It turns out Nafessa Williams, TV’s first black lesbian superhero, is also a real-life superhero
The Avengers are going out of business.
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.
Same, us too.
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.
CLICK HERE TO WATCH BLACK LIGHTNING.