‘Black Lightning’ actress Nafessa Williams talks playing TV’s first black-lesbian superhero

Nafessa Williams made history earlier this year playing TV’s first black lesbian superhero, Thunder, on the CW drama “Black Lightning.”

That visibility is necessary.

“Black lesbians want to see themselves on TV. They want to hear and see their stories. Representation matters,” Williams says. “It’s why we turn on the TV. You feel left out when you don’t see yourself.

“It’s a long time coming. I’m happy to be apart of the shift,” Williams says. “We will see more black lesbian superheros on TV. We broke that mold.”

“Black Lightning” is based on the eponymous DC comic book character, who fights crime with superhuman powers that let him control electricity.

Black Lightning” was DC Comics‘ first African-American superhero when it debuted in April 1977 with its own imprint.

Black Lightning Lesbian Character

Nafessa Williams plays Thunder, the first black-lesbian superhero on TV. She appears on the CW series “Black Lightning.” Photo: Annette Brown/The CW

Nine years after retiring from fighting crime to focus on his family and career, Jefferson Pierce, aka Black Lightning, returns to superhero duty when his daughters, Jennifer (China Anne McClain) and Anissa, are threatened by a local gang. Anissa is a social-justice activist and student.

Jennifer — Lightning — has electric abilities like her dad and the power of flight.

Anissa — Thunder — can become temporarily invulnerable and generate massive shockwaves.

Anissa also has a love interest, half-Amazonian, Asian-American character Grace Choi, played by Chantal Thuy. The couple have split, but their relationship could be rekindled.

The “Black Lightning” season finale airs tonight on the CW.

Previous to entering the acting field, Williams, a 32-year-old Philadelphia native, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from West Chester University with plans on becoming a lawyer.

In the summer of 2008, Williams interned with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office in their homicide division, but was fired.

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Williams first acting role was on the daytime soap “One Life to Live.” Since moving to Los Angeles, Williams has appeared on “Code Black,” “Survivor’s Remorse,” and “Real Husbands of Hollywood.”

Williams also owns an online fashion boutique, Saturday Dreaming.

In an interview with Q Voice News, Williams talks about being fired from that internship, making history with her role on “Black Lightning,” and the future of Anissa and Grace’s love life.

Here are some excerpts.

Being fired from Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office

“I had always done acting, but part time,” Williams says. “I was ready to take the risk. I wanted to go to auditions. They said no, but I went anyway. They fired me. It was the best day of my life. It wasn’t my thing. I couldn’t focus.”

Anissa comes out as a lesbian and as a superhero

“There is a parallel to coming out as gay or lesbian and coming out as a superhero,” Williams says. “There’s a struggle about coming out to who you are as a person. Anissa does struggle and doesn’t come out as a superhero until she understands who she is.

“Anissa came out to her parents as a teenager, and they love her. The root of their relationship is love,” Williams says. “Anissa is very comfortable in her own shoes about being a lesbian. She walks unapologetically. It’s refreshing.”

Black Lightning Lesbian Character

Nafessa Williams plays Anissa Pierce, aka Thunder, on the CW series “Black Lightning.” Photo: Annette Brown/The CW

‘It was a no brainer’

“I had no clue about ‘Black Lightning’,” Williams says. “My agent sent me the script. I called him and said, I have to be a part of this. Anissa was very empowered and would be a great character for girls to see. It was a no brainer.”

‘It was something different for me’

“Anissa being a lesbian was in the first few pages of the script. I was excited,” Williams says. “It was something different for me. I’ve never played a lesbian. She’s the first black-female lesbian superhero on TV. That got me excited to get on board.”

Anissa’s love life with Grace

“Anissa is very focused on understanding her powers and being a superhero. That’s her focus right now. It affected her first relationship, but Anissa and Grace left on good terms.

“I would like to see how their relationship can grow. Hopefully, we see more of Grace.”

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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