Freeland Is Not Free

Superhero series touches on familiar topic — how society views and values Black life

Early in the first episode of CW’s Black Lightning TV series, Black Lightning’s alter ego, Jefferson Pierce, is the victim of police brutality. His daughters watch helplessly as Pierce subdues his powers —to preserve his secret identity.

In the first episode of the series’ third and current season, we see those same young ladies, who are also gifted with superpowers, fearlessly take down a plot to detain other “metahumans.” They accomplish this task while their father willfully chooses to remain in the custody of a clandestine government agency.

Juxtaposing the two moments between seasons shows how the series comes full circle, yet at the same time, continues to tackle the challenges that Black people face in America.

The fictional city of Freeland, Ga., comes under occupation of the American Security Agency, or A.S.A., in Black Lightning’s third season. It puts a strain on the Pierce family and throws a predominately Black community into martial law. There’s a lot going on to follow in the series — almost too much — but one of the most recent story arcs hits too close to home.

“Requiem For Tavon” follows the doomed path of Tavon Singley, a Black male student at Garfield High School, where Pierce is a mentor and former principal. Tavon was initially detained by the ASA for showing signs of “metahuman” abilities — a claim that was later found to be false.

Tavon was ultimately rescued by one of Pierce’s superpowered daughters, Blackbird, but that didn’t keep the young man out of harm’s way. He was later killed in a battle that involved three of Pierce’s former students — his daughter, Anissa, Tavon and Painkiller, a formerly paralyzed (and thought to be deceased) young man with cybernetic enhancements.

Again, it’s a lot to follow, but the painful and powerful scene leading up to the fated battle weaves it together. Pierce meets with Tavon’s parents and promises them that he will protect Tavon. Their concerns, quite naturally, are that their son is in A.S.A. custody.

Pierce, acting as both a mentor and as his alter ego, Black Lightning, heartbreakingly fails to keep his promise.

When Tavon’s parents see his lifeless body, they are stunned and devastated. The viewer can’t help but hear the name “Tavon” and phonetically hear “Trayvon,” the latter of whom became national news after he was murdered by the vigilante George Zimmerman in 2012.

Tavon’s death promises to spark a revolution — an important refrain in the struggle for Black equity and civil rights. In one moment, the hero with powers seems powerless; and then, in the next moment, those “regular beings” without supernatural abilities feel a sense of empowerment.

“This is the spark we needed,” exclaims Black police chief Bill Henderson, himself torn between the events during the occupation. 

That spark — both in the fictional and real world — is what powers the pursuit of freedom.

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