The CW started 2018 with the launch of Black Lightning, its latest superhero series based on a DC character. The show continued its first season momentum with a panel midday Sunday at WonderCon, taking the stage at the Anaheim Convention Center’s arena.
Executive producer and showrunner Salim Akil opened the panel by introducing this Tuesday’s new episode, “Sins of the Father,” which was screened in full for the audience. Following the episode, Akil was joined by Black Lightning writers Pat Charles (writer of this week’s episode), Adam Giaudrone and Lamont Magee, with Jacqueline Coley of Black Girl Nerds serving as moderator.
Asked about what the show has accomplished in its first season, Akil said, “What we wanted to do, what we started with, was the premise of the Tuskegee experiments.” Akil said that when you look at drug problems in communities, you realize the drugs don’t come from there: “You have to ask yourself, how does that get into the community? We wanted to examine that in our own way. It’s timing. We’re talking about guns, we’re talking about kids, and we’re talking about the effect the government can have on your community.”
Coley asked about writing the character of Tobias Whale, depicted on the show by Marvin “Krondon” Jones III. “I was fortunate enough to write the episode that looked into his past,” Giaudrone said. “Villains don’t see themselves as villains. To see a little bit of where it started from, and then get the payoff of him confronting his father — that’s perfect superhero fodder to play with.”
Magee discussed writing the character of Jennifer Pierce, played by China Anne McClain. “How does a family who really knows each other hide something from each other? I just played with that.”
Moving to Anissa Pierce/Thunder, played by Nafessa Williams, Coley pointed out the character was the first black female queer superhero in live-action, which is faithful to Thunder’s depictions in comics. Akil said writing each character came naturally to him when writing the pilot.
“When I finished, I was like, ‘Oh shit, this does not look like you’re regular superhero show, I don’t know how people are going to take it,'” Akil said. “But when we did the second episode, when I saw the love scene between them, it was so elegant and so truthful, that I knew we had done something, because I hadn’t seen that moment on network television before. I was really happy that it turned out the way that it did, and it got the response that it did. I get so much love from everyone, telling us how appreciative they are, that we kept the character true to the comic book.”
“We didn’t want to do a ‘very special episode’ where she comes out,” Akil continued. “This is real life. It’s not abnormal. Since the day I had consciousness, I had people around me who had different views, different sexual orientations. It’s not a big deal to me, and I didn’t make it a big deal on the show.”
First fan question: What DC superhero would the panelists want to see in Black Lightning? Akil answered Batman. But what would he do on the show? “I gotta keep that in my head, but I think it would be very, very dynamic. Reading the comics, the one thing I love about their relationship is, it was Batman who was almost like his therapist. I like hat idea. We’ll see.”
Will Black Lightning cross over with other DC shows? “I don’t know,” Akil said. “I want people to get to know Jefferson Pierce and his family. Right now, by bringing anybody else to it, it could be confusing. It’s a lot of characters, and I really want people to settle in first. Everything is possible, but right now I’m not planning it.”
Final question of the panel: A student teacher asked if the panelists had advice on how to balance being a teacher and a hero. “Is there a difference?” Magee asked. “I wouldn’t be here today it it wasn’t for six teachers in my life that gave me the motivation to believe I can move past my circumstances.”
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