Foreword by Marcela Villa, Interview by Angela Yungk
This story was originally published in Art Hive Magazine issue #30, Summer 2019.
Philadelphia native Nafessa Williams is a young actress who is already making a mark on the television and film industry.
Her latest role, Anissa from Black Lightning, which airs on The CW, is a unique one. Black Lightning, based off the DC Comics superhero, is approaching the premiere of its third season and we have grown to love the strong and fierce black lesbian daughter of Black Lightening, Anissa, later known as Thunder.
Nafessa has taken some leaps of faith of her own to make magic happen in her real life. She was on the pursuit of a legal career and working in the homicide department of the District Attorney’s office when she decided it was not the path for her. She dove head in and began paving her way into her acting career, appearing in the film, Streets, alongside another Philadelphia native and renowned rapper, Meek Mill, which was released in 2012. Fast forward to 2018, and she is representing beautifully for the LGBT community with strength and poise as Anissa. Aside from being the first lesbian superhero to be portrayed on television, Anissa’s character in the show is empowering to those who watch, and even more so for Nafessa who portrays her. Anissa fights for social justice in the show, using her powers to bring change and peace, and being an empowering representation of women as a whole, women of color, and particularly those part of the LGBT community. We can all look up to a strong woman superhero on television, but it’s even better when she is able to bring diversity and allow for the inclusion of those we don’t usually see on screen. Anissa is a big role for Nafessa, and an even bigger role for society, motivating and inspiring for all who watch. Nafessa has taken steps towards some of her real life passions to fight for social justice in her every day life, visiting the homeless of Los Angeles in Skid Row and praying with them as well as giving out clothes to them.
Nafessa spoke with Art Hive Magazine about her pursuit to her creative dream and what led her there, as well as all things Anissa, what this role means to her, and how it has influenced her life and the television industry.
Photo: Tyren Redd // @tyrenredd
Photo: Tyren Redd // @tyrenredd
You started out pursuing a career path in law, even working at a homicide department at the District Attorney’s office. When was it that you realized that law was not the career for you and that acting was what you wanted to do with your life?
I realized it wasn’t the career for me when I would cry in the morning when it was time to go to work. I hated how restricted it was. It was a tough transition coming out of college. I decided to follow my dreams but knew how difficult it would be to start a new career.
You took a huge leap of faith moving into acting. How did that transition go for you?
Well, it was very challenging and discouraging at times, but clearly it was all worth it. I would do it all over again the same the way.
Can you tell us about your charity work with The Beatrice Foundation and why you find it important to give back?
I find it important to give back because I feel that the future of happiness and prosperity is met by serving other people. We volunteer and go to Skid Row (5sq. miles) in Downtown LA to pray with and give clothes out to the homeless.
Are there any books/movies/creative obsessions that you use for inspiration that you would like to share with our readers?
I meditate and just try to do some sort of morning routine every day. The Chopra Center is a meditation center that offers free workshops about every 3-4 months that I really felt comfortable in and has great packages. Eternal Sunshine on Soundcloud is also a great source for me, it helps me be aware and ready for the day. I love reading. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill is what I’m currently reading but A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle is one of my favorites.
Do you have any advice for a creative who is trying to make it in film industry? Is there anything you wish you would have known earlier in your career that you know now?
First, really pursue the craft and surround yourself with people who are great with the craft. Just do it 24/7. Be authentic, be who you are and do not change for Hollywood. Just truly be yourself and fall in love with that person…that will serve you well in your career and path.
What can fans expect for the rest of 2019? Are you working on any new projects or causes?
Yes! We can expect season three this fall and upcoming film Black and Blue starring Naomi Harris later this year.
You are best known for playing Anissa on the ground-breaking series Black Lightning—what attracted you to this role? Can you give us any teasers for season three?
The fact that Anissa was to be the first lesbian superhero on television, as well as the issues the series was touching on, truly attracted me to this amazing role. Sadly, I have no details on season three yet! I promise I really don’t! I don’t know anything just yet so I’m very excited!
Playing a character with so much depth must be a challenge and a lot of fun! What do you enjoy most about this character?
Her strength, her fearlessness and her passion for wanting to fight for her people and for social justice. There are a lot of things I can say. She is very empowering—especially for this generation and specifically for lesbian women.
What do you hope people get out of watching the show? Do you feel like the world is ready or needs a gay female superhero?
I hope that people discover the real superhero within themselves from watching the show. That they get inspired to become the superheroes of their community.
I honestly think this generation is not only ready but wants diversity and inclusion. I think a lesbian superhero is very necessary because we now have a large group of women seeing themselves on television for the first time.
CONNECT WITH NAFESSA WILLIAMS
Instagram and Twitter: @nafessawilliams
With special thanks to…
Photos: Tyren Redd // @tyrenredd
Styling: Tim Guy & Tim B //@iamtimguy @styledbytimb
Makeup: Jourdan L // @jobellaluv
Hair: Natasha // @natashabrowngirlbraids