Black Lighthning

IMDB:Black Lightning

Seasons Type Genre
1- Serial Action, Drama, Sci-fi
Scene Count
Pilot Screenplay
52 62

Signature Element

Not an Origin Story

Black Lightning is not an origin story of a superhero getting his powers… kind of. Black Lightning has not used his powers in a long time, but his city has gotten so violent, that he’s coming out of retirement. So there is still a learning curve common in all origin stories due to being inactive for so long. This also serves as an origin story for his daughter Anissa, who is developing her own superpowers, which must be passed through the genes and not created by some freak accident.

Racism

Black Lightning does not hold back on exploring the issue of racism. In a primarily African-American city, there are several examples of racism, two of which involve white cops and our hero Black Lightning. Jefferson doesn’t resort to protesting or violence (if he can help it), instead he focuses on putting his effort where he think it will make the most impact, by providing a place where the children can grow and learn in a safe environment. With all the protests going on in the real world, it is nice to see a positive practical approach to addressing gang violence and racism by providing educational support to students. Not that it’s practical in all scenarios, but within the context of the show it works well and gives the audience a clear idea of the kind of person Jefferson is.

Primarly Black Cast

The old tailor Gambi and a couple of white lackeys for Tobias Whale are the only white cast members in this primarily black cast. Luke Cage is the only one hour dramatic show I can think of in recent memory, but there a lot more sitcoms than one hour dramas. It’s important to write the story and fill the cast with the right characters and obviously Black Lightning doesn’t need to diversify to tell its story properly.

Main Characters

Jefferson Pierce


Jefferson

(40s) dressed in his well tailored black tux, looks well out of place sitting alone in the Watts police station with a look of concerned etched on his face.

Lynn Pierce


Lynn

(40’s), a gorgeous redbone who exudes confidence and intelligence.

Annisa Pierce


Annisa

(22), a brown-skinned beauty with intense eyes and a quick mind.

Jennifer Pierce


Jennifer

(16), is beautiful and brown like her older sister. She’s the entitled feminist in the family. Braids, lip gloss, hoop earrings, and throwback Nikes all in her gorgeous dress.

Inspector Henderson


Inspector Henderson

(50), made somewhat handsome by age, appears on television.

Gambi


Gambi

(60s), a white, blue collar vet with soulful eyes and Yoda wisdom.

Tobias Whale


Tobias

A large, intimidating, black albino, who rules the One Hundred with an invisible hand.

 

Other Characters:

Ms. Fowdy
(36), an attractive woman with that fancy pant suit style, approaching with a purpose.

Lala
(24), whose boy-next-door handsomeness hides the fact that he is the brutal General of the Watts’ gang, the One Hundred.

Will
A handsome, charming, twenty year old, with rough edges.

Location Differences

The city name is changed from Watts to Freeland.

Act Breakdown

Teaser
Structure
Cut
Flashback scene of Black Lightning finding Earl Clifford dead and revealing Black Lightning as Jefferson Pierce.
Main Points

Jefferson gets his daughter out of jail after she’s arrested for protesting.
Jefferson is mistakenly pulled over by police.

Breakdown

The opening news is originally focused on a mother talking about her child being murdered by the 100 gang. This is changed to concerned citizens being interviewed and expressing that the 100 gang is running rampant in Freeland. A newscaster states that there were 125 shootings in a weekend which is absolutely ridiculous, but emphasizes the unstable city. Just to give a real life comparison, Chicago has 600 shootings in 2018 so far which over 3.5 months is 171 shootings per month.

There is a flashback story of a dead boy named Earl which from the wanted poster indicates that Black Lightning allegedly killed him. This flashback carries on throughout the screenplay and its revealed that Earl is Jefferson’s nephew. This story line is dropped entirely in the pilot, probably to cut down on the flashbacks.

Jennifer is added to the introduction instead of being introduced at the 100 club. This is probably to get more familiarity with the character, as it didn’t really make a difference to add her here or at the club. This gives her two additional scenes for interacting with her dad and sister.

The cops are originally written as racist and not worried about showing it. The cops tell Jefferson nice monkey suit when Jefferson inquires why he was pulled over. Instead the pilot changes it to the cops telling the truth and although their approach is racist by pulling over every black male, they don’t overdo it with their interaction.

There is also a cut part of Anissa speaking Spanish and telling one cop he is a slave to the other cop because the other cop is receiving orders ignoring the necessary hierarchy of a police system. It’s cringe worthy dialogue and probably why it was cut.

End of Teaser

Jefferson gets back in his car after being pulled over by the cops.

