Every week in which there is an episode of the new WB series Black Lightning there will be a review of that show on this site. Our review will consist of not only plot summaries, but will break down messages, and the use of imagery and audio to carve out lessons for the empowerment of the Black family and households in particular. This also means for those who have yet to see said episode: there will be some spoiler alerts. Having said that, let’s get started.
In the first episode, we see various acts of crime going on in the fictional town of Freeland. This itself is significant. After the passage of the 13th amendment which made slavery illegal ‘except as punishment for a crime’, many Blacks removed the surname of their former slavemaster and changed their last name to Freeman, as a way of recapturing some aspect of their long denied humanity. Additionally, there was also established an association to help former slaves acquire education, housing, and medical care called the Freedmen’s Bureau. The production team of this TV series is most likely preparing the viewer for the unveiling of an extensive history on the establishment of Freeland, that possibly traces its roots toward a similar connection. Nevertheless, the team led by Salim Akil clearly opted to not give the town any ordinary name, but made it historically memorable.
The use of visual memory is shown whilst Billie Holiday’s classic Strange Fruit accompanies these early established events. Given the fact that Ms. Holliday performed this song as a protest to White America’s campaign of terror through the lynching of Blacks with impunity, it is extremely powerfully positioned here. The imagery and sounds of the opening showcase both the perpetrator and victim being African American Black people.
The overall theme of this is to get the viewer to draw the conclusion that the perpetrators are now doing the bidding, historically committed by the Ku Klux Klan. We then see the police who are largely ineffective when it comes to opposing the organized criminal unit known as The 100 stating an official “We take all crime seriously” position. This sets the overall tone of the episode that Black Lightning will forever be linked to the community, as its current state makes him a necessity.
We then see that the leading character of Jefferson Pierce is introduced to us by picking up his daughters from the police station who were arrested protesting the 100. Whilst escorting his daughters home, Jefferson becomes a victim of racial profiling cops. One of whom is also African American. While the White officer clearly takes joy and pleasure in accosting Jefferson Pierce, the African American officer also appears to take satisfaction in pulling his gun on Jefferson’s daughters, who are only concerned about their father’s ill treatment. This officer actually kicks their door shut whilst threatening to shoot. The daughter’s start to record the event with their cell phone, until Jefferson fearing for his daughter’s safety tells them otherwise.
This scene conveys how much the daughters care about their community and ridding it of the death and destructive activities that have become commonplace. The Black officer represents countless African American officials who walk the line of betraying justice when it comes to their own people. Some do it reluctantly, others resist it and pay an extremely high price. Yet there will always be those, who cooperate and assist in the oppression of their own, for reasons only known to themselves. Jefferson’s instructions to his daughters to stop recording on their cell phone is indicative of how so many African American Blacks all too often go above and beyond to prove themselves non threatening after such has already been known and established. This is done in order to not give an oppressor any further reason to kill a member of a despised group.
Even when the police allow Jefferson to return to his car, he demands the officer give an account of his unjust treatment. The officer says that a store owner had been robbed, whilst giving a wry smile yet refuses to apologize. In that moment, the anger that far too many Blacks have felt begins to flicker as Jefferson’s power of electricity is teased for the viewer as his anger rises. Showing this immediately draws the viewer in especially if he or she has had a similar experience.
The scene then shifts to show Jefferson Pierce at a fundraiser for a high school at which he serves as the principal. Whilst there, the friendship and respect he commands by many is shown by the police chief’s attendance and pledge to investigate the earlier racial profiling event. Jefferson’s education, background, and professional pedigree is established here as a very impressive one. It becomes clear he is a man that could have lived in any city he desired, but his love for his community and his people compelled him to return to help others ride the elevator to a higher place as he had.
These scenes are noteworthy as it not only establishes Jefferson and his daughters as social activists but it also forms certain aspects of Black manhood: Responsible father, dedicated to community growth and empowerment, the ability to command respect as a man and the commitment to instill it in future generations. The next scene sets the tone for the entire series.
After his former wife is introduced to the viewer, his daughters are shown making an agreement to disobey some of their father’s rules in order to have some fun. What happens next expertly explains why Black Lightning is needed. During the course of the episode, it is explained that Jefferson stopped being Black Lightning because it cost him his marriage. We come to understand that Jefferson could not have his family and protect the community concurrently because the world of one produced consequences of rippling effects in the other.
The love and desire that still exists between Jefferson, his ex wife and his daughters to be together as a family is ever present. This is especially powerful in a society that promotes division between Black men and Black women. As American society once denied certain forms of social assistance if Black men and Black women were married and coparenting as a family, this theme becomes incredibly attention worthy.
This episode should be watched and discussed as part of any form of family conversation. There are lessons such as these and others that draw on various aspects of the Black experience that can have a positive mental and social impact.