News and culture through the lens of Southern California.
Hosted by A Martínez
Airs Weekdays 2 to 3 p.m.

'He's kind of like the black Batman,' Black Lightning is a hero with a social conscience

Black Lightning --
Black Lightning -- "The Resurrection" -- Image BLK101d_0100 -- Pictured: Cress Williams as Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning -- Photo: Bob Mahoney/The CW -- © 2017 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved
Bob Mahoney/The CW

Listen to story

Download this story 12MB

A black superhero story on the screen. A cast and creative staff that's largely African American. Acclaim across the board from critics and fans alike.

Are you thinking "Black Panther?" Well, you'd be half right.

"Black Lightning" is the latest in The CW's lineup of superhero T.V. shows. And while it's got all the action and other stuff you'd expect, it also has a social conscience.

Cress Williams plays the title role in "Black Lightning" -- Jefferson Pierce. When he spoke with Take Two, he told A Martinez the character's complexities are what drew him to the project.

His community is kind of forgotten and he's trying to keep his school safe, he's trying to keep his daughter safe in this community that he grew up in but that is ravaged by crime and corruption and drugs and violence...

He still has this complicated relationship with his ex-wife. He still wears his wedding ring...He's got a lot. And his daughters, they're like 22 and 16! So he's juggling quite a bit.

To play Pierce is to answer the question: "What would it be like in today's world? What would it be like if I had powers?"

From a superhero standpoint, what's it like to have powers but still have to exist in life? I love that Jefferson has bonds. He has daughters and family and community as opposed to the superhero who has a potential love interest that he can't just let her know and that's the only tie that he has.

Besides making "Black Lightning" the most relatable superhero, there's also the effort to shine a light on social issues and cultural identity. It's not something most shows or movies containing comic book heroes touch upon, in an effort to stay light, but "Black Lightning" dives in.

It's a genre now. Anytime you have something that's a legitimate genre, if it's going to sustain itself and maintain itself, it has to evolve. So it has to ask different questions, so I think this is just part of that evolution.

If we stayed in the realm of the Christopher Reeve "Superman," people would just tune out eventually because they've been there, done that, but we have to move forward with stories like "Black Panther," "Black Lightning." And that's like asking these other questions so that the genre survives.

In order to tell these stories and answer these different questions, a set of writers who can tell the story authentically are needed, and "Black Lightning" has them. The cast and crew are mostly African American, and Williams says, it has made all the difference.

For me as a person of color, it's just the safety. I don't even think about, 'Am I going to be represented properly?' I'm not worried about a script because I know it's coming from someone who knows and who knows me.

It comes down to also our set, our hair, makeup people. The crew, you look around and I know I'm going in and everything's groovy...I went into work one day and I thought, "This must be how white actors feel all the time!" This is their norm.

"Black Lightning" airs on the CW Tuesdays at 9:00 p.m. PST.