How ‘Black Lightning’ director Salim Akil co-created the show and why The buzzy ‘Black Lightning’ is a reflection of director Salim Akil’s family values

Audiences have of course always loved a good hero, but with projects such as Netflix’s Luke Cage and Disney’s Black Panther garnering ratings, massive hype and viral hashtags such as #BlackPantherSoLit, black superheroes are enjoying a true renaissance on screen. On May 17, The CW Network rolled out the first trailer for its new show Black Lightning, and once again it was clear from the response on social media that fans can’t wait to see DC Comics’ first African-American hero on TV. By midnight Thursday, the trailer had more than 392,000 views.

Introduced as a comic in 1977, Black Lightning follows Jefferson Pierce, a former Olympian turned principal in the “Suicide Slum” section of the fictional city of Metropolis. Though he was born a metahuman and has several superhuman abilities, Pierce suppresses his powers in a bid to keep his family safe. When his neighborhood is overrun by crime, however, Pierce begins to embrace his destiny to help clean up the streets and protect those he loves most. The show, which has no exact premiere date, stars Cress Williams (Prison Break, Hart of Dixie, Living Single), China Anne McClain (House of Payne, NCIS, Descendants 2) and Nafessa Williams (Code Black, Twin Peaks, Burning Sands).

While studios continuously mine their archives for profitable content, the driving forces behind Black Lightning are Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil, the husband-and-wife team responsible for such hits as The CW and BET’s The Game, The CW’s Girlfriends and BET’s Being Mary Jane. After leaving BET and signing a development deal with Warner Bros. in 2015, the Akils took a year off to search for their next project. During a meeting with Peter Roth, the studio’s president and chief content officer, Salim Akil floated the idea of adapting one of Milestone Media’s comics for the screen. While that didn’t pan out, Roth proposed a different idea: Black Lightning.

“I was somewhat familiar with Black Lightning, so I played it cool — but I wanted to jump out of the chair.”

“They said, ‘We had this thing we were holding for you guys called Black Lightning,’ ” Salim Akil said in February at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles. “I was somewhat familiar with Black Lightning, so I played it cool — but I wanted to jump out of the chair.”

The Akils were soon on board, but it wasn’t just the prospect of working on a comic that attracted them to the project. Salim Akil, the father of two boys, fell in love with the character. “I want to reintroduce the black male to television in a certain way,” he said. “What I loved about the character is that he’s married and he has two daughters and is connected to the community. That was right up my alley. That gave me the opportunity to go hard on some of the things I wanted to talk about.”

The dedicated family man continued, “To me, the most amazing aspect of [the story] is that he’s a principal, and a father, and he’s a man who’s in love with his wife. They’re separated, but the only reason they’re separated is because of his powers and the way his powers affect him as a man.”

Although Salim Akil rarely participates in interviews, the director penned an open letter to his 12-year-old son on The Hollywood Reporter after the killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. In the letter, he reflected on the burden that black people, and in particular black men, face in society. While he took America to task for its “unquenched desire to control [black people],” which “began hundreds of years ago when your relatives were brought here across the Middle Passage to be sold,” Salim Akil also gave his son some defiant and valuable advice.

“If you’re trying to dumb … down to be acceptable, then you’ve dismissed and let go of your power.”

“You were made black on purpose,” he explained, echoing his production company’s motto. “God did that, so I want you to dance in the end zone, dunk the ball with beautiful creativity, become a police officer or a fireman, celebrate when you pass the bar exam, finish your medical residency, ride with your top down and play your music loud, wear your pants low on your hips or tie your neck up with a Windsor knot, find a woman like Diamond Reynolds and marry her quick. What I’m asking you to do, son, is after the tears dry, live. Live life ‘by any means necessary!’ ”

The letter also mirrors Salim Akil’s advice to black creatives in Hollywood.

“The perception is that if you’re too black, you’re not going to make it, but that perception is there so you don’t claim what is viable in the world,” he said on that February evening. “I think it’s time to claim the idea that when you go into these rooms, the expertise is you. If you’re trying to dumb that down to be acceptable, then you’ve dismissed and let go of your power.”

With Mara and Salim Akil at the helm of Black Lightning, it looks like audiences are in for a smart, unapologetically black hero who is perfect for these arduous times.

LeBron James and Rihanna: a timeline of the bad gal’s super fandom From Instagram or Twitter, from the beach or from courtside — RiRi is a super fan of The King

It must be nice being LeBron James. He has a beautiful family: three children and his stunning wife, Savannah. He’s one of the most beloved athletes in the world. He gives back. He’s the NBA’s foremost hip-hop tastemaker. He’s an adopted nephew of Barack and Michelle Obama. And he’s the best player in the world — with a growing resume worthy of the best player of all time.

