Studios and networks may be making tentative steps towards inclusivity and diversity, but superhero franchises are still slow on the uptake when it comes to adapting comic book characters who aren't straight, white, cisgender males. Viewers are voicing their displeasure more loudly than ever about the dearth of representation on our screens — and how long it's taking to fix the situation.
Wonder Woman first swung her lasso of truth on TV back in 1975, but it wasn't until 2015 that DC and Marvel let Supergirl and Jessica Jones lead the next wave of female superhero shows. Similarly, we had to wait until 2016 for Luke Cage to become the first black hero since Blade to star in an eponymous series.
Now, belatedly, the CW is developing a series starring Black Lightning — the first African-American DC superhero to headline his own comic title back in 1977. He won't technically be the first black superhero with a CW show if Black Lightning goes to series, since the network developed an animated digital series starring Vixen for its CWSeed platform, but the character will be the first black lead for the network's live action DC offerings.
After reinvigorating the small-screen superhero genre with Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow (most of which feature non-white heroes, but none in a titular role), The CW just released its first photo of Black Lightning star Cress Williams (Hart of Dixie) in full costume.
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In the pilot for the new show, Jefferson Pierce hung up the suit and his secret identity years ago. But with one daughter hell-bent on justice and the other a star student being recruited by a local gang, he’ll be pulled back into the fight as the wanted vigilante and DC legend — Black Lightning.
The show is currently shooting its pilot in Atlanta; it has yet to be picked up to series.
But considering it's a superhero project on The CW written and executive produced by Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil (Being Mary Jane, The Game) and produced by Arrowverse mastermind Greg Berlanti, it's as close to a sure thing as you get on TV.
“Comics were a great way for me to escape," Salim Akil said in a statement. "I was about 13 when Black Lightning was created, and finally there was a Black Super Hero that gave a damn about our neighborhood and our lives.
"Resurrecting him at a time in our society when a sense of hope is lacking ... Black Lightning will be that hope. And in updating the suit, it will signal to a new generation that it’s time to harness and release our power, and become our own Super Heroes.”
The costume for Black Lightning was designed by Laura Jean Shannon, whose many film and television credits include the upcoming Jumanji sequel, The Jungle Book, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Blade: Trinity, Good Girls Revolt and Iron Man, for which she was nominated for a Costume Designers Guild Award.
A decision on whether the show will go to series will be made in May, if not before.