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'Black Lightning': The revolution will be televised

The CW takes comic book shows in a bold direction with its new superhero series.
Black Lightning CW
Cress Williams plays Black Lightning on The CW's latest superhero series. Photo by Bob Mahoney / The CW

Racism, police brutality and other real world problems usually take a back seat to time-travelling villains and alien invasions on shows like “The Flash” and “Supergirl.” But “Black Lightning,” The CW’s latest superhero series, plans to tackle those injustices head on.

While showcasing the complexities of race relations in America may seem out of place on a comic book show, “Black Lightning” masterfully balances those heavier themes with the super-powered action fans have come to expect from DC Comics’ small screen ventures. And although it’s fun to watch Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) hurl bolts of electricity at bad guys, it’s clear that the series hopes to spark a wider conversation around a variety of issues. Not only does “Black Lightning” refuse to shy away from tackling those important topics, but it also offers a glimmer of hope for its viewers with its positive portrayal of a loving African American family.

Case in point? The first episode of "Black Lightning," which debuts Jan. 16, sets a serious tone for the series with a powerful opening scene involving a situation that has become all too familiar for many African Americans and people of color. Despite being a respected community leader and high school principal, Pierce still gets pulled over and harassed by white police officers during a rainy evening car ride in a disturbingly accurate example of “driving while black.”

The series also heavily revolves around Pierce’s relationship with his two daughters, Jennifer (China Anne McClain) and Anissa (Nafessa Williams). The later is an avid activist and lesbian who also ends up becoming a hero in her own right known as Thunder.

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Williams tells Metro that she hopes her character will become a powerful inspiration for African American women, especially those in the LGBTQ community.

“She’s very strong. She comes with a very powerful voice,” Williams says. “I believe that young women need to see her, in particular black young women, to have that visual of someone who looks like them.

“Growing up, I didn’t have a superhero to look up to who looked like me,” she adds. “I have cornrows. You don’t really get to see that on TV. I just appreciate the authenticity.”

As the first headlining black superhero in DC Comics history, it’s only fitting that “Black Lightning” is helping to blaze a new trail for African American heroes on television.

“It’s been time for a show like ‘Black Lightning,’” Williams says. “It’s long overdue. It’s necessary. It’s needed.”

“Black Lightning” airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on The CW.