Monday night marked the premiere of The CW's final season of Black Lightning – a show that's been making history on the air since it first debuted in January 2018. The comic-book-turned-TV-adapted series set unprecedented heights for superhero stories beyond its all-Black cast, political themes, and culturally-relevant messages. Black Lightning over the years has grown to be an entity much bigger than what we see on the small-screen. Now, it's a part of an expanding legacy that has a mission to continue telling universal stories at the hands of Black creatives.
The show's creator Salim Akil – who has spent his life work's honing in on Black-centric narratives – reflected on his time working on Black Lightning with Shadow and Act.
"It's been rewarding and a blessing," he said. "I felt like I had done something that could last beyond me, you know, that also benefited our culture. My intention initially was to show a certain type of Black man on television, one that cared about his family and community deeply on all levels. I wanted to also add to that this idea that he was surrounded by strong Black women."
As his very first comic book gig, Akil aimed to live up to his own expectations and find a way to create something tangible that would resonate with viewers well after the show went off the air. With the full support of The CW and Warner Bros., Akil had the freedom to build up a groundbreaking show that not only put a spotlight on taboo topics in our society, but held a mirror up to show us what our reality truly looks like.
"When I looked at doing this show, I looked at all of the people that I admired like Gordon Parks, Prince, Nina Simone, Muhammad Ali, James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, Toni Morrison, and so forth. When we look back, they have created the roadmap, and one of the things that they used as their currency was their authenticity. It's very easy if we just follow the breadcrumbs that they left behind."
For the show's fourth and final season, Akil shared that viewers will have a chance to see worldly events unfold that speak to what's currently happening in our country real-time. His motivation for this season's themes remains the same as his intentions for previous seasons, which all tie in a genuine storytelling-component honoring our culture's desire to speak our truth out-loud for the world to understand. "I try to talk about things that are consistent in our lives as African-Americans," he told Shadow and Act. "We go about crafting these stories by concentrating on things that people don't recognize in our lives."
The season four premiere episode touched on all aspects of trauma and ways we go about processing it – something we as Black people have battled with for many years. In an attempt to call out the discourse among normalizing chaos in our society, Black Lightning put a spotlight on The Pierces and citizens of Freeland still reeling from the after-effects of living in a post-war city.
"We normalize things so quickly that even some of the most horrendous things we turn a blind eye to. Jefferson's daughters have killed people, his wife has killed people, and he feels like he's responsible for it," Akil revealed about the first episode. "That kind of thing changes you. How you deal with trauma as a family and how you deal with it individually." In that first episode, we the audience saw every side of the main characters' emotional process from Jefferson vowing to retire from superhero life declaring, "Black Lightning is dead," to he and his wife seeking therapy, to his family who have all resumed fighting crime in the streets of Freeland to cope.
Every aspect of the premiere's underlying message spoke volumes to what we've experienced as a nation and as a people over the last year. What's unique about Black Lightning is that the show doesn't force these conversations, but implores an honest approach to starting them – that's the genius that Akil instilled in his DC Universe passion project.
Akil's years in Hollywood has taught him how to find joy in his work, and with Black Lightning, he found a lot of that in seeing how impactful the show has been to its fans. "The constant support and love that I get from people has been so profound," he shared. "TV shows come and go, but to get support from people and see smiles on their faces brings me a lot of joy." Not only has it been rewarding to see people's reactions to how the show has affected them, it's also been Akil's honor to create that representation on-screen for Black audiences who are just beginning to see their voices and faces on-screen from the comic book world. "Everybody wants to be celebrated in some shape, form, or fashion," Akil said. "I've always tried to tell stories where people could see themselves. Where there could be a moment where they say, 'man I know how that feels' or 'I know somebody who went through that.' I think if you can tell stories, no matter what the genre is, where people recognize themselves and their culture and not feel exploited, then they grab ahold to it."
As far as Black stories in TV go, Akil shares that part of Black Lightning's mission was to take back our culture using a combination of good narratives illuminated by universal messages. Between navigating relationships, dealing with work, and the evils of the world, the show worked overtime to ensure Black people were seen wholeheartedly.
As the show comes to an end, it paves the way for a new beginning in the form of a dedicated spinoff centered around Jordan Calloway's character, Khalil Payne – otherwise known as Painkiller. According to Akil, the new series will be exploring a youthful period in which Calloway will reprise his role. Thanks to the path that Black Lightning has blazed, it allows for future Black superheroes to exist and take the stage to write our future.
Black Lightning airs every Monday night at 9/8 C on The CW. The spinoff series, Painkiller, is set to premiere its pilot episode mid-way through Black Lightning's final season.