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BLACK LIGHTNING Creators Promise Authentic Representation and Inclusion

BLACK LIGHTNING Creators Promise Authentic Representation and Inclusion

In the call for representation and inclusion in comic book adaptations for TV, Black Lightning is the answer. The CW’s newest DC Comics drama stars Cress Williams as Jefferson Pierce, a.k.a. Black Lightning, a retired metahuman superhero who gets pulled back into the vigilante life when his family and community get threatened by dangerous local gang The One Hundred. Super powers aside, it’s the most grounded and diverse CW comic book series yet, with a much more adult-skewing cast and mature story with which many people will be able to identify. It’s inspiring, it’s real, it’s heartbreaking, and it’s going to be one of your favorite shows of 2018.

The authenticity will give POC viewers not only role models in many of the characters, but also a rare instance of responsible representation in a genre that desperately needs it. And that’s all thanks to the series creators/showrunners Salim Akil and Mara Brock Akil. The vision that the Akils went into the project with was never changed or retooled, so the Black Lightning that premieres on Tuesday, January 16 at 9:00 p.m. is the show they set out to make from the beginning.

“I just drew from my life,” Salim told the room of reporters at the 2018 Winter Television Critics Association press tour on Sunday. “Jefferson is already a community-based superhero, he’s already a principal, he’s already a father. It gave me an opportunity to talk about things that were personal to me. I grew up in a community like Freeland. I was surrounded by those things that you see in Freeland and in Chicago and Oakland. It came naturally. It wasn’t a choice made out of, ‘Hey this is what we want to say.’ It came out of a choice of, ‘This is what I know and this is what we know so let’s do what’s real. Let’s do what’s authentic and real to me,’ which I think everybody embraces. I’m appreciative of that. It’s very personal to me.”

And Mara is proud she and Salim are never forced to take their voice out of their work. “Akil Productions, one thing that Salim and I set out early to do and it’s a through line in all of our projects, is that we do black on purpose,” she said. “It’s important to us to put our humanity into the picture, into the tableau that is out there in storytelling. The authentic nature about how we communicate, how we use humor to survive sometimes, to get through the next moment as opposed to just being funny. Sometimes how we get back out there is to laugh at it, otherwise the alternative is to cry and not do anything. The authentic voice, the black on purpose, the storytelling about the layered characters of Freeland and of this family, and the community [was important to us].”

Salim champions the fact that they “have a predominantly African-American writing staff” for Black Lightning. “I think that that’s a good thing,” he said. “The BS [meter] is that we have people who have either lived this life or know someone who has. And the BS meter is also our cast. They know what language feels like in their own community.”

And as for casting Williams in the titular role, Mara revealed when he read for the part, she got chills. “He should have been a leading man a long time ago,” she said. And Williams knows how important Black Lightning will be to POC viewers and comic book fans.

“Simply put, as artists we want to entertain, obviously, but when you see what’s going on in the world the job of art is to speak to it and be impactful,” Williams says. “I can only speak for myself but once I leave this planet, I want to know that something that I did made a difference. I was just ecstatic [to land this role]. This is an amazing opportunity to entertain but also to speak to life and I think that’s our job as artists.”

Growing up, Williams only had white superheroes like Superman as his entertainment, so he is incredibly grateful that he can now be a fixture in pop culture for African-American kids to see themselves in Jefferson Pierce.

“I think it’s beautiful that we have Luke Cage, that we have us, and we have Black Panther,” Williams says. “We’re kind of conquering every possible outlet. I think there’s an animated black Spider-Man coming. I’m stoked. Now we have so many things to choose from, so I hope that keeps growing, not only for African-Americans but for every ethnicity, gender, religion. I think it’s important. Ideally I want everyone to be able to look and go, ‘That’s me.’ I want to find them socially represented, they grow up and look to the screens and say, ‘I see me.'”

But what’s coming later in the first season is what Salim is most excited to debut. “You haven’t even seen Thunder and Lightning yet,” he said of Jefferson’s two daughters coming into their own superpowers. “The conversation is revolving around Jefferson and Black Lightning but look at this. You have a superhero with her hair in cornrows. That’s for the culture. You guys haven’t seen that yet.”

Black Lightning premieres Tuesday, January 16 at 9:00 p.m. on The CW. What are you most excited to see from Black Lightning? Tweet me at @SydneyBucksbaum and let’s geek out together!

Images: The CW

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