah is called by her party chair who demand her resignation.

That night, Mariah once more visits her cousin in his office. Mariah urges him to let his business with Luke Cage go, as it is destroying her political career - her party already demanded her resignation. It comes to a severe argument between Cottonmouth and Mariah. When Cottonmouth, enraged by the argument, mentions how Mariah was abused by their uncle Pete when they were younger and must have wanted it as she was always 'dancing around half-naked', Mariah loses her temper. He hits Cornell over the head with a wine bottle and then throws her dazed cousin through the window of his office into the empty club below. There, she finishes off Cottonmouth by grabbing a microphone stand and smashing his head in with it. Moments later, Shades arrives. He is delighted by the sight, having lost faith in Cottonmouth, and tells her that they will blame Luke Cage for Cottonmouth's death.

Taking Over

Shades helps Mariah clean up and remove evidence. When the police turns up, Mariah claims that she found her cousin dead and one of the waitresses, who has been informed about what she has to say, claims that Cage was the killer. Despite the evidence against Cage, Detective Misty Knight does not believe Mariah, as the marks on the corpse point to a perpetrator who must have been close to Cottonmouth.

Mariah later visits crime boss Domingo Colon, whom she tells that Cottonmouth's empire needs to continue. She invites Domingo to be part of it, but also claims that she wants all the bosses on the table. She tells Domingo to gather all the bosses to listen to her proposition. When all the bosses are assembled, she tells them that she is 'out', that she will be moving in a more legitimate direction and that she does not want her family name to be associated with the criminal empire anymore. She promises the other crime lords his cousins assets and connections - for a price. The meeting is interrupted by Diamondback, who claims that he was invited by not being invited. Diamondback executes the crime bosses, all except Mariah and Domingo. Diamondback approaches Mariah, who is not intimidated by him, even after murdering the other crime lords.

Mariah tries to assure Diamondback that she is out of the business but Diamondback replies that she remains 'in' until he decides otherwise. Indeed, Mariah is later called to Diamondback's headquarter, where Diamondback reveals to her that he wants to sell his Judas bullets, which are even able to pierce the skin of Luke cage, legally to the police, so that they can use them against superhumans like Luke Cage. He wants Mariah to use her connections in politics to make that deal happen.

Diamondback then continues to destroy Cage's reputation, thereby also pushing the need for the policeforce being equipped with his Judas bullets. He attacks a police officer with an mechanical glove, giving him strength similar to that of Luke Cage. After murdering the policeman he loudly proclaims that he is Luke Cage, so that eyewitnesses can hear it. The attack also makes the policemen of Harlem furious, causing them to search for Luke more brutally. One police officer even beats up a young boy who is affiliated with Cage. Mariah makes this incident public and uses it to both raise her reputation and to rally the people against Cage. She invites the people to the Harlem's Paradise, where she claims they will plan how to deal with Cage. At this meeting, Mariah claims that Luke Cage has murdered her cousin and that no one is safe while he is roaming free. She also claims that they cannot trust the police anymore, as they started attacking a boy in their police hunt. She then reveals that the police must be armed in order to be able to save them against people like Luke Cage. Her speech is greeted by thunderous applause but after she leaves the stage, one of her political opponents tells her that he sees right through her.

Meanwhile, Misty Knight heads to the Harlem's Paradise. Misty tries to arrest Diamondback but Diamondback swiftly draws two guns and fires at Misty. Although Luke Cage saves Misty, chaos erupts and Mariah and other people flee the club. While Diamondback is taking the remaining people in the club hostage, Mariah heads to a meeting with the mayor and other city officials in which they discuss advanced weapons for the police forces. The meeting is a success. Also, Mariah's political nemesis and one of Diamondback's hostages, fellow councilman Boone, is killed by Diamondback.

After the hostage situation is cleared, Mariah returns to the nightclub where she angrily rants about how Diamondback destroyed her family's legacy. Her assistant tells her that the club is just a thing and can be rebuilt. Her plans are disturbed when Candace, the woman who Mariah used to frame Cottonmouth's murder on Luke Cage, reveals to Knight that it was Mariah who killed Cottonmouth. She also tells Misty that Shades was part of the deception. Once Mariah is made aware, she sends her assistant Alex to find the girl. She is then called by Diamondback, who reveals that he has killed Shades and asks Mariah where her loyalties lie. During the conversation, it is made clear that Diamondback is in Mariah's house. He reveals himself to her, handing her a bag full of money, apologizing for the mess he made at the Harlem's Paradise but demanding her loyalty in return.

After Diamondback is gone, Mariah is visited by Shades who has survived the attack on his life. The two team up to defeat their mutual enemies. Shades also plans to bring Cage to the table, so that they could send Cage against Diamondback. The two visit Luke Cage in Pop's Barber shop where they propose a truce. Cage is more than hostile and refuses at first but Shades then offers him files which contain evidence that Diamondback commited the crime for which Cage went to prison, thus offering Cage back his life.

