Black boys and girls have long dreamed of a superhero with amazing powers who looked like them, lived in their world of racial injustices and fought on their behalf to change their world, even the world of all humankind, for the better — but forced to make do with the likes of “white-male wonders,” from Superman and Thor to Mr. Fantastic from his team of four and X-Men leader Wolverine.
But can children of color ever hope to see a role model, a protector of the innocent and one imbued with special powers — one who hails from African-American lineage? Said another way, do childhood dreams ever come true?
Well, here’s a newsflash. It appears that sometimes they do after the highly-anticipated TV series “Black Lightning” recently debuted on the CW — a television station that has already developed significant fan bases with action heroes who include Arrow, The Flash and Supergirl.
However, a significant difference exists. After generations of popular, super-powered heroes and a few heroines, all with lily-white skin, found their way from comic book pages to television or the big screen, a brown-skinned brother born and raised in an African-American community similar to thousands of others across the U.S. has finally emerged.
Created and produced by the highly-sought after two successful Black producers — the husband-wife duo of Salim and Mara Brock Akil, whose collective television and film credits include “Jumping the Broom,” “Girlfriends,” “Being Mary Jane” and “The Game,” their “Black Lightning,” based on the short-lived DC comic book hero who first appeared in the 70s, reaches for new horizons.
Black Lightning, aka Jefferson Pierce (portrayed by Cress Williams), serves as today’s superhero of epic, and inspiring proportions. Meanwhile, Williams takes on a role that practically fits him like a glove.
For the husband-wife couple and industry leaders who in 2015, finally brought to fruition a TV deal with Warner Brothers, the parent company of DC Comics, fascination with superheroes has been part of their lives since childhood. Mara says she had an affection for Wonder Woman and the Bionic Woman while Salim admits he loved comic books so much that he once wore a Batman costume to school for Halloween until one day drifting away from the medium.
“It just got boring, reading about all these really powerful and heroic white guys,” he said.
That, he says, is why their “Black Lightning” series has even more significance for him.
As for the new and improved Black Lightning who, early in season one, returns to action after an extensive hiatus, using his ability to harness electricity at will and employing his unique, collective skills in order to combat rampant racism and crime that have all but paralyzed his community, many fans have already shared their excitement about the existence of a Black superhero — one to whom Blacks of all ages can relate.
As for diehard fans who may have followed the heroic actions of Black Lightning in the same-titled comic book on which the TV show is based, you’ll probably see both similarities to and differences from the original story.
But new milestones have been made on the hit television network. Serving as the first African-American superhero on the CW, the show’s star brings a much different background from other network heroes. He’s a mature, father man of two daughters, routinely referred to as “Jesus,” who has already achieved success and created a safe zone for youth in his daytime role as principal of a charter high school located in the violence-riddled community in which he grew up.
What’s more, he’s the father of two daughters who has felt compelled to return to action after a nine-year hiatus — one taken in order to redirect his attentions to his then teenaged daughters and wife.
Another revision of note in the TV version — Jefferson’s oldest daughter Anissa, while following the comic book series where she soon realizes that she has super powers of her own, on the Akil’s reimaging, she’s also an out-of-the-closet lesbian — therefore a potential role model for many of today’s youth from the LGBTQ community.
Executive producer and developer Akil Salim said one of his goals has been to include scenes where her sexual orientation appears natural as opposed to revolutionary. And, he adds, there’s a whole lot more he wants to explore.
“Fans should understand that [the show] is a journey — it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” said Akil who bases many of the episodes on personally-experienced situations from his formative years in Richmond, Calif., including one of the early scenes from the series premier when he fears for his life during a police traffic stop.
“I wanted to do a show [where] when violence happened, you felt it,” he said during an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, referring to the show’s setting, the fictitious town of Freeland that, since Black Lightning’s retirement, has found its neighborhoods overcome by skyrocketing crime and the potential takeover by a violent gang, the 100.
“Oakland, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Chicago — you name the city, it starts there,” he noted during a recent interview with Joshua Johnson on the NPR-produced weekly broadcast 1A on which Johnson serves as host.
“I think I’m intended to use my gift — to talk about the things I feel people need to talk about,” said Akil, who added the show will explore the ramifications of life faced almost daily by Blacks in many of America’s urban cities.
With just three episodes having been aired, the show’s fan base continues to grow by leaps and bounds with Williams easily moving between his heroic, neon-lit costumed persona and his alter ego as his community’s native son — an educated, suit-wearing, smooth-talking former standout athlete and Olympic star.
Skye P. Marshall, Nafessa Williams, China Anne McClain, Christine Adams, Marvin Jones III and James Remar, the show’s only white character, join Williams as the primary characters. And each has a significant role to play. But Black Lightning brings the real juice to the show.
In fact, he’s “electric.”