Black Lightning: Who is Anissa Pierce, the black lesbian superhero who Netflix fans have fallen in love with
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of new Netflix series Black Lightning. Released on a weekly basis, it follows Jefferson Pierce, a retired black superhero, who returns to his former life of vigilantism when crime starts to escalate within his community.
Black Lightning – which airs on The CW in the US and Netflix in the UK – has proven to be a hit, with critics and fans describing it as a series that is not only “powerful” and “fresh” but one that has a “strong sense of identity” too.
Lifted straight from the DC Comics, the characters are great but one that has particularly resonated with the LGBT+ community is Jefferson’s daughter, Anissa (Nafessa Williams), the first black lesbian superhero to be seen on network television.
Who is Anissa Pierce?
In the Black Lightning source material, it is uncertain when she first discovered she had superhuman qualities. However, it was explained that her parents forbade her from embarking on a career of crime-fighting until after she finishes college. Subsequently, on the night of her graduation, Anissa Pierce donned a costume and adopted the alter ego, Thunder.
In Black Lightning, Anissa starts to discover her powers in her early 20s while she’s still studying. It seems likely she’ll start putting her powers to good use before she finishes becoming a doctor (it is a TV show after all and time is of the essence) but she’s only just getting to grips with them at the moment so jury’s still out on whether the Netflix series will mimic will the comics exactly.
While her powers haven’t been fully realised yet, Thunder’s abilities in the comics include super strength, bulletproof skin, density control and energy protection.
Across her timeline, Thunder has faced supervillains such as Sabbac and Doctor Sivana. She almost died at the hands of the Fearsome Five when matter transmuter Shimmer converted the air in her lungs to water. She was briefly kicked off the team when Batman rearranged its line-up, replacing her with Martian Manhunter. She was later reinstated.
Anissa Pierce is a great character in her own right and is sure to prove an exciting addition to the Arrowverse roster but her inclusion in Black Lightning goes beyond just “being cool”. It might be 2018 but white male characters still dominate television screens and not only is Anissa a young woman of colour, she’s a queer woman of colour who also has superpowers. Oh, she’s a part-time teacher and a trainee doctor too. No biggie.
She’s a fiercely passionate activist and a protective, loving sister too. Basically, she feels like a real person – which can be a rarity when it comes to gay characters on TV.
The first black lesbian superhero
Something else that is SO great about Black Lightning’s treatment of Anissa is that they actually allow her to express her sexuality explicitly. In juxtaposition to Alex Danvers’ tentative coming out storyline in fellow superhero outing Supergirl, Anissa is already a proud lesbian when we meet her.
She’s out to her family, she noticeably checks out girls and by the fourth episode of the first season, she’s been romantically linked with TWO women.
All of that doesn’t happen very often. You only have to read Briana Lawrence’s Black Girl Nerds piece on what Anissa means to her – (‘I can’t think of a time where a show calmed down my fears and elevated my happiness about Black queer representation so quickly’) – or Clarkisha Kent’s article on ‘the normalization of queer black femmes’ to see how important representation like this is.
Despite being in a relationship towards the beginning of the show, Anissa realises that her current romantic situation isn’t making her happy. Just before she calls it off with former love interest Chenoa, she meets new flame, bartender Grace Choi.
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Unlike Anissa’s first girlfriend in the show, Grace is a character that hails from DC Comics. Like Thunder, she was created by writer Judd Winick and artist Tom Raney, and first appeared in an issue of Outsiders in 2003. Anissa and Grace were both members of the Outsiders and Black Lightning references their shared history when Grace makes her debut in the show.
When Grace introduces herself to Anissa, the latter notices a comic sticking out of her back pocket. Having been asked what she’s reading, Grace explains to Anissa that it’s about “young folks with powers, travelling the world and knocking bad guys on their asses.”
While this could just be a teasing nod to the pair’s origins, mention of the Outsiders is exciting for DC fans, as the Outsiders might prove to be a way to connect Black Lightning to the other shows within the Arrowverse. In a late incarnation of the comics, Arsenal – a superhero played by Colton Haynes in Arrow – recruits Thunder to the team. Interestingly, Haynes exited Arrow in its third season but has recently been spotted filming a few scenes again.
Could he be a link between Black Lightning and the likes of Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl in the future? Only time will tell. Either way, we hope we see lots more of Anissa.