‘Black Lightning’ Producer Says CW’s New Superhero Series ‘Is An American Story, Not a Black Story’

The CW’s superhero slate is expanding even further with Black Lightning.

Slated for midseason, this update of the groundbreaking comic tells the story of electricity-manipulating metahuman Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams), who has logged nine years as a high school principal when he is jolted out of superhero retirement after his own soon-to-be-super daughters are essentially threatened by local gang The One Hundred.

Developed by executive producers Salim and Mara Brock Akil, alongside Greg Berlanti and Sarah Schechter, this Black Lightning’s battles are even more grounded in social justice than when Jefferson debuted as one of DC’s first African-American heroes in 1977. While topics like Black Lives Matter, race relations, and police brutality are on the docket, Salim Akil stresses, “This is an American story, this is not a black story… We’re going to be culturally specific, but universal in our themes so everyone can see themselves in these stories.”

Below, Salim Akil previews the new drama ahead of its Comic-Con debut.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why Black Lightning? Where did the idea come from to tap into this character in particular? 
SALIM AKIL: It was presented to us when we arrived here at Warner Bros. for our deal. They were so smart and they said, “We have this project and we think it would be perfect for you, Salim.” I agreed. It was just everything that I had been looking for in order to express my own voice and everything that Mara wanted and knew about me and was encouraging me to express myself. It was a no-brainer; that’s the easiest way to say it. It was just a no-brainer when you know the character.

Are there any particular Black Lightning runs from the comics that you’re inspired by?
The original was what I was inspired by because I just felt like — it may sound cliché — but I grew up in an area of the Bay Area that was tough; my life had been tough. And when you look at superheroes, of course you want to identify with them. I remember as a kid wearing the Batman costume for Halloween, and feeling empowered by that as a kid. When you see a superhero that looks like you, and lives in and fights in a neighborhood that is sort of like yours, it’s empowering to a degree that makes you have hope. That is the power of storytelling and that is the power of images. To go back to your first question why: That is the power, the power of images and the power of feeling connected to something right and something strong and something that can protect. So you can imagine if I had been that same kid in the Batman uniform, if I could’ve been that same kid in a Black Lightning uniform for Halloween, you can imagine how empowering that could be.

We’re getting more and more diverse superheroes these days — is it added pressure for you guys? Or are you honored to get to represent that?
It’s not pressure, it’s joy. I get the opportunity as a showrunner to present a hero to a community that’s underserved in terms of having superheroes. So it’s exciting to be able to be involved and to be at the forefront and the vanguard of that — if you want to call it a movement or a popularity or whatever it is — but I’m excited to be a part of it. My vision and my hope is that by the time that this airs, the next Halloween, little boys and little girls of color will have a Thunder and a Lightning and a Black Lightning costume. I know what that means and I understand how that feels. So, to have the opportunity to try to be a part of that is an amazing feeling. It’s a privilege and it’s a blessing.

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Entertainment Weekly