Meet Nafessa Williams, also commonly known as Anissa in the CW series, “Black Lightning,” which is set to premiere on the network on October 9th.
With no family in the industry, Williams dared dive into entertainment on her own accord. So, she began commuting from her hometown of Philly to New York to pursue those dreams: and, years later, she’s doing pretty well if we do say so ourselves.
Now, as the first black lesbian superhero ever on a television series, Williams understands her role of being the inspiration to young brown girls that she never had for herself. She’s working on filming season 2 of “Black Lightning,” in Atlanta, all while continuing her work with nonprofit organization Fearless Dreamers and working on her ultra-affordable clothing line with her best friend, Saturday Dreaming.
We spoke with real-life superhero Nafessa about how her journey has been, what she’s learned along the way and what we can expect from the badass in the coming months.
See below for the exclusive interview and photos.
How did you get your start in acting? Have you faced any challenges in doing so?
It was something I always wanted to do. I’d watch “The Cosby Show” and I’d watch certain shows — “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” — and I’d look at the little brown girls and be inspired by them. I didn’t know how to go about actually following that dream.
Being from Philly, I didn’t have any family in the industry. It just seemed like a far-fetched dream at the time. I’d always done some modeling and acting in the city here and there, but it wasn’t until I was working at the law firm that I realized how unhappy I was like, “I’ve got to go do what really I love.”
No matter how hard it’s going to be, just start from the bottom and make your way up. I started to go to New York because it was close enough to the city to commute back and forth, to and from.
How does it feel to be the first black lesbian superhero on television? How would having something like this been important to you growing up?
When you think about the history behind it, it’s crazy: the magnitude of that for our society. I’m so grateful to be an inspiration, for people to look up to someone they haven’t had before – especially young, black lesbians.
I’ve been going to a lot of fan conventions with the cast recently and had one woman in particular come up to me and tell me that after seeing “Thunder” on screen, she felt normal. I was just like wow! It was so rewarding for me to know that I am able to inspire a whole generation of lesbians, if you will.
What are some of your other pursuits outside of acting?
I’m focusing on my brand, Saturday Dreaming, at the moment: I founded it with my best friend Michelle Savage to make affordable pieces for women. It was always my dream to have my own fashion label.
When I was at college, I’d always shop on a budget and I was always grateful that I could go to Forever 21, spend $100 and get an entire outfit. So, I wanted to always give that back and give young girl bosses who want to follow their dreams and are needing to shop on a budget but look like they have already succeeded in whatever industry or field that they are in.
It’s about looking the part and having the mindset. Saturday Dreaming can give you that vibe and that confidence that you need without breaking the bank. That’s ultimately what it’s about.
In what way do you identify with the character you play in “Black Lightning?”
She’s super smart, strong, bold and so confident. When she believes in something, she fights for it — she doesn’t care who’s on her side. She’s willing to fight for the injustice that’s going on within the community, even if that means battling at the front line at a protest and going to prison for it. We are both fighters and believers and want to see positive change in the world.
Any projects you’re currently working on that you’re excited about?
I’m currently working on Season 2 of “Black Lightning,” so that’s priority right now and I’m also working on my online boutique which is Saturday Dreaming as well working on my non-profit work with my organization Fearless Dreamers.
How do you hope to see the industry continue to progress in the future?
I would like to see more females at the helm of projects whether it be in TV, film, acting directing or show running, that’s goal for me, specifically directing.
Did you see “Black Panther?” How did it feel to watch the positive portrayal and strong performance of black actors on the big screen?
I was so proud to see all these beautiful black actors selling out box offices in a way we haven’t seen before and show proof that we can do it. I loved seeing the depiction of strong black female characters and as myself playing a black superhero now, its inspiring to see other black females leading the helm with the guys. The visuals were great, I mean I really loved it.
What’s the most important element of your job to you?
The most important element to me is to make sure that I’m telling stories that people are connecting with, which is what I’m doing in “Black Lightning.” I want to inspire people with my acting and ignite a change in them to create a positive moment in their lives.
