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Nafessa Williams Talks Playing a Black Lesbian Superhero on Black Lightning, and Inspiring Young Queer Women to “Walk Boldly”

Nafessa Williams as Anissa Pierce on "Black Lightning" Image credit: Carin Baer/The CW

Actress Nafessa Williams recently spoke to Entertainment Weekly about her Black Lightning character, Anissa Pierce, and the responsibility she feels playing one of network television’s only black lesbian characters. “I’m just really grateful to tell the story for young lesbians—and black lesbians in particular—who don’t really see themselves on TV,” she said. “My hope is that when you watch Anissa, a young lesbian is inspired to walk boldly as who she is and to love herself and to love herself exactly how she looks.”

Of course, Williams was also drawn to the character because of her drive and her fearlessness. She hadn’t read the Black Lightning comics before auditioning, but she fell in love with the character in the script. “I was sold when I saw the foundation of who Anissa was,” Williams said, in part because of what she and Anissa had in common. “I think what I can relate to in Anissa is that she’s aware of her calling. She walks in it fearlessly. I have that aspect of myself of just knowing what I want from life. I was always very clear of what my dreams were and I’ve always had the vision, and nobody was ever able to stop me.”

Entertainment Weekly also asked Williams if she feels any “pressure” related to the role, given the importance of the representation it offers. “I won’t say that I feel any pressure,” she answered. “I believe love is love.” However, Williams does hope that the show will not only inspire young lesbians, but also help parents of queer kids to support them. “My parents on this show, they’re very supportive of my sexual preference,” she said, “and maybe this can serve as an inspiration to parents at home watching who are dealing with a child who is gay or lesbian and not knowing how to communicate or be as a open. I hope that our family on the show is an inspiration for some families just to be open and accept your children and love them. The Pierce family does a great job of doing that.”

Williams also talked about Anissa’s relationship with her live interest Grace Choi. Though Anissa hasn’t told Grace about her powers yet, they’re very close. “Anissa and Grace have a lot in common … She’s a peace of mind for Anissa. It’s pretty cool to be able to tap into that. This is something new for me, playing an openly lesbian [character] on television. I’m always opposite men, so it’s pretty cool to challenge myself and tap into something different.”

While Anissa doesn’t struggle with her sexuality, she does struggle with discovering herself and her powers. “She goes on this journey of self-discovery of both becoming a woman and also discovering her powers,” Williams explained.

“She’s learning these things about herself,” Williams continued, “and she’s finding out about how these powers work and where they came from. But it’s one of those things [where she wonders], Am I a freak? Do I share it? Is anyone going to believe me? My parents are overprotective, how are they going to accept it? It’s almost in the mental space you’re at if you’re coming out as a gay or a lesbian to your parents. It’s a parallel like that as well. It’s a secret that she holds onto for a while because she really doesn’t know who to talk to about it and how people are going to react to that.”

However, Anissa soon comes to own her power. “Once she realizes what’s happening and how they work and where they came from,” Williams said, “she’s super excited and ready to go [in] head first. She believes it’s her passion and calling from god, and she walks in it boldly.”

Still, Anissa’s future clearly worries her parents. “Her parents want her to help people by becoming a doctor, but she wants to help people by actually being out there in the community,” Williams said. “She loves being a teacher. She loves being an advocate for education. She loves going into the community and actually trying to stop crime and fight social injustice. In being a superhero, this is Anissa’s way of saving the world and helping people. I love her strength and the power that she walks in.”

Even with this tension, Anissa still looks up to Jefferson. “Her father is her hero. Most little girls watch their mother growing up and want to be just like her, but with Anissa, she’s always wanted to be like her father. This is her not knowing he’s Black Lightning. He’s just a great leader. The way he loves and communicates with us on the show is awesome. He’s just a great dad. Our mother is in our life, but we live with him. He is the parent who is there most of the time.”

Black Lightning airs on Tuesdays on The CW, and you can read Princess’s recap of the latest episode here.

(Via Entertainment Weekly; image: Carin Baer/The CW)

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