Nafessa Williams is a changemaker. On The CW's drama Black Lightning, she's made history as television's first Black, lesbian superhero. However, for actress, her character's strength and courage are no act. After all, offscreen, she is just as set on breaking barriers by changing the industry. Here, the Philadelphia native details her experience with the Black Lives Matter movement and her fight against inequality in Hollywood—and beyond.
As we're speaking on the Black Lives Matter movement and the current landscape of the entertainment industry, I'll start with this quote by John Lewis, may he rest in peace: "I want to see young people in America feel the spirit of the 1960s and find a way to get in the way. To find a way to get in trouble. Good trouble, necessary trouble."
Black Lives Matter. Breonna Taylor's life mattered. George Floyd's life mattered. Those were my thoughts as I headed out to protest on a cloudy day in L.A. last month. As I approached the protest, I saw cars on fire, protestors injured from rubber bullets and armed military on every corner. I felt like I was shooting a scene on the set of Black Lightning, except there wasn't a director yelling "action" and "cut." I quickly snapped out of my flashback of being on set and realized this was real life. On this day I had somewhat of an understanding of the spirit of the 1960s. I wanted my voice to be heard by causing "good trouble."
I also feel like I'm causing "good trouble" by playing the first Black lesbian superhero. It's a role that has impacted my views on Hollywood in many ways. Mostly, it has stressed the importance of representation and inclusion. I'm really honored to be on a show with an all Black cast, producers, writers, and crew. However, there aren't many shows that are this inclusive. We need more shows with representation both in front of and behind the camera.
We have to make sure we hire more Black writers to tell Black stories. We need Black hairstylists who know how to do Black hair properly. And award shows can only be fairly judged if done by a diverse group. We as a people and as a culture are beyond tired of asking to be seen, heard and treated equally. Not just in the entertainment industry, but in all industries.
I believe we must continue to have these important conversations and create the necessary changes. Earlier this year, I sat on a panel with other Black actors, writers, and producers. It was hosted by my agency, ICM Partners. We had an open conversation about our experiences of being Black in Hollywood and the changes we would like to see. I really appreciated this panel because the change needs to start within the agencies, studios and networks. If we don't confront the issues of inequality head on, we are not taking advantage of the awakened moment we are living in.
In closing, we have to be careful that we don't make diversity a trend, but rather we restructure the landscape. I believe there's a shift happening and I hope, collectively, we change the narrative of what we've known Hollywood to be.
Black Lightning season three is currently available on Netflix. The hit drama is set to return to The CW for season four.