Black Lightning — when morality needs help
The CW channel is responsible for giving the world The O.C. and within its current universe includes slightly dark and often humour-driven interpretations of DC universe creations such as The Flash, Supergirl and the millennial redo of the Archie comics that is Riverdale. I mention this only to explain why the channel’s critically acclaimed adaptation of ’70s DC title Black Lightning is an anomaly within the CW universe. It is also in some ways restricted from being a darker and more grotesque and violent comic adaptation in the vein of the Marvel Universe offerings such as Jessica Jones and Luke Cage.
The show stars Cress Williams as high-school principal John Pierce, the great moral hope of the town of Freeland, who preaches the powers of education as a means of overcoming the threats of overwhelming gang violence and police brutality. But he also keeps a secret identity as vigilante Black Lightning, a persona he is forced to bring out of retirement to protect his family and community under threat from a gang called the 100, who are under the leadership of arch-villain Tobias Whale (played by rapper Krondon).
The show, produced by husband and wife team
Salim and Mara Brock Ali (Girlfriends and Being Mary Jane) manages to work within the less noirish, smaller budget and sometimes slightly cheesy world of the CW to create a narrative that provides a reasonably complex and socially aware commentary on issues within the African-American community in the age of Black Lives Matter and Donald Trump.
Pierce’s struggle is set within a community that must deal with not only threats posed by the gang and drugs but also police brutality and identity politics. He is divorced but still close to and obviously still in love with his ex-wife Lynn (Christine Adams). Together they must deal with the issues facing their daughters — lesbian Jennifer (China Anne McClain) and high-schooler Anissa (Nafessa Williams). The story moves in its sometimes glaringly on the nose earnest way towards becoming very much a family affair, as the Pierces are forced closer to protect themselves and Freeland.
It may at times feel like a collection of the lesson scenes from every ’80s sitcom but there’s something to be said for Black Lightning’s valiant attempt to move away from the often solipsistic, too loyal to the source material superhero genre that’s been offered by the Marvel Universe. There’s also a deliciously devilish cameo by singer Jill Scott as evil mastermind and local undertaker Lady Eve that makes all the serious issues worth enduring. The Alis hit the mark between action entertainment and social commentary.
LBlack Lightning is on 1MagicTV DStv channel 103 at 8.30pm on Tuesdays.