Black Lightning co-creator Mara Brock Akil has begun discussing how the show aims to reframe the way black men and their families are portrayed on television. Brock Akil co-created and is producing The CW superhero TV series with her husband, Salim Akil.
Created by writer Tony Isabella for DC Comics in 1977 (after another editor attempted to create a wildly racist character called Black Bomber), Black Lightning tells the story of Jefferson Pierce, a devoted family man and educator by day, and electrified superhero by night. Black Lightning was among the first major black superheroes for DC in the ’70s, and has been a sporadic presence in the DC Universe ever since. Cress Williams is set to portray the titular vigilante/family man in The CW TV adaptation.
Speaking at Essence Festival 2017, Mara Brock Akil spoke a bit about the show’s goals and how Black Lighting will offer a more positive image of a black man and his family than is generally featured on TV:
“What we want to do is put Black men and the Black family back at the center. A lot of the other shows have been led through the view of Black women, so it’s time to place the Black male back and give him a voice at the table. We have to take back the image of Black men raising their families.”
Akil also confirmed that Black Lightning’s two daughters (who are played by China Anne McClain and Nafessa Williams as Jennifer Pierce and Anisa Pierce, respectively) will also have powers, and hopes the image of two young black women as heroes will be empowering for viewers:
“His daughters will have powers. So, two young black girls are going to be in a superhero suit. The empowerment that we have to help, save, and be the hope in our own lives is what Black Lightning is all about.”
While we’re in something of a golden age of superhero television, there has still been a surprising lack of diversity in the show’s casts. The CW has done better with this than others, with The Flash, Arrow, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow all featuring relatively mixed supporting casts, but Black Lightning will be the first show to feature a non-white lead for The CW’s corner of the DC Universe. As the superhero television landscape becomes increasingly crowded, new shows will have to find ways to differentiate themselves from the pack. At the very least, Black Lightning has some undeniably noble intentions.
Black Lightning premieres midseason 2018 on The CW.
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