Black Lightning star Nafessa Williams speaks to Hypable about playing a black lesbian superhero as well as which Arrowverse hero she’d like to team up with.
Though The CW’s Black Lightning ostensibly follows its titular character, played by Cress Williams, another character coming into her own is Williams’ Anissa, Jefferson’s eldest daughter. Anissa is a med student who also teaches at Jefferson’s school. She is also an out lesbian.
After the trauma of being kidnapped alongside her younger sister in the series premiere, Anissa discovers that she has super strength. Combining these new abilities with her firm belief in social justice and quality, she has started down the road to becoming the hero Thunder.
Hypable spoke to Williams about her character, the importance of Black Lightning and what it felt like to suit up for the first time.
What drew you to Black Lightning in the first place?
I’ve always wanted to play a superhero and work with Salim and Mara Akil so this journey has been amazing!
What would you say sets Black Lightning apart from other superhero shows currently airing?
The show is very authentic. Black Lightning deals with social issues and we’re dealing with what’s happening in our country today. Usually, the superhero is pretty young, in his 20s, single. Black Lightning is a man who’s middle-aged, going through a divorce, and with two daughters. Also, when have we ever seen two little black girls as superheroes? And with their fathers? It’s great!
Anissa follows in her father’s footsteps in multiple ways, from working at the same school to becoming a superhero. How would you describe their relationship? How does it evolve as she comes into her powers?
Basically, her father is her hero. She doesn’t know he’s an actual hero, other than a leader and father figure to the community. Most girls want to be like their mother growing up but Anissa looks up to her father the most.
How would you describe the relationship between Anissa and her sister, Jennifer?
Anissa is overprotective and more like a second mother figure to Jennifer. Their mother isn’t at home, so Anissa constantly looks out for her. They really are best friends.
What can you tell us about the relationship between Anissa and Grace?
We have a special chemistry, we understand each other. Grace is very supportive, and she didn’t have that with her ex-girlfriend. Grace really understands Anissa. I don’t want to give away too much because I want you to enjoy watching it unfold. There’s a deep connection between the two, a mutual understanding. I think that’s where the attraction begins. It’s going unfold really beautifully.
We’ve seen the photo of you in the Thunder suit. How did it feel to put that on for the first time?
I cried tears of joy. I didn’t have a superhero like me growing up. It was so emotional for me and still is every time I put my costume on because I’m reminded that I’m the first live-action black lesbian superhero for little girls to see. I didn’t have that coming up. To see me in cornrows, and to give little girls that visual, is just an honor. I’m being used for something that is helping push the culture forward and that a beautiful and overwhelming feeling.
Anissa is a socially conscious and politically active character. How do you see that mindset impacting her evolution into a hero?
She is socially conscious, but she is also tired of marching and trying to get through to people. She believes that being a superhero through activism is a way to actually have an effect on these issues.
Black Lightning currently doesn’t take place in the Arrowverse, but if that changes, are there heroes from any those shows you’d especially like to work with?
It would be cool in the current age of feminism to team up with Supergirl and hit the town together fighting crime!
Black Lightning airs Tuesdays at 9:00 p.m. ET on The CW.