It seems I can’t even sit down to watch some escapist TV these days without questioning my motives, and contextualising what I am watching within my own life.
Always a sucker for superhero stories, and then quite often disappointed with the results, I decided to give the new Netflix show, Black Lightning a try. The concept at first bore a striking similarity to Pixar’s The Incredibles. A former superhero is now attempting to live out his days as a normal person, and hides his superpowers.
Where The Incredibles is sunny and bright, Black Lightning is dark in mood and action.
Jefferson Pierce has been denying his identity as Black Lightning for the past two years and is the principal of a high school and a community leader who claims to be able to save more lives working in the community leading young lives in positive directions, rather than zapping them with bolts of electricity from his fists when they are offending.
He also has two daughters who live with him, and an ex-wife who he is trying to reconcile with.
As a drama this works really well. I love the scenes in the school and around the family dinner table. The scene where the youngest daughter announces at the dinner table that her and her boyfriend are planning on having sex for the first time that weekend is brilliant, funny and uncomfortable.
But then of course Jefferson Pierce is forced into suiting up as Black Lightning and fighting the bad guys once more.
The first inciting incident is when he gets pulled over in his car by two racist, white cops, basically for being black. His power and rage shimmer behind his eyes, crackling with blue electricity.
Later, as Black Lightning, he is ordered to get his ‘black ass on the ground’ by another cop.
Race relations are very much at the front of this superhero series. The entire cast is black, apart from James Remar who plays Gambl, Alfred to Black Lightning’s Batman. I love this, that we now have a TV series where a middle aged white guy is now playing second fiddle to a black lead.
And this is where I find myself asking questions.
Am I only enjoying this because I deem it to be ‘worthy’?
Am I feeling uncomfortable because whenever I watch it I can only ever see a parade of black faces?
This is game changing entertainment. We are conditioned as we grow up to recognise the ‘normal’ as being straight, white and male. But as Annisa, Jefferson’s daughter, begins to discover her own powers we are soon going to have a superhero who is gay, black and female.
And no, it’s not PC box ticking.
It’s liberating, mature storytelling, mixing superhero tropes with a complex drama about social issues, race, and family values.
At last, a superhero story for grownups.