When Misty Knight as well, the talks are disrupted. Even more chaos is created when a grenade explodes outside the shot and Diamondback himself arrives in a futuristic armor suit. Shades shoots at Diamondback who is not affected. Shades and Mariah flee to the back, pursued by Misty, while Luke engages Diamondback. After escaping to their car, Shades realises that they left the folder containing Cage's files in the barbershop. Furthermore, Mariah realises that Misty will arrest her and that there is no way around this. Nonetheless, she calls her assistant to call in the media, planning to spin her situation around somehow. After the fight of Cage and Diamondback, Mariah is indeed arrested by Misty. She is brought to a holding cell where she, after being left alone for some time, starts screaming that she wants her phone call. When she is interrogated, Mariah acts innocent and claims that Diamondback killed Cottonmouth and that he forced her to frame Cage. However, Misty then enters the room and reveals evidence to the death of Cottonmouth, including testimony of the witness. Meanwhile, Shades contacts the witness with the phone Misty lost at the barber shop. He arranges a meeting with the witness, acting as if he was Misty, and shoots her. As the only witness is dead, Mariah is allowed to go free. Before she leaves the precinct, Mariah meets Luke once more. Luke demands the files on his past but Mariah acts oblivious and leaves. 

She is picked up by Alex and Shades. Shades hands her a handgun that formerly belonged to Cottonmouth, implying that she will take over her cousin's criminal empire. 

War Against Bushmaster

to be further added...


Personality

"Now, I am a legit philanthropist. That's the American way, girl."
"You are a crook and a liar."
"I serve Harlem. And, yes, I will do whatever it takes."
~ Mariah Dillard and Tilda Johnson
Mariah Dillard was a woman who believed that power came through politics rather than criminality like her cousin and grandmother behaved. She wanted a better life than Mama Mabel or Cottonmouth, becoming a councilwoman instead, her hatred for her grandmother also encouraged her to not be a criminal as she believed that her family were wasting their lives. Dillard also respected the long-suffering art and history that African Americans went through to achieve equality with the whites, despising the word "nigga" and Cottonmouth's indifference to what her ancestors had fought and died to achieve. She was also supremely arrogant and self-assured in her role as a pillar of the community, believing herself vital to Harlem's well-being and putting herself on the level of notable past African Americans.

Although caring about black rights, history, politics and genuinely wanting Harlem to have a bright future, Dillard was secretly mentally unstable and willingly enforced Stokes' criminal empire to further her own goals. Even though she found Stokes' criminal activity to be a waste of time and was willfully ignorant of her cousins actions, she would also force him to take action when necessary, fearing that if his criminality caught up with him, they would both go down. She was also not above using her admiration of black rights as a way to justify her criminal behavior and often arrogantly used expressions of "black pride" to avoid having to admit the full immoral nature of her criminal actions.

Dillard chose to sever all connections towards Mabel when she grew older, fearing it might impeach her political image but also kept several pictures of Mabel throughout her house, presumably as a reminder to herself. When angered she would lash out violently and destroy something in her environment close to her. Dillard's unstable temper is presumably due to her history of witnessing her grandmothers violent actions and the sexual abuse she suffered from her uncle growing up. This pent up trauma went as far that when teased by her cousin that she welcomed her own abuse from Pete, goes into an angry, almost-psychotic fit and violently kills Cottonmouth over this tease. Even though she is horrified over this action, the influence of Shades encourages her to embrace her criminal roots, developing a more colder and calculated nature by doing business with Harlem's crime lords like Domingo Colon, Diamondback and threatening to kill Candace Miller if she went to the police about framing Luke Cage.

Having killed Cottonmouth, her political campaign and reputation destroyed and the influence of Shades, Dillard has gone full circle from legitimate politician to a complete criminal. Accepting her criminal roots, Dillard takes over Harlem's Paradise and Cottonmouth's personal gun, signifying that she embraces Mama Mabel and Cottonmouth as her blood and is on her way to becoming an equal crime boss as her cousin and grandmother before her. Realizing she's more like her grandmother than she thought, she also seems to have abandoned her distaste for the n-word, while in police custody she uses the n-word during her interrogation held by Misty Knight and the inspector, also signifying her development from when she was introduced by scolding Cottonmouth for using that word, which she despised.

You lost your heart, Mariah. It was the best part of you.
~ Shades (Marvel Cinematic Universe) to Mariah

The War for Harlem took a toll on Mariah's mental state, which came to a head after Bushmaster tried to kill her by burning down her house with her and Tilda in it. After this, she became completely unhinged and lost any semblance of morality whatsoever; she was willing to massacre not only Bushmaster's family and the mole Stephanie Miller but unrelated innocent people who happened to be at Gwen's, gleefully admitted her role in this massacre to her daughter, and mocked Shades as a "vegan" for being horrified at such pointless violence. Besides her brutality, her deteriorating mental state manifested at one point as a conversation with hallucinations of her grandmother and uncle. Anansi remarked that he saw the same darkness in her that he saw in Bushmaster, and her increasing brutality ended up alienating Shades, who ultimately snitched in order to bring her down. Much like Cottonmouth, Mariah's increasingly brutal behavior ultimately proved her downfall, as Tilda's horror and disgust at her mother's actions were extreme enough to drive her to matricide.

Abilities

  • Master Politician: Mariah is a councilwoman so she must be able do political things. She also has political campaign and it's reputation. She believed that power came through politics rather than criminality.
  • Master Manipulator: When Mariah killed Cottonmouth, she was able to cover what she did even with the help of Shades. She was able to accuse Luke Cage until everybody believed her and hunted down Luke Cage. And she was also able to pay Candace Miller for covering the truth about Cottonmouth's murder. She was also able to be free from the accuse of Cottonmouth's murder so that she wasn't imprisoned. Then, after accusing Luke Cage, she pinned it on Diamondback.

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