Anissa Pierce is a stand-out character of BLACK LIGHTNING. While the characters are all written well and demand attention in their own ways, Anissa is particularly notable. Her position as a black lesbian and a dedicated activist adds levels to her superhero origin as Thunder. Having a story of someone coming into their own and deciding to become a hero is a fantastic counterpoint to Jefferson Pierce’s struggle of going back to being a superhero.

Anissa as a character works as an excellent commentary on what it is to be an activist. What it’s like to exist as a woman of color, especially a gay woman of color, and face obligations to yourself against obligations to your community. BLACK LIGHTNING doesn’t pull punches in letting Anissa have flaws. The show open to activism, even when it’s done in a super suit, and acknowledges the difficult decisions that come with activism.

Anissa Pierce

Even before Anissa becomes Thunder, BLACK LIGHTNING introduces her as a strong-willed, intelligent, and emotional woman. The first episode opens with Jefferson and Jennifer waiting as Freeland PD releases Anissa from jail after they’d arrested her for protesting. It’s far from the last of Anissa’s brushes with the law over the course of the show, and it’s clear from the way her family speaks about it that it isn’t the first, either.

Anissa Pierce
Jennifer texts her friend Kiesha about Anissa’s arrest.

As BLACK LIGHTNING introduces Anissa Pierce further, we learn that her sense of right and wrong drives her. She heavily involves herself in activism and protest. Even outside of her activism (if you can say that a character like Anissa spends any time separate from activism), Anissa is a highly emotional character. She doesn’t compromise on her feelings or desires.

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The more we learn about Anissa, the more amazing she seems. She has her flaws, of course, but she’s adept at adapting her weaknesses into strengths. Her emotions and her stubbornness can be a problem for her, but she also grounds herself in her goals through them. Anissa feels no need to compromise herself — she exists confidently as a lesbian, as a med student, as an emotional being, and as a black woman. She doesn’t divide herself down into smaller, more manageable pieces for the benefit of others.

Activism and Being a Superhero

BLACK LIGHTNING establishes from the very start that Anissa sees activism as an integral part of her life. Even at nice dinners, she can’t help but bring up the current climate of Freeland and her issues with responses to it. It’s not simply something she can “turn off” or not talk about — it’s important enough to her that she feels like she can’t be silent.

Anissa Pierce
Anissa, as Thunder, moves from protest to direct action — simply removing the statue herself, rather than ask it be removed.

It’s no surprise that Anissa Pierce, with her strong sense of morals and her determination to help people, becomes a superhero. However, it’s nice to see her path to becoming Thunder isn’t exactly a straight shot to being the perfect hero. Much like her activism, there are road bumps on her way to becoming Thunder. The conflict between her obligation to her family and her obligation to her community are large sticking points for both things.

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Anissa, as someone who is guided by her emotions, is tied heavily to her relationships. BLACK LIGHTNING shows an amazing family dynamic in the Pierces, and Anissa’s place in that is integral to her character. She respects and loves her parents, and wants to listen to them and trust them. However, she has formed her own opinions as an adult and isn’t afraid of being vocal about them.

Choices

Anissa’s choices relate a lot to where her obligations lie. She loves her family, who want her to stay out of danger. Anissa is putting herself at serious risk with both activism and becoming a superhero — both Lynn and Jefferson are stressed about Anissa being in a vulnerable spot. However, Anissa doesn’t see it as the choice her parents treat it as.

Anissa Pierce
Anissa and Lynn have an in-depth conversation about what it means to choose the superhero life.

The discussion of whether becoming a hero is truly a choice comes into play almost as soon as Anissa Pierce becomes a hero. There’s a discussion between her and Lynn about how becoming Thunder is going to take over her life and require that she sacrifice her personal happiness. Without missing a beat Anissa replies

“I’m willing to sacrifice my happiness so that other people can have theirs.”

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When Jennifer discovers her own powers, she asked Anissa whether it pisses her off that they had no choice in the matter. Anissa responds that she worried more about the people that would be unprotected if she decided to not be Thunder. She makes it clear that she doesn’t see using her powers for good as something she can choose not to do.

