It’s not exactly a secret among the editors here that I’m an unabashed comic book nerd. Or that I’ll randomly start dropping unsolicited information about any character that strikes my fancy into a conversation. I love comics. I especially love me some lady heroes. So I’m particularly baffled at the by and large lack of buzz around what should be a momentous occasion.
You see, when the CW debuts Black Lightning for their 2017-2018 midseason, they’re not just debuting a show about an all-black family of superheroes (which is tremendous in its own right). No, they’re debuting the first on-screen DC canonical lesbian superhero, who also happens to be a woman of color.
And yet… over the summer I’ve largely seen crickets in reaction. Indeed, it’s been so quiet I even had a hard time trying to find confirmation that Anissa Pierce (Nafessa Williams) was still going to be queer when she made the jump to television. No joke, I finally found an article confirming it with help from Nicholas over on Twitter.
Perhaps it’s because the larger viewing audience just isn’t familiar with Black Lightning and the associated characters. Fair enough, I can provide a quick primer.
Anissa is the eldest daughter of the eponymous superhero, Black Lighting, aka Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams). In the comics, she agrees to a deal with her mother and father. Graduate college; THEN you can become a superhero. See, Jefferson’s not the only one in the family with gifts. While her younger sister, Jennifer Pierce (China Anne McClain), has powers more in line with Jefferson’s electrical abilities, Anissa is able to increase her body mass while completely reserving her volume.
What does this mean? Well, her density is greatly increased to the point that she’s nigh on invulnerable when she activates her powers, not to mention nearly completely immovable. Just by stomping the ground she can create shockwaves, and, more importantly to the wlw community in light of Bury Your Gays, she’s practically bulletproof.
Stop and let that sink in. We’re getting a queer black woman whose powers make her bulletproof, and immovable. If that doesn’t take your breath away, I don’t know what will.
But to further flesh out the Anissa picture, we have to look at her love interest in the comics. After all, it’s easy to say a character is queer and then never follow up on it, or if it is, only for an issue or two. Not so with Anissa. She finds love with fellow hero and woman of color, Grace Choi.
Choi is an Asian-American bisexual woman, also half Amazon, with a past that has some unfortunate implications. She was a victim of a child prostitution trafficking ring but managed to escape when her metahuman abilities manifested. After escaping, she had a series of relationships, including Green Arrow, Arsenal, and more, before meeting Anissa, aka Thunder.
Their relationship was rocky to start out, but both women grew to respect, and then love each other dearly. Furthermore, Grace is 7 feet tall, hugely muscled, and doesn’t fit the traditional superheroine “shape” in the slightest. She’s also incredibly strong, has regeneration abilities, and has superhuman speed and durability. To sum it up, it’s an interracial lesbian relationship featuring two women of color who are both superheroes and almost invulnerable, and who also present different types of feminine expression.
Topping off this news is that the show is being run and written by two black showrunners, Salim Akil and Mara Brock Akil. They’ve gone on record saying that Anissa will not be the only LGBT representation on the show and that they plan on portraying the queer community as real people, not a “cause of the week.”
Black Lightning gives us at least one canonically queer woman of color. It has the potential to give us another in Grace Choi. The showrunners are committed to respectfully portraying other queer characters.
So where’s the buzz for this? By now, if you’re reading still, there’s no longer an excuse for ignorance. If you want more queer representation, especially diverse representation, we have to hit the ground running. Too many shows or movies have gone unnoticed until it’s too late.
The Power Rangers movie gave us our first silver screen wlw superhero in Trini the Yellow Ranger (played by Becky G). Are we getting a sequel? It’s not looking great.
The Bold Type, the currently much-lauded series on Freeform also featuring an interracial wlw relationship with two women of color (played by Aisha Dee and Nikohl Boosheri) is on the bubble because of ratings, and a second season is uncertain.
Even fan favorite Wynonna Earp was on the bubble for renewal after its first season. And unfortunately the pattern is that we tend to either find out about this representation halfway through the season or later, or we somehow assume we can wait to join in… and by the time we start mobilizing, it’s too late.
This isn’t all doom and gloom, nor am I trying to be accusatory. After all, it’s a laaaaaaaaaaarge internet, and we have multiple things competing for our attention, especially with current real-world events. It’s hard to keep track of things, even when we want to know more! See my example above on missing the article that a twitter user found for me. And I’m an entertainment editor!
But, we have something amazing at our disposal to leverage to help ensure shows with diverse, queer content stay on the air.
See, just as Wynonna Earp was on the bubble of cancellation, a group of devoted fans launched an email campaign, bombarding Syfy with messages to renew the show for a second season. And it worked. It worked so well, and the community generated so much buzz for season two, that at San Diego Comic Con this summer, Emily Andras announced Syfy had already renewed the series for a third season.
With The Bold Type, word of mouth finally reached the community at large, and many of us tuned into watch “Before Tequila Sunrise.” The ratings for that episode were the highest of the season, with a 41.67% increase in 18-49 demographic group. While the renewal for The Bold Type is still in the air, that’s a hell of a showing our community played no small part of.
Don’t let Black Lightning even get to the “on the bubble” point. Tell people about it now. Generate buzz for it now. Talk the show and its potential up now. And then tune in and stay tuned in for every episode you’re able to. Keep the support steady, and keep the buzz coming. Do we want better representation for everyone in our community?
We have to step up and show the networks that we’re here from day one, and we, much like Anissa, are immovable.