Black Lightning had a strong debut on The CW last night with the highly-anticipated DC Comics-inspired series giving the network its strongest premiere in two years. But while audiences were eagerly tuned in to see high school principal Jefferson Pierce return to his heroic identity of Black Lightning to save his family from the threat of a vicious gang, there were two cameo appearances by real-life activists carefully placed in the episode.
Nina Turner, Ohio State senator and founder of Our Revolution as well as journalist and commentator Roland Martin both appeared as themselves in Black Lightning's premiere episode, "The Resurrection." Turner appeared during the show's first act, introducing Jefferson at a fundraiser for his school, Garfield High. A bit later in the episode, Martin appeared on a news program running in the background of a few scenes, talking about the importance of Black Lightning as well as commenting on the inequality of even the superheroes in Black Lightning's world. Martin notes that other cities have heroes, but Freeland's African American Black Lightning is the one treated like a criminal.
While the appearance of Turner and Martin might be a little surprising for viewers, it fits in with the authenticity that series creator Salim Akil promised for Black Lightning. Akil told reporters during the 2018 Television Critics Association press tour that creating an authentic series was paramount and personal for him.
"I just drew from my life," Akil said. "Jefferson is already a community-based superhero, he's already a principal, he's already a father. It gave me an opportunity to talk about things that were personal to me. I grew up in a community like Freeland. I was surrounded by those things that you see in Freeland and in Chicago and Oakland. It came naturally. It wasn't a choice made out of, 'Hey this is what we want to say.' It came out of a choice of, 'This is what I know, and this is what we know so let's do what's real. Let's do what's authentic and real to me,' which I think everybody embraces. I'm appreciative of that. It's very personal to me."
And the authentic, personal touches to Black Lightning extend far past the appearances of Turner and Martin. The intense traffic stop scene in the opening of the premiere episode itself drew from Akil's own life and it -- as well as the issues the scene represents -- was something he told ComicBook.com was important to talk about early on.
"There were discussions, because it was so intense, but it was never discussions where 'we don't want you to do this,'" Akil said. "It was more like 'help us understand why, in the first episode, in the first few minutes...' And I felt it was important to talk about all of the things we were talking about."
Black Lightning airs Tuesdays at 9/8c following new episodes of The Flash on The CW.