Black Lightning's Nafessa Williams Brings Thunder, Justice to The CW

After (Black) Lightning comes the Thunder. In Black Lightning, The CW's latest DCTV show, Nafessa Williams' Anissa Pierce will begin her journey to becoming a superhero. As the daughter of Black Lightning, Anissa will manifest a few powers of her own, and her penchant for social justice will drive her to use them to free her community from the grasp of Tobias Whale and The 100.

During a set visit, Williams offered some new insight into her character and what drives her to go into the family business. She teased the development of Anissa's powers, as well as the Pierce's reaction to them. She also discussed Anissa's relationship with Grace Choi and Gambi, her place in Freeland's community, what separates Black Lightning from The CW's other superhero shows and more.

Asked if she would compare getting superpowers to coming out, she said, "For sure. She's becoming a young woman, and she's reaching her independence and discovering these things and it's exciting! She's excited about it! But, you know, sometimes we have growing pains, where we're excited about what's new and it's a new chapter but you're also intimidated and a little afraid because you've never been here before. So she's learning some lessons and she's figuring some things out for sure."

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"I tell you, she inspires me because I think her strength isn't what she can do on the outside," she added. "She's just like a lion on the inside. Her strength comes from within, and I think that's the most beautiful part about Anissa. Yeah, she can control her body's mass and stop bullets. She's a lot! You guys got to definitely keep tuning in, because it gets exciting. Yeah, it's pretty cool."

As for Anissa's reaction to her developing superpowers, she explained, "Well, the first inclination is to do some research on this before I tell anybody, because they're going to think I'm crazy. They're not going to understand. I have no clue that Black Lightning is my father, so it's like, 'Where the hell is this coming from?' So I do my research and I'm trying to piece things together and I would say Anissa is in this moment of discovery, like, 'What is happening with me?' Struggling with the things she's discovering and how to share it and who to tell, maybe it keep it to myself. It's affecting my relationships, my work, everything. So it's a moment where she's struggling a bit."

"It's definitely a lot to juggle and it's also a matter of juggling something that's really not your dream. She wants to be a superhero," she said. "It's like, 'Okay, I'll do what you ask of me, and that is to go to school. You say you want me to be a doctor, but this is my dream. I did the college thing.' Now she's ready to be a superhero. She's ready and excited and she's like, 'Nothing is ever going to stop me.' So it is frustrating. Especially her discovering that she has those powers is like, 'Okay, how do I juggle?' You'll see that it affects her at work or at school."

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Anissa's burgeoning superpowers may come as a shock to her parents. Though she wasn't willing to reveal much about it, Williams did tease that "it's an amazing moment. I'll say that."

"[Her powers are] something that she keeps to herself and that's where the struggle lies, is that she's not sure who to tell, not even really sure of what's happen and how to explain it without sounding crazy. There is a moment where you will see her have that intimate talk with her parents or the 'reveal,' if you will," she continued, "but it's a beautiful moment, for sure."

As to the way this will all affect Anissa's bond with her sister Jennifer, Williams said, "The thing is that being her older sister -- being her protector -- there's some exciting things that I'm discovering but there's also some struggles that I kind of, as an older sister, want to shield your younger sibling from going through. There's some struggles that, if I could keep her away from, I would. So we're really good friends. We're more than sisters, definitely best friends. Hard to keep secrets from each other. We can read each other, pick up as best friends would do. So she loves her little sister. She's a big, overprotective sister. As you'll learn about Anissa, she's overprotective with everyone that she loves."

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Her penchant for social justice comes "definitely from her father. He's taught her everything about Martin Luther King to Malcolm X to Faneuil/Hamer and just being inspired by that and being inspired and motivated by what's going on in our world and what's happening today, so she definitely gets that from Jefferson Pierce, for sure."

Nevertheless, Jefferson may have sheltered his daughters from the harsh truths of their community. "I definitely think that Anissa is acutely aware for sure. As she goes out and adventures on her own and realizes her powers, there are some things that she's learning even more by spreading her wings. Again, she's going on this journey for herself for a while before anyone knows, so she definitely learns some things being out there on her own for sure," Williams shared. "But she's still very connected to the community, still very aware -- I would definitely say Anissa is very aware again… She's the one where, if you're having problems at the school with a bully, she's the one who's going to run out. She's been that way since she's been a kid. I like to think that you'd be good if Anissa was your friend. She's got your back. She's aware. She really doesn't take any BS. We're going to do the right thing, or we're going to fight for it. We're going to fight for change, and we are not here for the injustice. She's a fighter, for sure."

Indeed, Anissa will fight to save a community filled with people "that we know! That we grew up with! We are connected to these people. We went to school with them, that the children that I teach -- they're like little sisters and brothers to me! The beautiful thing about the Pierce family is that they decided to stay and not say we're going to leave our community; we're going to stay and we're going to build it up and we're going to make a difference. If we can't talk about the things that are bringing us down or degrading what we have going on in our lives, then we're not going to change it, so that's what the Pierce family is there to do. We're going to stay in the community and we're going to make it work. We're going to build the schools, fight for each other, and -- again -- we grew up knowing each other, so this is a real community within the show that our parents and our parents' parents… it's a really cool bond within the show."

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In order to do that, Anissa and the the rest of her family will have to take on the most feared gang in Freeland: The 100. "We've got to figure out a way to take them out! That's the goal. And you will just learn and see how eager she is and how she just wants to fight against the injustice and fight against what's happening in the community," Williams reiterated. "Again, she knows her purpose and she's like, 'Whatever I have to do to change the community, to change the lives of these students.' She's a teacher, you know? So going to school everyday, wanting to do her part to change the community, and -- again -- this all has been motivated and she's been inspired by her father. He's really about education and we believe, with this show, that with education you can be your own superhero."

Williams also weighed in on Anissa's relationship with Peter Gambi, her surrogate grandfather. "So my grandfather passed in the show and he is the father figure to Jefferson Pierce, so he is like an uncle or a grandfather to us. He is that elder in the family who we go to for advice," she explained. "Obviously, he makes the costumes, so he's there and he's very involved in everything Black Lightning has going on. So he's definitely a family member of ours."

On her path to becoming a superhero, Anissa will make a few friends along the way, including Grace Choi. "What I will say with Grace is that she finds some commonality with Grace and they understand each other and I can't give away too much because you guys have only seen the first two episodes so I'll say that Grace and Anissa have a connection that she's never had with anyone else before," Williams revealed.

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As to what separates Black Lightning from The CW's other superhero shows, she said, "Well, for one, for starters, which is the obvious, is that we're the first black superhero family on network TV and I just feel like we're going to reach so many people other than just black people. We're a show who are telling real life stories of events that are going on within our country and we're tackling those issues and you'll see our family go through issues just like you and I have in our families."

"Another thing I'm really proud of is that, with Anissa's character, she's pretty unique," she added. "She's a lesbian, so little girls are going to be able to look up and be like, 'Okay, I'm like her and hopefully my parents will accept me the way her parents accepted her.' We have an albino on the show, so albino people will be able to relate to that. We definitely have a unique approach where we're set in a real time, a real setting here in Atlanta, not in an alternate universe."

Debuting Tuesday, January 16 on The CW, Black Lightning stars Cress Williams as Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning, China Anne McClain as his younger daughter Jennifer Pierce, Nafessa Williams as his older daughter Anissa Pierce, Christine Adams as Lynn Pierce, James Remar as Peter Gambi, Damon Gupton as Henderson, Marvin “Krondon” Jones III as Tobias Whale and Chantal Thuy as Grace Choi.

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