He’s a member of the “one name fame” club — like Rihanna, who is, of course internationally known, revered and loved in her own right and has been so for over a decade. The “Work” singer is a woman of many talents and titles: the creator of 2016’s best album, Billboard royalty, Drake’s lifelong crush, Harvard Humanitarian, creative director and endorsement queenpin and self-professed “maneater.

In Rihanna and LeBron’s case, they’re superclose in terms of finances, influence and dominance. One can choose to believe gossipy headlines, or believe that the common thread between them is Jay Z, a friend of both since they were teenage phenoms as well as the guy who doesn’t seem to mind playing third wheel in hilarious Beyoncé/LeBron memes. But what’s undeniable is Rihanna’s love of sports and the athletes in them (and their love of her). She’s been described as everything from the ultimate sports fan to a bandwagoner. Whatever the case, her favorite sport appears to be basketball. And her favorite hooper is none other than LeBron Raymone James.

Yesterday, Rihanna reminded her 71 million Twitter followers who she’s riding with throughout NBA postseason: “King James.” How long has this mutual admiration society been a thing? Below is a timeline of the friendship between the two megastars. And yes, it includes provocative Instagram photos of suntan lotion designs, and even Rihanna making the owner of the Golden State Warriors move seats in his own arena because she wouldn’t stop cheering for The King.


June 16, 2009 — Business as usual

If it sounds odd that James would have free time in June, that’s because he wasn’t playing in the Finals in 2009 — one of only three years in the past decade in which his squad failed to advance to the league’s brightest stage. Nevertheless, ’Bron (a day after visiting then-President Obama at the White House, and rocking his Nike Zoom LeBron VI Low kicks) and RiRi grabbed lunch at Manhattan’s high-end Philippe Chow before heading to the grand opening of Carol’s Daughter Back Room Hand and Foot Spa.

Feb. 19, 2011 — Birthday festivities in Hollywood

Hating LeBron James was very, very, very popular in 2011 — it was his first season in Miami. But he wasn’t totally despised: He partied with Jay Z in Los Angeles during All-Star Weekend. Jay and LeBron’s charitable dinner, aptly titled Two Kings, was held in 2011 at Century City’s Craft, and earlier that day they unveiled a new Boys & Girls Club facility. The dinner though, essentially served as a 23rd birthday party for Rihanna. As for the guest list? Beyoncé, Dwyane Wade, Gabrielle Union, Drake, future Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, Floyd Mayweather, Gayle King, Cam Newton, Chris Rock, Janelle Monae, Jimmy Iovine and more. Not bad.

June 22, 2012 — Congratulations are in order

Once upon a time there was (daily) discussion about whether LeBron would ever win a ring. Five years ago, he removed the monkey from his back with the Heat’s 4-1 Finals victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder — led, at the time, by a “Big Three” you might remember of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Many people congratulated King James on the historic accomplishment. One of the loudest was Bad Gal RiRi.

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June 24, 2012 — Rihanna brings the love to the ’Gram

A day before the Heat took to the streets of Miami for their parade, Rihanna once again paid homage to LBJ. LeBron and the Larry O’Brien Trophy. ’Bout damn time, indeed.

April 21, 2013 — Rihanna brings the jersey to the game

The pop star is no stranger to courtside seats. But for Game 1 of the Heat’s opening round series versus the Milwaukee Bucks, the “We Found Love” singer — who, as seen above, created the theme song of the 2013 postseason — brought her own LeBron jersey to the American Airlines Arena for good luck. It worked, too. The Heat won by 23, with James putting up a near triple-double. The Heat, who went on to repeat as NBA champions, would’ve won with or without Rihanna sitting close enough to trip a referee. They were infinitely superior to the Brandon Jennings- and Monta Ellis-led Bucks. But that’s beside the point.

Jan. 30, 2014 — LeBron lets the thirst fly

In the event you may or may not remember Shakira and Rihanna’s collaboration “Can’t Remember To Forget You,” chances are you probably heard it a million times at H&M, Sephora and several other stores of its kind in 2014. To date, the video has more than 785 million YouTube views. How many of those came from an IP address in South Florida in LeBron’s Miami home is impossible to tell. Regardless, he saw the video and, like most other people, was left biting his fist like Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street. Rihanna was flattered by it, too.

