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TV Review: Black Lightning (Season 1, Episode 1)


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Affecting, honest, and with a far more mature understanding of racism and injustice than popular entertainment would otherwise offer up, Black Lightning is the show we need in 2018.

Many elements of the show set it apart from its CW counterparts in the Arrow-verse, which contribute to the sense of great promise held by this pilot episode: primarily, our protagonist is a middle-aged black man returning to his superhero identity after almost a decade, doing away with the slow and predictable origin stories many other DC shows have subjected us to.

It is also a superhero story that confronts not just crime, nor blindly reinforces institutions of law and order for the benefit of the status quo. No, Black Lightning instead challenges crime as a symptom of the institutional and systemic oppressions that create a culture of crime in the first place.

Just as importantly, this show is brazenly black. On a pop culture landscape that sees white male after white male enter the superhero universe, it’s refreshing and necessary to see a show driven wholly by a black man and a wider black community, and their struggle to exist trapped between police brutality and gang violence.

The story’s not just about Jefferson Pierce, principal and superhero, however. It’s about his two daughters, Anissa and Jennifer, who aren’t used as innocents in distress or plot devices to drive their father’s narrative. They’re fully fleshed out women of colour with their own agency - something which shouldn’t be so incredible and rare to witness, but is.

When the violence of the One Hundred, a local gang, begins to threaten the sanctity of Pierce’s school, endangering the safety of both his students and family, is when Jefferson is pushed to don his hero costume once again.

There’s something to be said for the fact that Black Lightning was retired for nine years, while Obama held the Presidency for eight years. But now, one year into Trump’s administration when race tensions are high, and the socio-political climate radiates intolerance, Black Lightning should come back.

Fascinating intergenerational dynamics are also at play in this show, as the episode opens on Jefferson bailing his daughter out of jail for having partaken in a peaceful protest against the rise of the One Hundred. We see generational perspectives clash: Jefferson’s experience in the fight against injustice grants him wisdom and prudence, but his daughters’ anger and resentment are a reflection of the contemporary awareness that the status quo has remained unchallenged for too long.     

With so many threads of family drama, character-driven moments, superhero action sequences, and commentaries on crime, race, the police state, profiling, human trafficking, and institutionalised injustice, Black Lightning manages to come out perfectly balanced and cohesive, entirely structured yet organic.

Based on this pilot episode, Black Lightning shows great promise for what’s to come, and is imbued with a societal consciousness that is especially timely in light of the current debates happening in America about issues of social justice and equality. It is a show that has a lot to say, and that needs to be listened to.

Black Lightning is available to watch on Netflix, with new episodes arriving weekly. 

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