Black Lightning is back — again. In anticipation of the upcoming Season 2, stars Cress Williams, China Anne McClain, Nafessa Williams, Christine Adams, Marvin “Krondon” Jones III, Damon Gupton, James Remar and executive producers Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil stopped by Comic-Con International in San Diego to offer fans a sneak peek at the series.
The panel kicked off with a sizzle reel of the first season. When the reel closed, moderator Jamil Smith welcomed the cast and crew onto the stage.
“Well, I get a lot more love in the world. I mean, a lot of love in the streets! It’s amazing,” Cress Williams shared. “I was in Wal-Mart the other day — Black Lightning’s gotta shop too — a guy came up to me and said, ‘Excuse me? Do you watch a show called Black Lightning? Is that you?”
“This audience is insane!” McClain announced. “There’s nothing like this fanbase. When it comes to comic books and comic book fans, there is nothing like it. They are just so in it.”
“We haven’t seen many African-AMerican so-called superheroes, and I think making a family drama, you’re able to explore our humanity,” Akil said. “In a season, there’s an attempt to divide us. I think shows like this try and pull us together.”
“I think celebrating our culture is important to remind us that we are also part of the fabric of American culture,” Brock Akil added. “I think it’s important to know its origin… What we have gone through as a people… To show… our humanity in that journey… I love how we mentioned the Tuskegee experiment. Tracing our history and our path is important. I’m also very excited to show what’s really happening in our neighborhood… There is a lot of just everyday people. They’re the everyday heroes surviving what’s happening in these neighborhoods… Putting our families back together is part of the history we’ve been trying to repair since slavery.”
As to the show’s depiction of a divorced family, Adams said, “All depiction is very sort of modern and contemporary and is a very good example of how families exist now… It’s blended… it’s really an analogy for how to navigate this chapter in our lives… We’re really navigating what everyone’s navigating. I think the themes are kind of universal. I think it’s great we don’t even attempt to be perfect, because who is?”
Asked about Gambi’s sense of right and wrong, Remar explained, “I don’t think he’d do them if he didn’t think they were justifiable… We’re talking about questions of right and wrong… and I feel that I’m more of surrogate father to Jefferson. He’s my only kid! By any means necessary. I don’t have any difficulty taking up someone like the evil Proctor. It’s a tight rope, but I don’t have any moral ambiguity about protecting the family that I love.”
“First season, I felt like it was necessary for Jennifer to struggle,” McClain shared. “She doesn’t want to be different. She’s already different, being part of this family… I think it was a really nice contrast between Jennifer and Anissa… This season, I hope she grows out of that… and becomes more confident in who she is as a superhero and a person.”
Smith brought up Henderson’s inability to recognize Jefferson Pierce as Black Lightning. “This is suspension of disbelief, bro!” Gupton interjected. Cress Williams then cracked a Superman joke, by putting on and removing his glasses. “I think he’s putting up with Black Lightning a little bit more and figuring he’s more of a necessary evil,” Gupton continued. “He does realize he’s a valuable asset… He deals with people who Henderson isn’t powerful enough to tackle.”
“I love the reference of Harriet Tubman and keeping her name alive,” Nafessa Williams shared. “Anissa, when she wants something and believes in it, she gets it done.” She added that the best experience of playing the character, for her, is hearing from young lesbian fans who feel normalized by the representation they get in Thunder.
“The role itself is a dream come true for me, because it tells so many truths about people who are faced with adverse situations because of something they’re born with… the many ways that they can be overcame. Tobias Whale represents that in a dark way,” Jones said of his character Tobias Whale. “He represents it almost in a positive way, too, because of his success… He was able to come up out of that and make himself a prominent politician within Freeland… the duality of the good and the evil he represents through his upbringing is I think something we face on a day-to-day basis… especially in the black community.”
“Jill Scott is a queen of our time. I think that it would be an understatement to call her a national treasure for the black community,” he said. “It was a dream of mine to work with her musically,” he added, explaining it just never happened but that he was blessed to have worked with her on the series. “It was an honor… I learned from her a lot from our time on Black Lightning… She had such a sensual darkness to her that I really enjoyed playing opposite. It brought a sensual side out of me.”
“When you watch the show, I feel like the way Anissa is present is almost how he was then.I think he’s learned that you can’t always use the hammer. Through those 9 years of just being Principal Pierce, I feel like he’s found that other way… that it requires balance,” Cress Williams explained. “I think having family ties now… just kind of rounds him out. It’s one of the things I love playing the most… I think it’s an asset to have those ties back at home.”
“You can’t do both. Being a principal is a full time job. Being a hero is a full time job. Being a father, another full time job. I think you’re going to see, especially in the season to come, some of that coming to bear. Juggling all of those things is going to take its toll,” he teased.
Akil announced Jordan Calloway, who plays Khalil Payne aka Painkiller, has been upped to a series regular for Season 2.
Smith asked what was inside the briefcase shown in Tobias’ possession at the end of the season finale. “I would like to say it’s the future of Freeland,” Akil teased.
“Black women have always been at the forefront of the battle” Brock Akil shared. “What’s beautiful and what’s necessary about that project when it came along was yes, we wanted to be a part of reflecting that on television… that which is often overlooked, what is often invisible… We need to embrace our daughters. We have a lot to fight, but we don’t want to leave our little girls out.”
Akil also shared a moment from his childhood where he dressed up as Batman, a character he loved, for a school project. “I remembered looking in the mirror, feeling very proud. I remember realizing that the face didn’t match my hands. I really wanted to be authentic… the solution was that my mother gave me gloves… I never never want another young black girl or black child to have to hid their skin again to be a hero… What’s beautiful is that, just today, LEGO presented us with a LEGO of Black Lightning and that will be in the culture hopefully forever.”
“The only other reward I’m looking for from this show… is I can’t wait for Halloween to come this year. If I can see little brown boys and little brown girls and little white boys and little white girls dressed up as Black Lightning and Thunder, I think it would be amazing for American culture,” he added.
Returning to The CW in October, Black Lightning was developed by Salim Akil and stars Cress Williams as Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning, China Anne McClain as Jennifer Pierce, Nafessa Williams as Anissa Pierce/Thunder, Christine Adams as Lynn Stewart, Marvin “Krondon” Jones III as Tobias Whale, Damon Gupton as Billy Henderson and James Remar as Peter Gambi.