Though their appearance at WonderCon was brief, the writers of The CW’s Black Lightning made an impression on fans who came out to see tonight’s episode a few days early and ask some burning questions. While some initial questions were obvious — executive producer Salim Akil would like to introduce Batman on to the show because of their long-standing relationship in the Outsiders comics — one question sparked an important thought for Akil.
Asked if it is difficult to write the series during such tumultuous time for the country, Akil said living in the current era is something of a “blessing,” adding, “I love the climate that we’re in … While it seems tough and challenging, it is a time when things change.” Uncovering truths and fighting for change is at the very heart of the series, which stars Cress Williams as Jefferson Peirce, high school principle and electrified superhero.
As revealed in recent episodes, the Freeland community was subjected to an experimental vaccine meant to “lull” the population into complacency thirty years ago. The group behind the experiment, the ASA, is also responsible for the current Greenlight drug which is based in part on the earlier vaccine. Using African Americans — and African American communities — as unwitting test subjects has a long and real history Akil wanted to explore through the superhero prism. “We wanted to examine the Tuskegee experience as [the ASA] reveals itself over the year,” he explained. “We started in the so-called ghetto and took it outside to reveal that while you have to take responsibility [for your own actions] there are outside factors. Kids don’t make the guns, they don’t make the opioids, they don’t make the crack. This is Corporate America and you have the Pfizers coming in and setting it up.”
But while Akil sees the potent metaphor within the superhero, fellow writer Lamont Magee sees a symbol of hope. “I grew up in South Central LA and I ran home to watch superhero shows,” he said. “This is a dream come true to give voice to the voiceless.”
Magee’s childhood experiences also formed his response when a fan asked about the difficulty in writing a superhero who also happens to be an educator. “I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the teachers who gave me the motivation to move past my circumstances,” he said. “Without them, I’m not here. They are my heroes.” The rest of the panel, which included writers Pat Charles and Adam Giaudrone, agreed with Magee’s sentiment. To them, Jefferson Peirce’s heroism shines through whether or not he is wearing a costume and using his powers. “Jefferson is a hero,” said Charles. “He’s a role model, a father, and with Black Lighting, it’s obvious.”