Everything is a Choice – Thoughts on Black Lightning

Black Lightning 101 The Resurrection aired January 16, 2018

I had such a good time with this show. Being a fake comic book fan, I had assumed that Black Lightning was the all-grown-up version of Static Shock, a favorite superhero of mine from my childhood. I looked into it and it turns out that Virgil and Jefferson are two different people with similar powers from two different companies initially. This was a slight disappointment for me, but I decided to go into the show with an open mind and I was very pleased.

Black Lightning is adult and political and I like that. It isn’t the open discussion of sex or the display of drug use and gang violence that makes it adult, the show is adult in the nuance and the weight given to Jefferson’s thinking and decisions. I can feel his tension as he struggles to be right in a world that isn’t. I’m very interested to see how Jefferson struggles as he gets pulled back into the complex world of being a hero while balancing the life he built for himself. After all he count his time as Principal Pierce as having been so much more meaningful and positive than his time as Black Lightning.

Woke or Awake?

This show is inherently political and that will cut both ways, probably against me. I’m not pro-cop, I am not pro-identity or pro-collectivism. Did I just collectivize cops in my “anti-cop” stance? A little, yes. (Some) Cops treat themselves as a collective and prop up the idea of that collective as a shield against criticism and accountability, just like other identity groups do. When we collectivize people we strip them of their humanity and place them in a box that ignores their individuality and allows us to more easily lionize or demonize them according to our prejudices and biases. I favor holding people accountable for their actions as individuals, so I am not really anti-cop, I am pro-accountability and pro-individual Rights of citizens.

That being said, the racial back drop of this show and the fact that almost all the principal characters are black affords a great opportunity to show black people as… people, fully fleshed out human being who embody the best and worst qualities of humanity. More interesting to me is that this is even shown in Jefferson Pierce, the eponymous hero of Black Lightning.

Black Savior

Jefferson wasn’t a perfect father or principal. What we see and hear from Anissa, Jennifer and Lala makes it quite clear to me that while his heart was in the right place, his tactics failed to produce the results he truly wanted. His daughters seem to feel his parenting has been constricting, oppressive and Jennifer feels the need to rebel against the rules he has sit and the role he wants her to fill as HIS daughter.

“You grew up in that house!”

-Jennifer Pierce

Jefferson made Lala the man he is today. Maybe Tobias helped too, but from the clues dropped about his parenting and teaching style, I get the sense that Principal Pierce used a heavy instructional hand when a deft one would not do. I can imagine how hard it must have been to go from forcing cooperation through coercive violence to the scholastic arena where academic apathy can stall all efforts to get a student to do something they have no interest in doing.

“You teach them your way. I’ll teach them mine.”

-Lala

Black-Lightning-Motto

Not only is Jefferson a flawed man, father and educator, he is also a flawed hero. It’s interesting that he was able to keep himself under control when confronted by the jerk cops who may have been villainous impostors, but he lost it when he was attacked by the jerk cops who were acting in accordance with police guidelines. The “good cops” crossed a line as did Jefferson when he blew up their car. What was he protecting, himself as a Black man, his family as the 100 gang assailant or his ability to fight in as Black Lightning? It’s complicated and I look forward to seeing how he and the show address that issue.

As Black Lightning, Jefferson brutalized the 100 member who was going to murder his daughters, but he also destroys a bunch of property and attacked a guy in his boxers at the Seahorse motel. How was captain underpants going to hurt him, what crime was he committing? Again, I am interested to see how these questions are addressed in the future. I sure hope Black Lightning sticks around for a long time, so we can see more of this world.

Lightning Round (Sorry, I had to)

Quick mentions of stuff I liked, but don’t want to comment on

  • There is some rich history glimpsed with Tobias, Gambi the tailor, street crime and corruption.
  • The Detective with split priorities – he defends what “we” have to do against the citizens, but says he’ll check on the two rogue cops from earlier
  • Looks like Jefferson taught his girls to be fighters
  • Nice music
  • Cool suit
  • The assault on the Seahorse Motel looked good
  • The electric force powers are neat

 

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