Fighting injustice is becoming a family affair for The Pierces of The CW’s Black Lightning.
The CW’s Black Lightning is offering viewers something rarely seen on television: a core black family of superheroes.
Cress Williams plays Jefferson Pierce, a principal at Garfield High School in the city of Freeland. But he is also Black Lightning, a man infused with meta human powers that allow him the ability to access electricity. Jefferson is a family man, who wants his daughters Anissa (Nafessa Williams) and Jennifer (China McClain) to have a safe and normal life where they can offer a positive influence to their community. The problem with this dream is that Freeland is plagued with crime and violence from a gang known as The 100. Nine years prior, Jefferson gave up being Black Lightning for the sake of his family. But now with The 100 turning Freeland into a war zone, he is forced to pick up the superhero mantle again and become the “Black Jesus,” a savior to the people.
When he first became Black Lightning, it put a strain on his marriage. Jefferson’s ex-wife Dr. Lynn Stewart (Christine Adams) refused to have their children live in the danger him being Black Lightning presented. Jefferson understood Lynn’s concerns, especially now that it looks as if their daughters will soon join his vigilante/superhero world.
First, eldest daughter Anissa discovered she had powers. Anissa is a medical student and also works at Garfield. But like her father, she is tired of the violence she sees at the hands of The 100. And once she discovers her abilities, Anissa is determined to jump head first into the world of crime fighting. She dons a mask and makeshift costume and takes to the streets. Anissa is passionate but also headstrong; she often allows her emotions to control her actions. In the episode “Three Sevens: The Book of Thunder,” Jefferson inadvertently discovers his daughter has powers. And once Anissa finds out her father is Black Lightning, she immediately asks him to train her to do what he does. Of course, this is Lynn’s worse fear realized. After years of trying to protect her children from their father’s superhero life, now one of her daughters wants to embrace it. But rather than have Anissa go out into the field unprepared, Lynn reluctantly encourages Jefferson to train her.
While all this is going on, youngest daughter Jennifer soon discovers she has powers as well. In the episode “The Book of Revelations,” worried that her friend is going to fall from a height and suffer serious injury causes Jennifer to fry her cell phone with an electrical current from her hand. The episode ends with Jennifer sharing her secret with big sis Anissa, unaware of Anissa’s secret.
The dynamic of a family of superheroes isn’t an unheard concept. What makes Black Lightning unique is that it is a series where the superhero family are POC. They’re not the secondary characters in the narrative, they are the focus of the narrative in which other characters support the telling of their story. And Jefferson Pierce isn’t some young teen or twenty-ish man with a trouble past finding his purpose because of his abilities. His life and superhero experiences help make him the perfect mentor to his daughters as they navigate their own superhero destinies.
How ironic that the actors playing Jefferson and Anissa both share the same real life last name. Is this kismet that they were meant to portray father and daughter?
I have been a fan of Cress Williams’ work since he first appeared on the original Beverly Hills 90210 in the 1990s. I’ve seen him in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Grey’s Anatomy, Hart of Dixie and so many other shows. I was pleased when I learned he was cast to play Jefferson in Black Lightning. I admit that had to be my primary reason for tuning into this series. But Nafessa, China and Christine as well as James Remar as Gambi help to add electricity to this hot new drama. Jefferson as Black Lightning isn’t the only one adding spark on this show.
I like the realistic dialogue and how the Pierces are a family with values trying to make the world a better place. As a POC who grew up in the inner city of Philadelphia in the 1970s, I was all too familiar with the struggles faced by many in my community to rise above the challenges. Just like Lynn and Jefferson wanting Anissa and Jennifer to have a good life free of fear, my mother worked hard to ensure our childhood was a happy one. Although she didn’t have superhero powers and take to the streets fighting crime, her message was the same as the Pierces are trying to convey: Your real power comes from who you are and how you use it to help others.
I applaud everyone involved with Black Lightning and hope this series continues to air for many seasons to come.
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