Nafessa Williams on the responsibility of playing a lesbian superhero in Black Lightning

Contributed by
Jan 30, 2018

The CW's Black Lightning TV show has only aired two episodes so far (with Episode 3 on tonight), but the show's existence was already momentous from Episode 1. The main triumph is that it is only the second mainstream series after Marvel's Luke Cage to focus on a black superhero and feature a predominantly African American cast. Likewise, Black Lightning is the only program of its kind on network television. 

Another part of the show's progressiveness is the inclusion of Nafessa Williams as  Anissa Pierce, the daughter of Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams), the titular hero. Anissa, while studying to become a doctor, learns that she too has powers and eventually takes on the crime-fighting identity of Thunder. She also happens to be a lesbian. 

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Williams opened up about the responsibility of potraying a character who is a rare on-screen reflection for so many. When asked about whether or not she feels pressure stepping into such a role, the 28-year-old actress said she's not very nervous and believes it could serve as an example in the real world in regards to to approaching sexuality.   

"I believe love is love. I’m just really grateful to tell the story for young lesbians — and black lesbians in particular — who don’t really see themselves on TV," she said. "My hope is that when you watch Anissa, a young lesbian is inspired to walk boldly as who she is and to love herself and to love herself exactly how she looks. Also my parents on this show, they’re very supportive of my sexual preference, and maybe this can serve as an inspiration to parents at home watching who are dealing with a child who is gay or lesbian and not knowing how to communicate or be as a open. I hope that our family on the show is an inspiration for some families just to be open and accept your children and love them. The Pierce family does a great job of doing that."

Anissa's love interest during the first season is Grace Choi, a young Asian American woman who, in the comics, uses her powers as a nightclub bouncer and eventually joins the super hero group called the Outsiders. 

"She’s a peace of mind for Anissa," Williams said of Choi. "It’s pretty cool to be able to tap into that. This is something new for me, playing an openly lesbian [character] on television. I’m always opposite men, so it’s pretty cool to challenge myself and tap into something different. I was excited for that aspect as well."