We all want to see a character on TV that what we can relate to and look like. In my case, I feel like it is so important to play Anissa and hopefully inspire lesbians of any nationality with how brave, open and unapologetic she is.
How does your passion for activism transcend your role as the lead in “Black Lightning?”
My passion for social injustice within our country is what made want to take on this role. When she believes in something, she fights for it, and she’s just wanting to change her community. To me, that’s very important.
What do you hope viewers take from “Black Lightning?”
Our goal is to encourage everyone to find the superhero inside of themselves or a knowledge that you are a superhero. Whether you are a nurse, teacher, doctor, single mother or police officer. It’s about tapping into that and owning it and walking unapologetically in who you are.
You’re currently working on shooting season 2 in Atlanta. How’s that been?
Its been great! I think we laid a great foundation on who these characters are in season 1 and season 2 is about taking things to the next level within the show, with all the characters.
Without giving too much away, we are dealing with the consequences of what you saw at the end of the first season and it’s been fun navigating through all that and dealing with all those consequences. It’s been fun and again a dream come true telling the story of this family and their fight to change their community.
The New York City native, Dominique Fishback, shows us what it takes to land major roles and execute them with grace. What is even more admirable is how Dominique is able to step into character roles who storyline are drowned in trauma. Some notable roles by the Hollywood trailblazer include the part of Kenya in the film The Hate U Give (2018). In 2021; she starred in Judas and the Black Messiah alongside Daniel Kaluuya, as Deborah Johnson, the partner of Fred Hampton and the expectant mother of Fred Hampton Jr; she even worked alongside Samuel L. Jackson as the orphaned character Robyn in the Apple in The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey. If you have seen any of these, you would know that Dominique has an incredible way of subverting the pain experienced by her character to show strength. Additionally, the in demand Hollywood actress has even had some light-hearted roles such as playing Young Charlette “Suga Mama” Towne-Proud in The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder.
Dominique has been active since 2013, but we are sure that 2023 is going to be her most fruitful year yet! Busy at work, Dominqiue stars in the new series Swarm. Also set to release this year is Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, in which Dominique plays Elena.
Here at Galore, I had the honor of interviewing Dominique Fishback on numerous subjects. From her Hollywod influences, to her artistic journey, Black Feminisms, astrology and her upcoming roles in Swarm and Transformers: Rise of the Beasts. We are most grateful to share with you the young Hollywood actress who is taking the industry by storm. Tune in below for the full length feature interview.
Dominique, you have had a tremendous journey; from being denied acceptance into NYC’s specialized performing art school, LaGuardia, to becoming one of the leading black female voices in Hollywood. What advice do you have for young black women who have been turned down and feel like their dreams are not attainable?
Well, one, I would say I feel too early in the game to say I’m one of the leading Black voices of Hollywood. There are so many women who have come before me and paved the way so that I could even do a show like SWARM. I appreciate that and I want to make sure credit is given where it’s due. I feel like anybody who has a dream can relate to my story in a way so the advice that I would give is to “be yourself, love.” I got that tattooed and written in my mom’s handwriting. It could seem cliche or simple, but when you really think about it, it’s actually the root of all things that allow us to have freedom.
Even if someone doesn’t know who they are yet, I would tell them that being yourself is not a label. Being yourself is a feeling. It’s when you like something, you care about it, and you stand up for those things. The advice that I would give for when people feel defeated and like their dreams are unobtainable, is to remember that there are so many people who have had their dreams turned down and they continue to soar.
A recent example of this is Ke Huy Quan from EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE. His story is so beautiful. He was a child actor and felt like there was no room for him in Hollywood but then he came back and look at him now – he just won an Oscar! We have so many examples of people who have manifested dreams that seemed impossible. Another piece of advice that I always try to tell people is to write your own stuff, if you can, and even if you feel like you can’t, try it anyway.
What do you owe your accomplishments to? What motivates you to keep pushing?
I owe my accomplishments to God and to my younger self. When she was at a young, impressionable age, life could have deterred her, but she kept going. Even when she was denied, even when she was told she didn’t have the “it factor,” even though she was from East New York and didn’t see other people who were living the dream that she had seen for herself, she kept going. She kept wanting, kept going to rehearsals as she got older and kept ignoring the naysayers. She kept believing she could, so she did. Because of her, I am here.
