Black Lightning Star Cress Williams Shares 9 Electrifying Things About The CW’s New Hero

The classic spandex suit, family values, and social justice all play a part in Black Lightning's mission.

by | January 12, 2018 | Comments

The DC superhero shows on The CW have striven for diversity. After Arrow and The Flash, Supergirl broke the superhero glass ceiling. Arrow and the Flash have diverse and powerful allies, and Legends of Tomorrow assembled a diverse crew of time-traveling heroes, rotating in new ones each season. Now, Black Lightning is the first superhero series with a black lead and a predominantly black cast.

Cress Williams plays Jefferson Pierce, a father of daughters Anissa (Nafessa Williams) and Jennifer (China Anne McClain) and an ex-wife Lynn (Christine Adams). He’s the principal of Freeland High and, oh yeah, he used to be the superhero Black Lightning. In dealing with a drug gang called The 100 and police corruption, many Freelanders wonder where Black Lightning has been. They could use a spark of hope, and his lightning bolts wouldn’t hurt either.

Cress Williams spoke with Rotten Tomatoes about Black Lightning and shared nine electrifying things to know about the show.


Black Lightning premieres this month and will still be airing when Marvel’s Black Panther hits theaters. Both are significant black superheroes; in fact, Black Panther was the first ever in print. But Williams doesn’t see Chadwick Boseman’s movie character as Black Lightning’s competition.

“It’s great that between the two of us, we’re creating the cinema as well as television,” Williams said.


All the other DC shows portrayed the origins of their characters. In Black Lightning, Freeland already knows who Black Lightning is. Spoiler alert: He’s coming out of retirement.

“It’s easier for me because I am the same age and physically going through the same thing that Jefferson/Black Lightning are going through,” Williams said. “Also as a fan, I love the whole genre. I love that we get to tell another side of it and not do the origin story.”


Portraying present fathers has become an important TV theme. This Is Us star and recent Golden Globes winner Sterling K. Brown, for instance, has previously said it is important to counter the perception “that black men are absent when it comes to their families” and that his role does that, providing an uplifting father image that people can identify with “regardless of their race, creed, nationality.”

Black Lightning also does that. Jefferson Pierce will remain a present father even with his crime-fighting activities.

“I think he is a Renaissance man and juggles everything,” Williams said. “His dilemma is always keeping the secret from his family, because his daughters don’t know. He’s very active in their lives, and I love that portrayal.”


Black Lightning creators Salim and Mara Brock Akil wanted to use the superhero story to address issues facing real communities, and so, as a father, Jefferson Pierce wants his daughters to stay out of protests that could turn violent. As Black Lightning, however, he busts the heads of corrupt people oppressing Freeland. Both perspectives — nonviolent and violent — existing in the same character reflects a very topical issue.

“It’s kind of posing two ideals that some might say are like Malcolm [X] and Martin [Luther King],” Williams said. “The Jefferson Pierce ideal is you’re active in the community through education, through support. The Black Lightning perspective is you’re active through muscle and through force. I think the show hopefully will spark the debate over which is which. For me personally, I think ultimately it’s a balance of both.”

In real life, people can’t shoot lightning and throw bad guys around. Williams offered his thoughts on staying safe while being active.

“You have to be involved in the community,” Williams said. “You have to be involved in the issues, but you also have to protect yourself. I always think when he was the very age, specifically Anissa’s age, he was fired up in the way that she was. He probably had the same attitude. He’s wiser and he’s also protective. Nobody wants to see their children arrested or potentially abused or in danger. So he celebrates the spirit of what she’s doing, but he wants a little bit more savvy with what she’s doing.”


Fans may take Black Lightning home with them after they watch the show. What they may not know is they’re taking a little bit of the real Cress Williams along with him.

“In a spooky way I felt like this is me,” Williams said. “I have a 12-year-old daughter. Family is immensely important to me. Education is immensely important to me. I went to college. Even though I always knew I wanted to be an actor, it was also very important for me to go to college, and finish college. So a lot of his ideals resonate with me.”

It’s not just Jefferson Pierce though; Cress Williams may be a real-life superhero too.

“Then there is a side of me that people refer to me as the Akita side,” Williams said. “If you know the dogs, Akitas, that is extremely protective. People say I’m laid-back and I tend to be a pretty laid-back person, but then there’s a switch that gets turned when I see something unfair happening; specifically with people that I love, I almost get blinders and just go into protection mode. All those aspects are in the character, I just identified with them.”


Black Lightning gets a new, modern costume from his mentor Peter Gambi (James Remar), but the classic spandex still makes an appearance on the show. A news report shows security camera footage of an old Black Lightning fight.

