Listen up ladies and gentlemen, take to the streets and tell everyone you know Black Lightning is back better than ever. Today marks the series premiere of what in my not so humble opinion is going to be the CW’s best entry into their superhero catalog. Created in July of 1972 by the talented Tony Isabella and Trevor Von Eeden, Jefferson Pierce doubles as a teacher and sometimes principal of Garfield Highschool and the superhero Black Lightning.
In its first episode, Black Lightning unapologetically tackles issues of Police brutality, racial profiling, and gang violence. One of the most unapologetic scenes in the show comes early on after Jefferson and Jennifer pick Anissa up from the police station after she was arrested for participating in a protest march that turned violent. The scene takes place as Jefferson and the girls are driving down the road and he and Anissa are going back and forth about the need for more action in Freeland. During their conversation, Jefferson is pulled over for what seems to be absolutely no reason. Two police officers begin looking around his car, shining lights into the front and back seat in the girls face, he is ordered to get out of the car, and the white police officer essentially snatches him out of the car. Jefferson is slammed onto the hood and ruffed up much to the reasonable dismay of his daughters who are verbally protesting. Anissa uses her phone to video the incident, which is extremely reminiscent of the way police brutality and misconduct is captured by citizens today. The police officers raise their guns and order the girls to place their hands on the dashboards in a clear attempt to inhibit Anissa’s ability to capture what they are doing. At this point, Jefferson pleads with his daughters and begs them to place their hands on the dashboard because as a Black man in America he knows all too well just how this incident could end. At the end of this entire altercation after having not been told why he was pulled over and removed from his car Jefferson understandably and justifiably asks why he was pulled over, to which the officer replies that a local liquor store was just robbed. This again justifiably pisses Jefferson off as he confronts the officer about clearly not fitting the description and only being pulled over due to racial profiling. The officer laughs it off and it is in this instant that we get our first glimpse of Jefferson’s powers as he shorts out the officer’s car imid flashlights.
This scene was particularly interesting to me and it was honestly one of my favorites in the episode because it just struck me as something I hadn’t seen before in any of the CW superhero shoes. This blatant and unapologetic addressing of the struggles of being Black in America. It was also interesting to me due to the conversation that Anissa and Jefferson were having just prior to being pulled over. Anissa understanding that the community of Freeland is absolutely sick, tired, angry, and fed up with not just the 100 Gang, but also the treatment that the community is facing. These same feelings of anger and being absolutely fed up being displayed in Jefferson after apparently his 3rd encounter within a month of being wrongfully pulled over.
In Black Lightning, we are introduced to a world plagued by gang violence and the hands of the 100 Gang, a gang that is terrorizing Jefferson and his families hometown of Freeland. The episode centers on the fallout of Jennifer sneaking away to attend a club known for being the hangout place for members of the 100 Gang. This incident would come to color the entire episode as it puts not just Jennifer, but her entire family in contention with a drug dealer named Lala and house cousin. All in all the events of that night would kick off Jefferson’s return as Black Lightning.
The cast of Black Lightning is absolutely fantastic and Cress Williams perfectly portrays the shows title character. He perfectly portrays a father who is focused not just on the safety of his family, but also on the safety of his community. China Anne McClain is perfect at portraying Jefferson’s daughter Jennifer Pierce who is the typical teenage girl struggling to figure out who she is outside of who everyone else sees her as. Nafessa Williams plays Anissa Pierce who I’m almost certain is going to be my favorite character on the show. Anissa is headstrong and completely prepared to fight for what she believes in. She is the activist of the family fully ready to take to the streets and fully unafraid of taking the 100 Gang to task. It is also absolutely fantastic to see the amount of dark skinned and brown skinned Black women within the show’s main cast because up until Black Panther that wasn’t something that we as a community are used to seeing.
Overall the episode shows that the series fully intends to address issues of race which it honestly seems like the CW shows enjoy avoiding unless it is in symbolism or allegory. It was absolutely refreshing to see the elephant in the room finally addressed without dressing it up or hiding it behind symbolism or a slew of “you can read it how you want to” answers from showrunners. Black Lightning is the CW superhero show that many fans of color have been painstakingly waiting for. Mara and Salim Akil have proven themselves to be the perfect creative collective to helm this character. This episode perfectly proves what many Black creatives have been saying for ages that when you put Black superheroes in the hands of Black creatives they are allowed to fully become the sum total of their potential. If the CW wants to use one of their shows to do a Black Lives Matter episode this is definitely the team and the character to do it with, all shade intended. I’m fully invested in Black Lightning and I can’t wait to see where the show goes with not just Jefferson’s character but also the characters of Jennifer and Anissa who will seemingly don their superhero alter egos at some point.