Black Lightning premieres on Tuesday, January 16, and we have five reasons to get excited for the newest superhero show on The CW.
It’s not an origin story
Unlike the other superhero shows on The CW, Black Lightning is not an origin story of a brand new hero. Rather, Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) has been retired from the superhero business for years; the personal costs simply became too high for him to pay. Instead, he’s been trying to improve his community through education as a high school principal.
Unfortunately, things aren’t going as well as he’d like, and the town is overrun by a gang called The One Hundred. And when his daughters get pulled into danger, he must come out of retirement and become Black Lightning once again.
However, Jefferson has to reckon with the fact that he’s not as young as he used to be and his body doesn’t recover as quickly as it once did. In this way, Black Lightning explores the consequences of a life as a superhero in a way we haven’t seen before.
It’s a family story
Jefferson Pierce is a loving father of two daughters. He’s attempting to reconcile with his ex-wife, who left him after the strain of being married to a superhero became too much. And when his daughters start manifesting their own metahuman abilities, the question of legacy will undoubtedly be explored.
“I’m not really doing a show about a superhero,” co-showrunner Salim Akil told reporters at a recent set visit. “I’m doing a show about a man who has a family and is trying to affect his community.
“Someone asked me, what’s the most difficult aspect of doing the show, and it really is me coming to terms with that he has powers, because I could write a whole script without him ever using his powers, which nobody wants me to do.” And truly, the family dynamic is interesting enough on its own.
It features a romance between queer women of color
Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Anissa (Nafessa Williams), is in a relationship with Grace Choi (Chantal Thuy). Grace is described as a comic book fan who befriends Anissa while she is coming to terms with her abilities and becomes Anissa’s first confidant about the struggles and challenges of having abilities.
The show is not shy about the women’s relationship, either. Anissa’s parents are aware that she has a female partner, and the second episode features a very personal scene between the two women.
With so much recent controversy about the way popular media treats its LGBT characters, especially POC, the representation of this relationship is especially meaningful.
It tackles racial justice
One of the earliest scenes in the Black Lightning pilot features Jefferson, with his two daughters in the car, being pulled over and manhandled by cops — all over a case of mistaken identity. These are intensely personal experiences for the writers of the show.
“I just drew from my life,” showrunner Salim Akil told reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour. “Jefferson is already a community-based superhero, he’s already a principal, he’s already a father. It gave me an opportunity to talk about things that were personal to me. I grew up in a community like Freeland. I was surrounded by those things that you see in Freeland and in Chicago and Oakland.
“It came naturally. It wasn’t a choice made out of, ‘Hey this is what we want to say.’ It came out of a choice of, ‘This is what I know and this is what we know so let’s do what’s real. Let’s do what’s authentic and real to me,’ which I think everybody embraces. I’m appreciative of that. It’s very personal to me.”
Moreover, the show’s exploration of racial justice is honest and personal because it comes from a predominantly African American writers’ room. Akil explains, “They’re not all African American but…we have people who have either lived this life or know someone who has.”
Beyond the writers, the cast also keeps things grounded. “They know what the language feels like in their own community,” Akil says.
Bonus: Cress Williams is a star
Star Cress Williams has credits dating back to the mid-1990s, and there’s a good chance you’ve seen him in a supporting role on popular shows like ER, Grey’s Anatomy, Prison Break, Friday Night Lights and Hart of Dixie. But Black Lightning might just be his breakout.
“He should have been a leading man a long time ago,” co-showrunner Mara Brock Akil said at the TCA press tour, adding that she got chills when Williams read for the role of Jefferson Pierce.
“Simply put, as artists we want to entertain, obviously, but when you see what’s going on in the world the job of art is to speak to it and be impactful,” Williams says.
“I can only speak for myself but once I leave this planet, I want to know that something that I did made a difference. I was just ecstatic [to land this role]. This is an amazing opportunity to entertain but also to speak to life and I think that’s our job as artists.”
Black Lightning premieres Tuesday, January 16 at 9:00 p.m. ET on The CW.