“That suit, we started with back during the pilot, and it most resembles the comic book,” Williams said. “It feels a bit nostalgic and it’s really old school. It’s more spandex and things like that. I’m a bit older, so it feels like I’m the superhero that I grew up with.”

You haven’t seen the last of classic Black Lightning either.

“We’ll do some flashbacks,” Williams said. “Not a ton, but we shot more in that suit than has been out there, so they might use that.”


When it comes to the new suit, you’ve got high-tech glowing parts and what looks like a suit of armor. Yet Williams can walk around in it like he’s just taking the dog for a walk.

“It’s the strut,” Williams said. “You practice. I feel almost like I’ve been practicing my whole life. I’ve always wanted to be a superhero. The suit makes you feel larger than life so it’s pretty easy. With the new suit, it just feels like you want to go through walls. It’s exhilarating.”


Jefferson’s wardrobe is pretty sweet. Even if he didn’t have the Black Lightning suit, he’d be the best-dressed man in Freeland.

“The joke on the set is they look at me when I’m in my principal gear, they’re like, ‘Wow, how do you afford these suits on a principal’s salary?’” Williams said. “For the longest time I didn’t have an answer. Then I realized Gambi, who’s like my surrogate, is a tailor. His tailor shop, if you look at the actual set, is absolutely gorgeous. I was like oh, I have a father figure who gives me free suits. That’s how I look so good.”

Williams did not research being a high school principal, but he knew enough from experience. “I’ve known some,” Williams said. “My daughter’s 12 so I’ve been active in her school so I kind of identified that just through a bit of osmosis.”


At this point you can’t picture anyone but Cress Williams as Black Lightning. Apparently the casting directors thought so too, but they didn’t show their hand.

“I was sweating a lot more than I guess I needed to,” Williams said. “I think behind the scenes, which I didn’t know as an actor, I was kind of their choice from the beginning. I went in, I auditioned and then I went in for essentially my final callback and then I just waited.”

Perhaps Williams got an early hint when he saw no one else in the audition room looked like him.

“People were shorter, nobody was taller, people were a little wider, people were a little thinner, people who are slightly younger, people who seemed a little older,” Williams said. “It was a wide variety initially. I worried about it because from the moment I read this script I was like, I want this so bad. It made the hair on my neck stand on end.”

Black Lightning premieres Tuesday, January 16 at 9/8C on The CW.

