By Janelle Anise Williams
“Are you ready for a Black Lesbian superhero?”
The CW has had a pretty shaky relationship with diversity. The network is notoriously known for fridging and killing off its few brown, black, and queer characters at astonishing rates. Despite being a fan of the comic/superhero genre, I tend to heed the Arrow-verse with caution. Not only do they have a horrific rapport with marginalized characters and fans, but CW shows, at least in my opinion, are aggressively mediocre.
Black Lightning is different. It is the only show in the history of the network that has ever been hailed by a singular Black creator, let alone two.
The dialogue was crisp, apt, and relevant, all while still being realistic. I guess that was what’s so jarring about the show—aside from the questionable LCD effects, (this is still the CW, after all) Black Lighting is a show that is rooted in Black realism. Anissa and Jennifer’s fights and subsequent silent makeups, the conversation Anissa has with Jefferson in the car about generational approaches to Black thought and freedom, “Harriet.”
The first episode was written with such casual ease and finesse that I already knew: these writers are Black. When was the last time you heard “They will shoot your Black ass for fun” spoken by an older Black character to a younger one on your scripted Tuesday lineup?
I knew that before I rigorously scanned their IMDB pages because the show is that good. The dialogue is on point without being too Afro-ham-fisted (ahem, Dear White People). The characters deal with, and appropriately react to anti-Black and misogynist microaggressions; but not in a Black-pain glorifying, white-liberal-guilt-assuaging way (Selma, The Help, UnReal, the list goes on, honestly…). The characters in Black Lighting are allowed to have fun and be young and have relationships and family and joy just like actual, real-life Black people do despite the state of the world. That’s how I know the writers are Black.
Is a show that stars Black and/or queer folks still radical if the “Powers That Be” are white, straight, and male? I don’t think so. Marginalized creators are not infallible. We have to break away from trying to retell our stories through the gaze of our oppressors.
Viola Davis—bless her Afro-to-the-Golden-Globes-adorned heart, may have been credited as the Executive Producer of ABC mini-series “American Koko,” but the six groupings of ten-minute shorts felt more like heavy-handed Tumblr PSA posts than genuine entertainment for the Millennial Black consumer.
There is also the colorism aspect, where what little media space Black people have has been occupied by Zendaya’s, Yara’s, and Tracee’s. I adore and respect these amazing Black actresses immensely, but let’s pretend that our ‘Black Girl Magic’ movement has not been overwhelmingly light-skinned and mixed. Black Lighting was having none of it. The cast boasts an impressive array of brown and dark-skinned actors, each with equally seasoned resumes. China Anne McClain has been a long time favorite of mine. This young Black actor has shined in front of the camera practically since the day she was born, and has perfect presence as the younger Pierce sister, Jennifer. Her and Nafessa Williams (Anissa Pierce) have an extremely easy going chemistry that reminded me of my own sisters. They seem to really enjoy their new roles, too.
Also missing from “Pro-Black” media is the narratives of Black women and the LGBTQ community. Narratives of heterosexual male struggle are usually at the forefront, and I, personally, am tired of it. Marvel’s Luke Cage is the perfect example. I enjoyed Luke Cage; I enjoyed the rare and healthy portrayal of an Intra-racial Black relationship in a genre where Black and non-Black creators alike have an intense aversion towards same-race/non-white pairings. However, it wasn’t hard to notice that while Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) is Black, she is also significantly lighter than her partner, which is not unusual in most of our sought-after heterosexual ‘Black Love’ fantasies.
Luke Cage was also very straight; I don’t recall a single character on the show explicitly identified as queer. I think the show did a bit better by Black women as whole, but the story still revolves largely around the narrative that Black men are the main victims of police violence, and Black women are supposedly given a pass for being female. To circle back to colorism, the show’s darkest woman was Mariah Dillard. Alfre Woodard acted the hell out of that role, and I think Mariah’s character was one of the most, if not the most, compelling aspects of the show. But she was still the villain.
Well Black Lightning is fed up!
Even though Jefferson Pierce is the titular character, the pilot episode is the superpowered torch of passage to Anissa Pierce.
Make no mistake: we are about to witness the origin story of a dark-skinned Black Lesbian superhero with a healthy family life and full support network behind her.
“Dear Marooned Alien Princess” – Zahira Kelly, The New Inquiry (October 28, 2014)
“Misreading women doesn’t make Aziz Ansari a rapist, bu he’s still wrong” – Lara Witt, NY Daily News (January 16, 2018)
“On Suicide, Depression, and Loving Black Children” – Gioncarlo Valentine, Racebaitr (January 8th, 2018)
My name is Janelle Williams and I am a third-year Journalism student at Sacramento State University. I am what is considered “too left” by conservatives and neoliberals alike (a Black woman who believes Black women, girls, and femmes should be treated as people and disagree with American Imperialism and Domestic Terrorism). My work has been published in Courageous Woman Magazine and Black Girl Nerds.