Two of the things I really enjoyed on the CW’s Black Lightning this season were its use of religion both explicitly and allegorically and its take on Anissa as an out and proud, Black, bulletproof lesbian with Chenoa and Grace as two separate romantic interests. The following is a rumination on both of those items.
The episodes titles themselves tell their own contained story. First, “The Resurrection” with Black Lightning coming into play after his retirement. Except for episode 4, “Black Jesus,” all other episodes reference “The Book” similar to Biblical books. Black Lightning also functions as a Moses allegory, as Moses was reluctant at first to take on the prophetic role.
After “The Resurrection,” we get “Book of Hope” and “Book of Burial” both of which are about LaWanda and LaLa. Then comes “Black Jesus.”
Back to Moses, we also have a reference to plagues in episode 5, in “And Then the Devil Brought the Plague: The Book of Green Light.” The Devil is Tobias. Next, we got “Book of Thunder” and “The Book of Fate” and the only Book directly referencing a Biblical book, “Book of Revelations,” though the New testament book does not have an ‘s’ at the end.
Episode 9 and 10 were “Book of Little Black Lies” and “Book of Redemption” respectively, followed by Black Jesus barely surviving his “crucifixion” with “The Resurrection and the Light: The Book of Pain” leading into our season finale titled “Shadow of Death: The Book of War.” In the titles alone we have a story about resurrection (twice), hope, burial, sins, Black Jesus (twice), multiple reveals, lies, pain, and finally war. All the titles needed were mentions of family and it would be the major themes of the show!
Music and Location
Of course the titles weren’t the only religious indicators. There are plenty of songs referencing religion. “Mary, Don’t You Weep” is in episode three; we’ve got multiple hymns and of course, in the theme song, the connection to Thunder and Lightning as witness!
We saw one visually identifiable Muslim teacher from episode 7 (wearing a taqiyah). The Akils are Muslim. The show is very clearly religious in all of its aspects and we even see two separate churches! The first, Freeland United Methodist Church is where we see Reverend Holt, Detective Henderson, and Jefferson get into it after LaWanda’s funeral.
The second unnamed church is where Gambi has a coming to Jesus (hah) moment while a man sings the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” My basic reading of this scene is Gambi wanting redemption for everything he’s done, specifically from Jefferson (Black Jesus). There’s also the theme of divine grace, loosely defined as a divine influence which operates in humans to, in this case, impart strength to endure trial (Jefferson’s anger) and resist temptation (literally anything Gambi thought to do first).
Anissa as Love
So how does this relate to Anissa’s character and her relationships with Chenoa and Grace? Personally, I think Anissa embodies the divine grace theme. Additionally, she especially believes her powers to be a gift. She’s entirely ready to give it her all to save and do more for her community and family. Not even including her status as a medical student and part-time teacher at Garfield High.
Refreshing too is the absolute lack of religion-“inspired” negativity about Anissa loving ladies. All we see is acceptance from her family. She came out to them as a lesbian years ago, mom and dad were silent, and then hugs. How incredible! The entire time, from learning that Anissa would stay a lesbian to finally seeing her on screen, I was worried. I’m so glad we didn’t get a moment where religion was used to negatively characterize her sexuality.
For all we know, no one really bothers her about dating women, at least not now. The only bigotry we see is from the cop who accosts her and Grace outside the Ruby Red Lipstick Bar. Of course there’s also the anger inspired comment from Chenoa when she sees them at the club the episode before.
I wonder if Anissa has committed herself to a person before. If not, Grace will be the first one, assuming we get Chantal Thuy for recurring or somehow season regular status next season. Hopefully whatever their plans are, they’ll decide by Upfront so we can get that announcement in a month. It’s important Anissa gets to have a non-Pierce family member (Gambi, too) to talk to about her new powers and existence as Thunder. While I have no idea what Grace will evolve into, she is clearly very thoughtful and exactly the kind of person Anissa needs in her corner. Plus, there is so much they can do with Grace that introducing her into the superpower fold is exciting!
Hopefully we’ll get to see Grace multiple times next season and explore Anissa’s interest in women more. I am super excited to see that and the use of religion more too!