It must be hard being a superhero, right? Well, that may be the case but ‘Black Lightning’s Nafessa Williams ensures us its also a lot of fun (“are you kidding me? I get so excited when I get to put my costume on!”), which is good news considering that the show will be back later this year for a second season.
In Netflix and The CW’s most recent DC Comics television adaptation, ‘Black Lightning’ follows Jefferson Pierce (played by Cress Williams) juggle family life with the return of his superhero alter-ego Black Lightning. Eventually, Jefferson’s daughter Anissa discovers she might also have a bit of the superhero gene in her too. The show is a landmark for television in that it not only features the first African American superhero family, but it also features the first black lesbian superhero in the form of Anissa Pierce, played by Nafessa Williams.
We caught up with Nafessa to see how she feels about taking on such a historic character that relates to so many different people and why she’s all about empowerment and individuality.
So, what first interested you in ‘Black Lightning’ and the role of Anissa Pierce?
It was a character that we haven’t seen yet, so that’s what really sparked my interest. Also, I’m a big fan of the creators and writers involved, such as Salim Akil, so it was a no-brainer. I had real confidence that they would be able to tell the story of Anissa in the right way. I just love how they create these strong and bold female characters, which is always something I’m seeking out to play. Plus, I get to play the first black lesbian superhero!
It must be a massive honour to be able to claim that title. It’s a landmark role for television.
It’s a huge honour, and knowing that I’m giving young lesbians that visual to see themselves on TV is very special to me. I think representation is very important and I’m hugely honoured, for sure.
Did you ever feel any pressure in how you would portray Anissa, a character that’s so underrepresented in the media right now?
I was really excited for the fans of the comic books, who have followed the story from the beginning, to see the character actually come to life. I didn’t really feel the pressure, I was just really excited that people were about to see a new kind of character.
I particularly like how Anissa’s sexuality is never really revealed as part of a plot device. It’s just there and everyone gets on with it. Kinda like it should be.
Absolutely. It’s a very normal situation, so we normalise it. What’s really touching for me for fans to see is that our family just accepts Anissa for who she is. There’s no big ordeal or coming out moment about it, they’re just very supportive. I hope that fans watching are supporting the story, and teenage lesbians are able to relate to Anissa.
Have you heard any stories from anyone who has been positively inspired by Anissa?
I’ve been going to a lot of fan conventions with the cast recently. I had one woman in particular come up to me and said that after seeing Thunder (Anissa’s superhero alter ego) on screen, she felt normal. I was just like wow! It was so rewarding for me to know we are able to inspire a whole generation of lesbians, if you will.
A recent report by GLAAD called out the Marvel and DC films for featuring characters that are LGBTQ+ in their comic book forms but their sexuality isn’t acknowledged in their movies. Do you think there’s a reason why television has been able to tackle this before cinema?
Yeah, hopefully they’re inspired by the TV side of it because I love how true the creators and producers of our show stay to the comic books. I’ve seen one or two naysayers who have had something to say about Anissa, and have been like “oh, why is Anissa a lesbian?”. It’s like, well, if you had done your research and you know the comic books, then you’d know that this is how she is in the comic books. We’re just paying homage to that.
Kudos to everyone on the TV side who are keeping true to who these characters are and not trying to make them more acceptable or fit into society. It’s like, screw that, we’re so past that time. I’m just happy and honoured to be part of breaking barriers when it comes to sexuality in TV and film.
You have your own online fashion boutique. Can you tell us a bit about the story behind Saturday Dreaming and its message?
It was always my dream to have my own fashion label. When I was at college, I’d always shop on a budget and I was always grateful that I could go to Forever 21, spend $100 and get an entire outfit. So, I wanted to always give that back and give young girl bosses who want to follow their dreams and are needing to shop on a budget but look like they have already succeeded in whatever industry or field that they are in.
It’s about looking the part and having the mindset. Saturday Dreaming can give you that vibe and that confidence that you need without breaking the bank. That’s ultimately what its about.
A common theme running through your work is the importance of individuality. Do you have a message for anyone struggling to find their place in the world?
I think we succeed most in life when we are ourselves. Individuality is a thing that is always unique, it makes us who we are, and I think it’s also about finding that place within yourself where you can embrace who you are. You can’t really be yourself when you’re comparing yourself against other people. There’s things about us that uniquely make us who we are, and set us apart from others.
We’ve been told that Black Lightning’ exists on a separate Earth from the other Arrowverse series, but if there WAS to be a crossover episode, are there any characters in particular you’d love to see team up with the Pierce’s?
I think it would be really cool to team up with Supergirl, I’m all about female empowerment. Nothing’s better than bad-ass women fighting crime, and I’d love to team up with the women!
What does it feel like when you put the suit on? Do you feel like a superhero when you’re wearing Thunder’s outfit?
I got so emotional when I first put the suit on, it was a very emotional experience for me in that my dreams were coming true and that little brown girls are about to get a visual that I didn’t have growing up. I didn’t have people who looked and acted like me when I was young.
I feel like a BADASS when I put my costume on. I actually had to do a photoshoot with the outfit on last week and I was like “ooh, Thunder girl, I’ve missed you!”. She keeps me empowered, it’s always a good time when I see that outfit. It’s a cool-ass experience, it really is!
The power of the show, with all its important LGBTQ+ and African American representation, must also make you feel like the ULTIMATE superhero too!
Exactly, and it’s really been a honour and I’m really grateful that I get to be able to play such a dynamic, bold, and badass character and represent so many different people, you know what I mean?
So, season two of Black Lightning. The rules for a second season are usually “bigger and better”, any secrets you can spill on what’s to come?
We don’t know ANYTHING about season two yet, I haven’t even had a script yet. Season one introduced all the main characters of the show and told their story, so now we can really go about taking it to another level.
What I would hope for is to see more of Anissa’s love life. She didn’t really get the chance to focus on that because she was trying to understand her powers and figure out how they work. So, there wasn’t much time for a love life. Maybe now she’s got more of a grip on her powers, we can see that side of her. I’m excited.
Season one of ‘Black Lightning’ is currently available to stream in the UK on Netflix. The show will return for a second season, airing on The CW in the US, later this year.
You can follow Nafessa Williams on Twitter here.