Anissa as an Activist

The discussion about choice seems to circle right back to Anissa’s activism. I think that BLACK LIGHTNING stays conscious of the message they’re delivering to their audience about activism as well. Anissa acknowledges that these things, being an activist, being Thunder, can make her life harder. There’s going to be strain put on her familial relationships and her romantic relationships. There’s going to be real, present danger in her life.

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However, Anissa doesn’t see that as something that should stop her. While she acknowledges the issues, she weighs what she is sacrificing against what the world will be gaining. In her activism, like her superhero work, she doesn’t see it as a choice. If people in the world are suffering and she can do even the slightest thing to stop it, she will. Even at the risk of her own safety.

Anissa Pierce
Anissa at a protest against a Confederate statue.

Safety vs. Activism

This isn’t to say Anissa is automatically right about activism. It’s not wrong for someone dealing with hypervisibility to want to avoid subjecting themselves to abuse. Especially at the hands of the law. BLACK LIGHTNING brings up real dilemmas that activists face through the narrative of Anissa’s superhero origins. Anissa, personally, sees going out and risking her life as something she has to do. Jefferson feels this about his role as Black Lightning, despite disagreeing with his daughter doing it.

Lynn and Jennifer don’t feel that obligation — they value their personal safety and personal lives. The show doesn’t portray them as lesser because of this. It’s acknowledged that the decision Anissa is making is not an easy one. She outright admits she may be sacrificing her own happiness for that of others. It’s grounded in its expectations of activists — not everyone has to be like Anissa. But some people can be.

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BLACK LIGHTNING as a show has been incredibly thoughtful about how it uses its narrative to echo the struggles of people of color, especially black people. I think Anissa’s narrative appeals to the current generation of activists struggling against police brutality, oil pipelines, and other systematic injustices. Anissa taking on the role of Thunder asks tough questions.

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BLACK LIGHTNING doesn’t flinch away from the fact that Anissa has flaws. The show doesn’t hide how activism can be affected by stubbornness or reactionary choices, either. One of Anissa’s first public acts as Thunder, destroying the Confederate monument, was done spur of the moment, and put people in danger. Worse, she also destroyed the memorial to a girl recently killed because of racism — the exact opposite of anything Anissa would want to cause as a hero.

Anissa Pierce
The scene where Anissa realizes that she didn’t think things through before destroying the statue is powerful.

Activism and being a superhero relies on more than just running with your emotions. It’s understanding a situation and finding the best plan to save people from harm. Activism finds strength in a strong foundation of comprehending how systematic oppression works and organizing specifically to dismantle it in multiple ways.

Anissa’s decision to be Thunder, the mistakes she makes, the way she learns, and the way she trains all reflect this. Thunder is more than just a superhero, she’s a reflection of Anissa’s drive to help her community through direct action. BLACK LIGHTNING doesn’t lose sight of that any step of the way so far.

What Anissa Pierce Means for the Audience

Anissa is a ton of things in one character. She’s not only an amazing black woman, she’s a lesbian who’s out and proud of it, an activist, and a superhero. The narrative allows her to have flaws and still remain an amazing person and an amazing hero. Anissa Pierce is simply inspiring to see on screen. It’s inspiring to see her unabashedly express her love for women, her love for her blackness, and her love for her community.

Anissa Pierce
Oh, and Anissa — the black woman involved in activism — is bulletproof. A nice touch.

Even more so, Anissa can inspire activists and get them thinking. BLACK LIGHTNING asks the kinds of questions that people just getting into activism need to ask themselves. In fact, the show asks questions that even long-time activists should make sure they keep in mind. Questions like: Am I willing to sacrifice my safety for this cause? Am I becoming too reactionary in my activism? Am I losing too much of my personal life (and suffering burn-out) due to my activism?

Anissa Pierce is representation for LGBT people, for women of color, and especially LGBT WoC. More than that, though, Anissa Pierce has opened up a conversation about activism that we don’t usually get to see. BLACK LIGHTNING uses Anissa in many ways that let people see themselves as heroes, and learn how to be heroes. Anissa stands out as a character because of her identity, but also because of her thoughtful writing.

Thunder and Anissa, even outside of her superhero persona, serves as an inspiration to activists, especially LGBT people and women of color.

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