China Anne McClain had a storied career in television and film by age of 19, beginning in the mid-2000s with roles in Daddy’s Little Girls and Tyler Perry’s House of Payne.
Now, as she steps into the role of Jennifer Pierce on Black Lightning, it’s a complete change of pace for McClain, who has never played a superhero before. Jennifer, who goes by the superhero name Lightning, is the daughter of Jefferson Pierce aka Black Lightning (Cress Williams), and the sister of Anissa Pierce aka Thunder (Nafessa Williams).
Lightning, who is a part of the DC Comics canon, is a metahuman who inherited nearly identical powers from her father including the power of electrical manipulation (though her powers are not fully refined and she does not have full control of them). Unlike her father, when using her powers, Lightning’s outward appearance shows the force of her use, including a glowing aura and golden spikes which develop on her head and back — although recent comic appearances have shown she can now use her powers without the aura and spikes.
Jennifer eventually joins the Justice Society of America, fighting alongside Stargirl, Cyclone, Supergirl and Batgirl. Right now, it’s unclear if Lightning’s powers in the television series will be the same as her powers in the comics, or if they will manifest themselves in her external appearance.
The TV series version of Lightning is based on a student at Garfield High, where her father is principal and her sister is a part-time teacher. At her school, she’s an A-honor roll student, star of the track team and an all-around standout. Because of this, she’s a bit fatigued of being “perfect,” and therefore has set out on a rebellious streak.
“She’s going through that transitional time in her life,” McClain told Shadow & Act in an interview on set. “She’s a teenager moving into young adulthood and it’s difficult for her because she has all this attention on her, because of who her father is.”
She describes Jennifer as the typical “good girl,” who is seeking to rebel against her parents.
“She’s just kind of like, ‘I don’t want to be the queen of Garfield High, I don’t want to be a track star like my father, I just want to be normal,’” she said.
“Her parents aren’t together, and that’s been difficult for her. I feel that she loves her mother and she loves her father and having her mother (Lynn, portrayed by Christine Adams) being gone more is affecting her. That’s definitely what I was thinking about when I was playing it and when she was rebelling. That was the core of it in my mind.”
McClain says her role as Lightning marks “her first time getting into the comic book universe.”
“When I got the audition, I asked my little brother and my dad, who are comic book fans, more about Black Lightning,” she said admittedly. But there’s no doubt she’ll soar.
Black Lightning airs Tuesdays on The CW.
Trey Mangum is the lead editor of Shadow & Act. You can email him at email@example.com & follow him on Twitter @TreyMangum.