What are some of your favorite acting techniques?
My teacher in New York, Anthony Abeson, has this thing called F-I-O-ing, which is fleshing it out. It’s the idea that you don’t say anything as your character that you haven’t experienced. That might seem a bit crazy because a lot of times, we act things out that we haven’t experienced. When that happens, F-I-O-ing is when you would sit with yourself and envision the scenarios that you would be saying the lines for. By doing that, when you say the lines, they can come out more truthful because you have experienced the scenario, even if it was only in your mind. Your mind is one of the most powerful tools.
One of my other favorite acting techniques is journaling. It’s something I do personally and as my characters. I take my scenes, summarize them, and turn them into first person perspective. Then I just start free writing any ideas that come to mind. Sometimes suddenly, I have a backstory or something that happened to my character in between one of the scenes that we don’t know happened because we don’t see it on the screen. That’s my favorite.
Who is your Hollywood Icon?
I would probably say Aaliyah because she was so impactful to me as a child. I was around that age when I didn’t know if I was pretty and all those things you feel growing up. Aaliyah was just so confident in everything that she was. It didn’t matter what she was wearing, she was confident in everything. I loved when she wore baggy pants because I love baggy pants and crop tops. In fact, I’m wearing them both right now. But when I saw her, I felt like “oh, that’s me.” Aaliyah had her soft, sultry voice with a hard beat.
I’m from New York and I always felt like I was sensitive and soft on the inside, but I had a hard exterior because of where I’m from. She was the representation of the different ways you could be a woman and be feminine. She was ahead of her time.
Top 3 favorite films?
I wish I was more of a film junkie or a connoisseur of film. I have all these actor friends that are like “oh the cinematography of this film…” and I’m like, just put on THE NOTEBOOK! I love that movie. Another one of my favorite films is FRIDAY. I know all the words and I think it’s a great film. It happens over the course of one day on one block and it was representative of the hood but not in a hyperbolic kind of way. I loved the musicality of the way it was shot, and how it never lost a beat. I loved Chris Tucker when I was younger. I was like, I like him and not just Chris Tucker, but Smokey, I was kind of in love with him. Another favorite film of mine is PARASITE. I love that movie. I also love WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE. I think Leonardo does such a great job in that performance. I love it.
Top 5 women legends from NYC (music, art or acting)?
I don’t know who is from New York City. Lauryn Hill is from New Jersey, does that count? Aaliyah was born in Brooklyn, but she was raised in Detroit, does that count? Um, who the hell is from New York? laughter I’m just going to name some of the women who I consider to be legends – Angela Bassett, Lauryn Hill, Aaliyah, Selena, Angela Davis and Assata Shakur.
From The Hate U Give, to Judas and the Black Messiah and The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, you have done a tremendous job developing characters who are dealing with a multitude of trauma. This year you will star in Transformers: Rise of the Beasts as Elena. How is this role different from the others?
It’s so interesting to say that I’ve developed characters who are dealing with a multitude of trauma when everybody has trauma, you know? Yes, some of my past roles have been characters dealing with trauma, but Elena also has trauma. I think she’s different because she is in an extremely heightened situation. A situation that takes place within reality if reality was heightened to an extent that is unimaginable, which in her case is filled with alien robots. That’s how she’s different from my past characters.
Elena is super funny and I really liked that about her. I don’t think my characters often get the opportunity to be as funny as she gets to be. She is into artifacts, studying and archaeology. I think that’s cool because I haven’t really gotten a chance to play a character that was really into the sciences. Steven, our director, was very adamant that he didn’t want me to look like a teenager, as I have often looked in past roles. He said Elena was 25, so I got to wear some lipstick, some punchy lipstick. That was fun.
In her socio-historiography ain’t I a woman, the late bell hooks wrote about the ways in which the black female experience is romanticized. “Usually when people talk about the ‘strength’ of black women they are referring to the way in which they perceive black women coping with oppression. They ignore the reality that to be strong in the face of oppression is not the same as overcoming oppression, that endurance is not to be confused with transformation”. How is your creativity disrupting culture and pushing boundaries?
