“Black Lightning,” which is both The CW’s latest series based on a comic book superhero and a personal story for executive producer Salim Akil, premieres at 9 p.m. Tuesday evening.

“This is a story about me and it’s a story about the people that I know,” Akil said earlier this month at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour.

To Akil, “Black Lightning” is about “a family trying to make it in America.”

“Black Lightning” is based on DC Comics’ first African-American superhero and stars Cress Williams as charter school principal Jefferson Pierce who decides to resume using his superpower of harnessing and controlling electricity after a nine-year hiatus in response to the threat to his community from corruption and the gang The One Hundred.

Akil said after he and his wife Mara Brock Akil signed a multi-year development deal with Warner Bros. Entertainment to begin in 2016, he had an interest in doing a series based on characters from Milestone Comics, a series of comic books with all African-American superheroes, published and distributed by DC Comics, a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Entertainment.

“They said, we don’t have that just yet for you, but we have do have this comic, `Black Lightning,”‘ Akil said. “I played it cool, but inside, I was” excited.

Fox purchased a pilot script written by Akil, but decided not to make the pilot, then taking it to The CW, whose president, Mark Pedowitz, told City News Service he ordered it as a series “because it had a really good voice,” “had a take,” “would be a different superhero show” and his longtime desire to “be in business” with the Akils.

Mara Brock Akil created and produced the 2000-2008 UPN and The CW comedy “Girlfriends,” the comedy “The Game,” which ran on The CW from 2006- 2009 and BET from 2011-15, and the BET drama “Being Mary Jane,” now in its fourth season.

Salim Akil has been a producer and director of “The Game” and “Being Mary Jane” and a director of “Girlfriends.”

While “Black Lightning” keeps the basic elements of the comic book which debuted in 1977, including daughters Anissa (Nafessa Williams) and Jennifer (China Anne McClain) being the superheroes Thunder and Lightning, one change is the setting.

The comic book was set on the Southside of Superman’s Metropolis, but the series will be set in Freeland, as part of the effort to create a separate universe for the series. Akil said he chose the name “to constantly remind me that I’m talking about the people that I know, and the environment that I know and the environment that I grew up in.”

Akil said he was initially going to call the city Richmond after the East San Francisco Bay Area city he grew up in, but “I didn’t want to make people feel bad about being in the communities that they were in.”

Akil said the “most difficult” part of his work is juggling telling a story that his personal to him with giving fans all the elements of a CW show they are accustomed to.

“I can write this show without them using powers,” said Akil, who wrote and directed Tuesday evening’s premiere episode. “Sometimes I think, `They’ve got to use their powers,’ but as long as I keep the powers in the context of the stories we’re trying to tell, it’s not difficult at all.”

One example of Akil telling a story about himself was the scene where Pierce is pulled over by police officers, which Akil said was inspired by him being pulled out of his Tesla on the way to his office about three years ago by Santa Monica Police Department officers who suspected he had robbed a liquor store.

Despite unpleasant interactions with police officers dating back to his youth, Akil said “Black Lightning” prominently features the character of Inspector Henderson (Damon Gupton) because “I also know a lot of great cops … guys who go out there every day and try to make a difference. I didn’t want to demonize anybody. I’m just trying to be truthful to my own experience.”

–City News Service

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