Mild spoilers below for anyone who hasn't yet watched Black Lightning's series premiere.
Superhero TV stepped up in a big way with Salim and Mara Brock Akil's excellent Black Lightning, which is arguably the most adult and intense of all The CW's DC TV shows. Its mature subject matter, perhaps unsurprisingly, gets a lot more grittily violent than The Flash or Legends of Tomorrow, bringing far more gunplay and bloodshed. But according to star Cress Williams, whom I spoke with at the red carpet for Black Lightning's world premiere for DC in D.C. 2018, the violent content ultimately didn't faze The CW too much. Here's what Williams told me.
From my aspect, [the violence] was what was in the script. It was really clear that was Salim's vision, and I think all of us, as the actors, we wanted to tell truths. We wanted to take this superhero genre to a grounded level that would entertain, but also affect people and impact people in a good way. Fortunately, if there was any pushback, Salim really protected us from that. He even said, you know, 'Don't you guys worry about that. You do what you need to do, and I will take care of the rest.' And I kind of heard that, anytime you're doing something new, people need to see it first, so there's a little bit of a pushback, and a little more of a "Wait, what are you doing?' But once they saw it, then they're like, 'Oh, okay. Go ahead. Go, go, go.' So I think there's less pushback now because they're really pleased with the product.
To be sure, Black Lightning isn't reinventing the torture-porn wheel or anything with its physical violence, and it's not even the most viscerally disturbing comic book TV series, a distinction that currently goes to Netflix's The Punisher. But The CW's powered-up bread and butter, the Arrow-verse, often cloaks its fisticuffs and weaponized battles in CGI-driven spectacle, with the spearheading Arrow offering the most grounded and "realistic" scenes where violence is concerned. (Exceptions exist, of course.)
As Black Lightning, Jefferson Pierce is punching criminals in the face with electrical force, sending blood flying. Tobias Whale is shooting projectiles into his underlings' chests. And while guns aren't quite as dangerous on shows where characters are bulletproof or are able to move fast enough to take the bullets out of the air, Black Lightning's Freeland is full of all-too-human citizens that can easily fall victim. But to the show's credit, the creators aren't exploitative with all of this violence, which still feels rooted in comic book imagery. Every harsh moment is delivered to further the story development and to layer its central setting with a complex societal structure.
As such, if The CW had indeed flagged any of the episodic violence earlier in the production process, it sounds like the finished product itself did a fantastic job of convincing all involved that Black Lightning justified its more mature content. After all, the show also offered up a convincing portrayal of a strong family sticking together through hard times, and all without getting schmaltzy. So as long as the superhero and gang violence remains authentic within the show itself, no one will get in Black Lightning's way. Except for Tobias Whale and the One Hundred, that is.