A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this TV show.
Black Lightning is given to quoting greats like Martin Luther King Jr.: "Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars," he tells his daughter after she's arrested during a rowdy 100 gang protest. She quotes back at him from Fannie Lou Hamer: "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired." The show digs into issues of race and class, like when the family is stopped by police and threatened with guns in an incident of racial profiling; later, an officer tells Jefferson to get his "black ass on the ground." Jefferson frequently uses logic to convince miscreants to stop what they're doing, like when he convinces a young man about to pull a gun that he'll be caught and jailed for life; at other times, he uses his powers indiscriminately, like when he uses a bolt of electricity to get a bystander out of the way.
Positive Role Models
Jefferson depicted as wise, thoughtful, a loving father; he only transforms into Black Lightning when he's pushed too far by evildoers who would harm his family or others, or by racist police officers. Jennifer and Anissa are remarkably self-actualized young women. Jennifer depicted as confident about setting boundaries: She tells a young man he's not going to "get some," and later tells him off for finding her using her Instagram feed: "That's called stalking and that's creepy, now get out of here. I'm serious."
Violence & Scariness
Combat in every episode, ranging in intensity. A villain shoots a man in the chest with an arrow attached to a rope; uses it to reel the man in as he screams. Black Lightning uses bolts of electricity and hand-to-hand combat (not guns) to disarm and knock criminals to the ground, where they smoke slightly and lie still. He also sets property (e.g., a police car) on fire. A baddie tortures a man by dumping him in a fish tank; he is seen floating as if dead a moment later. A woman punches a man who grabs her arm and puts him on the ground, he tries to pull a gun before he's convinced to get going by Jefferson. Black Lightning is impervious to gunfire (though others are shot with blood but no gore). Aggressive music plays as he dispatches bad guys one by one, throwing them off balconies and through panes of glass.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Women show confidence about their sexuality. Jennifer, a high school girl, tells a young man she's not having sex with him, in no uncertain terms; he smiles and accepts her limits. Later, a man implies that Jennifer should be working as a prostitute to cover a friend's debts; she says she's not "ho-ing" for anybody. Expect same- and opposite-sex flirting, dating, kissing.
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Expect words like "damn," "ass," "hell," "pissed," "ho," "bitch."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Jennifer is shown smoking at a club; later, she tells a male friend that just because she's a "little stoned," he shouldn't think he's going to "get some." At the same club, high school students drink what appears to be alcohol. Drugs play a part in plots, with gang members selling "product." Anissa tells Jennifer after a visit to a club that she's lucky she didn't end up in a hotel room "all drugged up and being passed around." Other characters have cocktails at dinner or while relaxing at home.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Black Lightning is a superhero drama with dark, mature themes and levels of violence, sexual content, and drugs that are intense for network TV. Black Lightning (aka Jefferson Pierce, played by Cress Williams) pointedly doesn't use guns during his many battles, but the bad guys do and are frequently shot (showing blood) and killed. Though Black Lightning sometimes turns to logic and reason to defuse violent situations and uses his bolts of electricity to subdue rather than kill, innocent bystanders sometimes get caught in the fray. Villains are more violent; for example, a major baddie shoots a man in the chest. There's also a sexual threat in some of the violence, like when gang members say that a woman should sell her body to pay a friend's debts. The show's violence is frequently intertwined with issues of race and/or class, with Black Lightning emerging when police officers engage in racial profiling (e.g., saying things like "get your black ass on the ground"). Women and people of color have strong central roles, and young women are able to set boundaries around sex, romance, and drugs. Expect same- and opposite-sex flirting, dating, and kissing, and language including "damn," "ass," "hell," and "bitch." A teenage main character is shown smoking and drinking at a club; later, she says she's a "little stoned"; drugs also play a part in gang activity. Adult characters drink cocktails, but no one acts tipsy.
Is It Any Good?
By giving us a hero grappling with career and fatherhood as well as the criminals tearing up his town, the CW has gifted viewers with the most mature, complex superhero show to date. Cress Williams has gravitas to spare in his role as a community leader with a secret past, and his family relationships seem real and well-rounded: Jennifer and Anissa really seem like sisters, and like real, complicated women -- women who are chips off the old block and have secrets of their own. Will the TV version of Black Lightning follow the storylines of the DC comic, transforming Jennifer and Anissa into superheroes Lightning and Thunder? Only time will tell, but it seems likely.
But as good as it is when Black Lightning focuses on the Pierce family, it's even better when it adds relevant modern cultural commentary to the superheroics. Why, demands a black pundit on TV, is Black Lightning called a "vigilante" when in other communities people with superpowers (a wink to the other CW heroes in the Arrowverse?) are called "heroes"? Why can't police officers in Freeland tell the difference between Jefferson and the gang members who complicate his life? Set in a universe with racial politics that mirror current U.S. concerns, Black Lightning has extra relevance and interest for viewers who wish for a powerful guy who can zap the bad guys and magically make everything right.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.