Tag Cloud

genre action-comedy sequel Character Guide Nat Geo travel news Masterpiece HFPA fast and furious Esquire Trivia witnail dexter Amazon Prime Video parents Freeform Fall TV First Reviews boxoffice japan MGM romance summer TV cooking screen actors guild television OneApp mcc Dark Horse Comics TruTV Awards Tour American Society of Cinematographers vampires Exclusive Video unscripted supernatural Logo name the review VICE Superheroe TV renewals based on movie cars Black Mirror quibi SDCC broadcast 4/20 award winner Peacock 2018 The Purge indie game of thrones Food Network james bond Rom-Com criterion DC streaming service El Rey hispanic period drama romantic comedy Mary poppins ID CW Seed Netflix canceled Country 99% razzies Marvel Star Wars Apple TV Plus Summer Biopics Sundance Now summer preview book CBS All Access latino GIFs australia batman President transformers BAFTA remakes History war scene in color debate Marathons video worst movies best Warner Bros. screenings zombie festivals Action cancelled TV shows critics NBA Sundance TV Television Critics Association deadpool Teen 20th Century Fox Starz live event kids BBC kaiju ITV USA Network comic book movie Mary Poppins Returns dc Best Director monster movies Tarantino Best Actress See It Skip It Comic Book sequels blockbusters Vudu green book Wes Anderson Rock directors 1990s stand-up comedy Film Festival zero dark thirty Spike Red Carpet what to watch Mystery spy thriller marvel cinematic universe TV Land Spectrum Originals elevated horror true crime Sundance composers Winners Discovery Channel GLAAD Certified Fresh football BET ABC Family NBC Quiz italian adaptation comiccon Crackle A24 Disney Channel Hear Us Out target Alien The Arrangement dreamworks Ghostbusters Prime Video lord of the rings Pop adventure free movies stoner docudrama children's TV Sci-Fi finale crime thriller summer TV preview indiana jones Universal Pictures E3 Pacific Islander mob Fox News jamie lee curtis Paramount Network Musical Apple TV+ 007 saw ViacomCBS rt archives Comedy rt labs critics edition cults psychological thriller a nightmare on elm street golden globes 94th Oscars cancelled television 90s dramedy psycho Holidays Black History Month trophy San Diego Comic-Con sports PBS BET Awards TV emmy awards fresh Reality Competition CNN FX on Hulu thriller OWN Turner Classic Movies VH1 Horror Sony Pictures Academy Awards comic book movies TV One SundanceTV satire harry potter Tomatazos nfl venice PlayStation Paramount Plus japanese docuseries cats Pet Sematary wonder woman sitcom Tubi Fox Searchlight BBC America know your critic prank Tokyo Olympics Shondaland Fantasy Superheroes king kong TBS streamig Comics on TV art house golden globe awards Universal 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards mockumentary Interview Cannes AMC Plus Amazon Prime dceu discovery feel good Travel Channel Christmas Showtime YouTube Red MTV spider-man 45 new york Disney+ Disney Plus Fargo independent IFC Films Amazon Studios book adaptation king arthur Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt reboot comic Pop TV Cosplay boxing Broadway Lionsgate royal family Hulu strong female leads Nickelodeon dark Trailer slasher new zealand Marvel Studios singing competition Best Actor USA breaking bad Arrowverse Walt Disney Pictures universal monsters adenture talk show Infographic Turner VOD Sneak Peek Elton John Hollywood Foreign Press Association spanish language IMDb TV Trophy Talk IFC superhero justice league Star Trek Pixar Video Games Shudder dragons Calendar tv talk scary movies aliens 2015 technology asian-american Lucasfilm blaxploitation A&E Funimation live action Creative Arts Emmys historical drama rom-coms video on demand Television Academy HBO Go YouTube Premium rt labs Marvel Television chucky cinemax Film cops Instagram Live Britbox high school disaster MSNBC olympics Endgame spain Best Picture The Academy nature medical drama Acorn TV TV movies Baby Yoda basketball all-time Legendary women revenge CMT Countdown DC Universe ESPN Polls and Games biography hollywood Oscars toronto Thanksgiving Mary Tyler Moore Family LGBT gangster Emmys zombies 2020 binge MCU The Walking Dead werewolf diversity RT History dogs comics Classic Film heist movie Oscar Best and Worst Apple Martial Arts Epix pirates of the caribbean serial killer streaming DirecTV The Witch The Walt Disney Company series obituary sag awards renewed TV shows marvel comics ABC Image Comics Adult Swim Captain marvel laika 24 frames Neflix black Hallmark Christmas movies APB Lifetime Christmas movies Paramount Pictures TCA robots Disney streaming service FOX rotten movies we love Heroines Cartoon Network comedies classics comic books RT21 Holiday foreign richard e. Grant legend 2019 Pride Month documentaries aapi streaming movies Year in Review Western crime drama Chilling Adventures of Sabrina CBS doctor who movies Amazon cartoon FX documentary Lifetime suspense TIFF scorecard Mudbound Tags: Comedy french political drama Extras mutant YA Grammys festival E! Election Ellie Kemper TNT franchise Writers Guild of America LGBTQ Premiere Dates New York Comic Con young adult critic resources Bravo Paramount TLC Rocketman Pirates Women's History Month Emmy Nominations anthology Brie Larson 2016 christmas movies south america concert ratings canceled TV shows 2021 GoT ghosts space First Look FXX SXSW 2022 Comic-Con@Home 2021 Reality natural history Photos films 2017 popular obi wan Box Office casting TCA Winter 2020 Set visit halloween anime science fiction twilight mission: impossible versus Mindy Kaling Hallmark Avengers Anna Paquin international TCA 2017 DC Comics worst blockbuster Rocky Opinion Animation police drama Chernobyl crossover stop motion NYCC 21st Century Fox die hard Syfy posters PaleyFest Disney Tumblr DGA spider-verse spinoff South by Southwest Film Festival 93rd Oscars teaser Disney Plus National Geographic theme song X-Men superman The CW facebook trailers black comedy WarnerMedia Drama YouTube Podcast social media TCM TCA Awards Stephen King hispanic heritage month ABC Signature Kids & Family leaderboard archives Watching Series 79th Golden Globes Awards Binge Guide hist joker WGN scary Music crime rotten halloween tv AMC telelvision Netflix Christmas movies cancelled TV series Schedule movie vs. BBC One HBO Winter TV child's play Comedy Central nbcuniversal cancelled Spring TV godzilla Focus Features Nominations miniseries HBO Max Crunchyroll sopranos jurassic park Ovation spanish hidden camera Song of Ice and Fire SXSW Columbia Pictures toy story game show politics biopic 73rd Emmy Awards new star wars movies kong 72 Emmy Awards Super Bowl Valentine's Day slashers animated 71st Emmy Awards reviews Musicals Toys Awards