Wow, how is my creativity disrupting culture? With my character, Dre, in SWARM, many people have mentioned that we haven’t gotten to see a black actress take on a role like this where we have psychological thriller and horror comedy in one. Also, it’s pretty much a one woman show, and Dre plays different personalities throughout the season. No character really repeats in her life. As she moves forward in her life, new characters are introduced. I think we’re used to stories with both A and B storylines.
Usually, there’s the A character and then you venture off with the B character and you see what they’re doing in their lives, which is what we’re used to with TV. SWARM is different because there’s only one storyline – Dre’s storyline and everybody else just falls into her world. We don’t really venture off to see what anybody else is getting into and I think that is a newer idea, I don’t know if it’s been done before.
Donald and Janine wanted to subvert the ideas of what television was or was supposed to be. They wanted to make weird stuff and we haven’t seen a black woman be a serial killer that much on TV. I don’t know if it has been done or hasn’t, but to this extent, I think it’s really disrupting culture. There was so much buzz around it before it even came out. It’s definitely pushing boundaries.
What can viewers expect from the new Amazon series “Swarm”?
Viewers can expect to laugh in places that they didn’t know they could or should laugh. Maybe even cry or feel empathy in places that they never thought they would because of the circumstances and the character traits that Dre has. Viewers can expect to feel strongly one way or the other. You either you really like it, or you don’t, but you’re going to feel something. You may be annoyed. You may be inspired. There are so many things and feelings that can come from it. I’m looking forward to hearing how people interpret Dre, the show’s circumstances and what viewers think the show is trying to say or not say. That’s kind of the fun part.
What are certain archetypes in acting you hope to embody in future roles?
I want to do an epic rom com. I want to do an epic romance drama, like TITANIC. Or like THE NOTEBOOK or ROMEO AND JULIET, something with that epic kind of love story. I would also love to do a magical kind of sci-fi world; a world that’s created with swords and horses and powers and things like that. Essentially CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE that’s what I want. That book is turning into a movie, and I want it!
Audre Lorde one said “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” What wellness practices allow you to stay balanced?
I love baths. I love getting massages, especially with lavender scented things. I love candles. I can’t say that I love meditating. I used to, I fluctuate now but I understand and respect the importance of meditation. I also use journaling and regular therapy. Lastly, I love reading books on manifestation and things like that.
What are some of your secrets for maintaining healthy skin?
I wish I had some. I’m just now starting to try to do better with my skin. I’ve been getting a facial at least once a month for the last few months. I can’t even say that that’s a practice yet. I’m just making sure that I exfoliate 2-3 times a week, massage the cleanser into my face and that I moisturize regularly. I’m just being a bit more intentional with the process. It doesn’t matter if you have a bunch of products or not. I’ve been using vitamin E oil for any blemishes and stuff, which has been great, but I think it’s about just being intentional. I started off saying just give me a good cleanser and a good moisturizer. And then I was like okay, now that I’ve got a little bit of a routine, let me add this vitamin E. So, I start small with the basics and then add on.
What are some of your favorite activities that remind you to not take life too seriously?
I love playing the piano. I’m learning to play the guitar. I love bowling, miniature golf and playing basketball. I would say playing spades, but no spades is very serious. You must take spades extremely seriously.
What is your zodiac sign and how do you feel that translates in your creativity?
Well, I’m an Aries and that’s a fire sign. Aries are competitive. They’re usually leaders but they could also be into too many things at the same time and that focus could wander off. I feel like it translates in my creativity because I’m interested in so many different things. That might be my Gemini moon, though, to be interested in so many different things. Some of the things I’m interested in are piano, guitar, writing my own book of poetry, making my own documentary, the list goes on. Every time I see something that I like, I want to know what my spin on it would look like, and I want to plan out how to make it come to fruition. I feel like Aries are also brave. I think deciding to do SWARM was an Aries thing to do. Aries is a fire sign, and she was burning. She was burning shit up.