Previously, we talked about the pertinence of Black Lightning and how it expanded upon black issues beyond the tropes and problems faced in shows like Luke Cage. The CW’s latest DC superhero show didn’t just cover “black” topics faced by inner-city, but those experienced by black Americans from all walks of life.
Here I continue my conversation with Holdt, regarding this issue.
Holdt: This show covers that intersection of suburban, middle-class America and being “black” that’s important. The problems faced in schools, homes, and everyday life, no matter where we’re raised, what our families are like, how we’re educated, etc.
African-Americans from All Walks of Life
Too many PoC characters in shows, even positive ones, fall into stereotypes: working class, criminals, cops, or community leaders that have “risen above their poor origins.” Black Lightning is different; African-Americans are shown as educators, scientists, parents, students, counselors, pastors, middle class, etc.
Holdt: The show undoubtedly represents a broad spectrum of American People of Color (PoC) experiences. I’m impressed by the inclusivity and how it shows the hierarchy, biases, and stress among different black Americans.
This social pecking order is often missing in other shows, as they focus on the stereotypes, both positive and negative. That intersection of urban and suburban, working and middle class, light and dark skinned, is something far too many non-PoC viewers don’t understand.
Holdt: Black Lightning covers many critical African-American topics; I enjoyed its focus on misogynoir and colorism. I also appreciate how it touches on disability and healthcare, not to mention the wheel of generational poverty and child abuse.
The representation of black family is also diverse and essential. From the upper-middle class Pierce family to the less ideal origins of Tobias Whale and everything between; audiences are no longer beholden to the stereotypes of “poor, broken” family or the Huxtables.
Holdt: There’s a showcase here of multi- and blended families, as well as adoptions and complex community relations, divorce and co-parenting. The show is diverse, not just in characterization but also in casting, with actors from different countries, upbringings, educations, etc.
Another important aspect about Black Lightning is its unabashed approach to intersectionality. This show isn’t just about African-Americans, but black women, black LGBT, black people with disabilities, etc.
Holdt: Black Lightning is respectful, across the board in its depictions of life and what it’s like to not only be black but fall into other categories. That’s the beauty of Anissa, an intelligent, forthright woman who also happens to be a lesbian; she has agency, passion, vulnerability, and spirit.
African-Americans Working for Better Community
Anissa, aka “Thunder,” also works as a prime example of something missing from other shows – how she works to help her community. Too many myths make it seem like African-Americans are ignorant of, or complacent with, the problems in their communities, a myth that’s contributed to stereotypes and racism.
Holdt: Anissa is a superhero in her own right, a powerful metahuman, as strong as the male figures around her. She is unquestionably a model, protecting others, encouraging students to think, standing at the forefront of activism; yet, she’s not placed on a pedestal and has her struggles.
Not just Anissa, but the entire show reveals how everyday people take a stand against crime and corruption, even as they’re hampered by an uncaring government that contributes to the problem. Jefferson’s struggles as a principal and father, Billy’s obstacles as part of the police force, Lynn’s efforts as a mother and ex-wife of a superhero – all feel very real.
Holdt: Jennifer’s struggle to maintain her individuality and still succeed academically, the Reverend’s push for a peace march to protest The 100’s crimewave, Khalil’s sacrifice of his body and future to protect others in his community – they all resonate.
The reactions of some characters also reveal the flaws of humanity in these conflicts. Not everyone faces danger head-on or is a paragon; some talk tough but run and others will fight for their children.
Holdt: I love how the show handles different modes of thought, like yelling for help, running away, praying, or straight up locking the door. Do you do the right thing or are you like many people, frozen in fear or worrying about your survival?
Black Lightning has so much depth compared to other shows that I think we could go on forever. Discussing more on the women of this show, the trials PoC teenagers face in school, the crimes that permeate even the most suburban neighborhoods – we’ve barely scratched the surface.
Holdt: We could talk about the lack of hyper- or oversexualized characters of color, the beautiful inversion of the “Magical Negro” trope with Peter Gambi, or the generational gap. Unfortunately, that will have to wait – there’s so much to say.
Don’t worry, as we plan to cover this later in the season. By then, I’m sure Black Lightning will have provided us with even more pertinent story and character development.
Holdt: Until then, we’ll see you… next black time, next black channel!
Catch Black Lightning Tuesdays on CW. Check your local listings for times. Also if you are in the MD DC VA area, come to Awesome Con to meet Cress Williams.