May 8, 2014 — Rihanna in awe

It’s one thing to watch LeBron James on television. It’s another to watch LeBron in person. And it’s something totally different to watch one of the greatest athletes ever nearly run through five rows of people, with ease, from up close. And he did it without impaling anyone’s face with his size 15s. That’s exactly what Rihanna witnessed (no pun intended) during Game 2 of the Heat’s second-round matchup versus the Brooklyn Nets. She was impressed.

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July 14, 2014 — Enter J.R. Smith

Back in 2013, Rihanna and then-New York Knick J.R. Smith weren’t on the most cordial of terms. They were rumored to be dating in 2012, and Rihanna shot back at fans who’d blamed her for Smith’s struggles in the postseason. The multiple Grammy winner said she didn’t want much of anything to do with Smith, whom she called a “desert thirsty n—-” in part because “his a– be hungover from clubbing every night during [the] playoffs.” Smith downplayed the situation, saying he was focused on the playoffs and not Instagram. But come summer 2014, shortly after LeBron decided to take his talents back to Cleveland, Smith posted this photo on IG taking a shot not only at Rihanna but also the thousands of migrating Miami fans who relocated back to Cleveland. As destiny would have it, Smith, along with Knicks teammate and J.R. loyalist Iman Shumpert, was traded to Cleveland at the request of James. The rest, as they say, is history.

July 2009 — World Cup super fans

Two of the biggest non-soccer storylines of the 2014 World Cup? Yep, Rihanna’s allegiance to Germany and The King’s videographer skills.

March 26, 2015 — Rihanna drops “B—- Better Have My Money”

Though it never made it onto her 2016 magnum opus ANTI, Rih dropped one of the biggest singles of the year with this aggressive anthem. In it she proudly boasted about Ballin’ bigger than LeBron.

June 4, 2015 — Ready for Cavs/Warriors I

Around this time, rumors popped off (they were never substantiated) about Rihanna flying on LeBron’s private jet to Oakland, California, for Game 1 of the 2015 Finals. The whispers stemmed from a lone Instagram video of RiRi beside an airplane proudly exclaiming, “LeBron, here we come baby!” Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob was originally sitting beside the pop superstar but eventually moved because Rih was “[rooting] for LeBron the whole game.” As for why she yelled LeBron’s name near the locker room after the Game 1 loss — who knows? Certainly it had something to do with him pulling up for a fadeaway jumper instead of driving to the basket in the waning seconds of regulation.

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May 20, 2016 — The most interesting use of suntan lotion in NBA history

For most fans of LeBron and the Cavs, life was great after Cleveland’s Game 2 victory over the Toronto Raptors in last year’s Eastern Conference finals. Some celebrated with tweets. Some celebrated with drinks at the bar. Rihanna posted the above photo to Instagram — with suntan lotion in the form of LeBron’s number on her stomach, and she tagged him in the photo. Soon, conspiracy theories ran amok. A secret scheme to distract The King for Drake, who sat courtside in support of his hometown Raptors? Or was it something more sinister? Whatever the case, having to explain that to the Mrs. — whom the internet wanted to retaliate, a la Gina with Ms. Trinidad on Martin — couldn’t have been enjoyable, especially in the middle of a playoff run. For what it’s worth: Cleveland lost the next two games before closing the Raptors out in six.

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June 17-20, 2016 — Rihanna’s redemption

The 2016 Finals are the crowning moment in LeBron’s career (thus far) and the best moment for Cleveland pop culturewise since Bone Thugs-N-Harmony dropped 1995’s classic E. 1999 Eternal. Rihanna partied like she’d been the one to block Andre Iguodala and drain the game-winning 3 in Stephen Curry’s grill. She stunted. She trash-talked in support of her “bae.” And she flexed on the ’Gram in a series of photos.

April 23 — Bring out the brooms

Rihanna was like the rest of us on April 23. Posted at the crib, or at a bar watching playoff basketball — or, in her case, probably on a remote island with projector-size high-definition screens by the pool as pals fed her grapes and rolled her weed. She watched the Cavs nearly cough up another double-digit fourth-quarter lead to the Indiana Pacers. Despite J.R. Smith nearly going Peak J.R. at the worst possible time, attempting a behind-the-back pass when running the clock out would have sufficed, Paul George bricked what would have been a game-tying 3 that would have forced overtime. The Cavs advanced nevertheless, giving LeBron his 11th consecutive first-round series victory, his 10th career sweep (most all time) and his 21st consecutive first-round victory. There were a lot of happy LeBron campers worldwide, but only a select few with the power to command nearly 10,000 retweets without breaking a sweat.

Should the Cavs advance to the Finals for a third consecutive season, and what would be LeBron’s seventh consecutive, don’t expect for this to be the last time we hear of Rihanna waving her No. 23 pompoms.