Script Notes
Screenplay
Pilot
No voice over during scene.The daughter Jennifer narrates a voice over.
Jefferson is sitting by himself at the police station.Jefferson is sitting with his youngest daughter Jennifer at the police station.
The tv reporter interviews a mother.The tv reporter interviews a mother and father.
No mention of shooting statistics. News anchor mentions 125 shootings in Freeland in one weekend.
Anissa speaks Spanish to the officers. Anissa does not speak Spanish to the officers.
After inquiring about being stopped, the officer says "Nice Monkey Suit" to Jefferson.After inquiring about being stopped, the cop tells Jefferson a Korean woman's store was robbed.
Act 1
Structure
Added
Cut
Jennifer and her friend getting ready in the washroom and getting caught by Anissa before sneaking out to the club.Jefferson taking Anissa away from a girl to ask her where Jennifer is at the ceremony.
Jefferson talking to Anissa at home, trying to find Jennifer.Jefferson trying to phone Jennifer in his car.
Lala telling his men to go check out the commotion in the club.
Will tries to get Jennifer to come with him, but is interrupted by Black Lightning.
Black Lightning watches outside as Jennifer safely gets in a car and goes home.
Main Points

School ceremony introduces the cast.
Jennifer sneaks off to club 100 and meets a gang member named Will.
Jefferson uses his powers to rescue his daughter from Lala, the gang leader.

Breakdown

Exposition is a tricky thing to write in scripts and Black Lightning shows two ways of approaching it. In the screenplay, a Fox News reporter is doing a piece on Jefferson and his accomplishments as principal of Garfield. This allows relevant exposition about Jefferson, his family and the state of the city of Freeland without trying to shoehorn it into dialogue. The pilot changes this approach to shortening the amount of exposition and putting it in a speech made by a Senator as she introduces Jefferson. It’s very on the nose in terms of exposition, but it gets the introduction and set up out of the way for the audience to understand the background and to enjoy the rest of the story.

In the screenplay there was an additional element added to Lynne and Jefferson’s relationship in the form of Lynn’s boyfriend. Not only did Lynn leave Jefferson, but now she has someone new in her life. The boyfriend was dropped from the pilot in order to emphasize the gravity of Jefferson’s decision to become Black Lightning or not and to give Jefferson hope that he can reunite his family as one. With the boyfriend involved, the writer has to either make the boyfriend unlikable for Jefferson to reenter the picture or if he is a nice guy, try really hard to write a reason for the audience to justify Jefferson breaking up their relationship. Either way it adds an element the story doesn’t need right off the bat when the focus is on Jefferson being Black Lightning and the consequences of that decision, especially involving his family.

The club scene is reduced with a lot of scenes shortened and repetitive scenes cut. Instead of going back and forth between Lala’s room and the main club room where Black Lightning is fighting, it only switches once. Black Lightning also doesn’t interact with his daughter Jennifer, but watches her get away safely from a distance.

End of Teaser

Jefferson knocks out police who try to stop him as he leaves the club.

Script Notes
Screenplay
Pilot
News Anchor Tony Mcewing is doing a profile on Jefferson, giving the audience exposition. Senator Turner talks about Jefferson's profile before introducing him at a dinner event, giving the audience exposition.
Jefferson is dancing with students before talking to Henderson. Jefferson is talking with someone else before talking to Henderson.
Lynn has a boyfriend and her conversation with Jefferson revolves around him. Lynn does not have a boyfriend and her conversation with Jefferson revolves around Anissa's behavior.
Jefferson calls Anissa from his car phone and no one picks up. Jefferson calls Anissa from home and she tells him Jennifer went to a party.
Motel is called the Snooty Fox. Motel is called the Seahorse Motel.
The scene with Lala ends as Jennifer slaps Will. The scene with Lala ends as Jennifer slaps Will and then adds that she didn't know he was somebody's bitch.
Jefferson comments on everyone hating his suit. Joke about suit is cut. Jefferson says "he tried doing it the right way" instead.
Black Lightning interacts with Jennifer before she leaves the club. Black Lightning just watches Jennifer as she safely leaves the club.
The officer tells Jefferson to "Lay on the ground face down!"The officer tells Jefferson to "Get your black ass on the ground." The scene is slightly in slow motion as Jefferson thinks how to react.
A Kendrick Lamar song is used as Jefferson takes out the police.The show generated its own music to use as Jefferson takes out the police.
A dash cam view catches Jefferson's interaction with the police.There is no dash cam view.
Act 2
Structure
Added
Cut
Flashback scene of Lynn telling Jefferson he can't do it anymore is moved from end of Act to during Gambi's shop scene.Flashback scene of Jefferson getting shocked by an electric fence and rescued by Gambi.
Main Points

Jefferson tells Gambi that he is not coming back as Black Lightning.
Jefferson assures Lynn that Black Lightning is not back.

Breakdown

Flashbacks are used sparingly throughout the pilot and only to emphasize the negative consequences of being Black Lightning. The continuing cut story line of Earl’s death would have revealed that Jefferson felt responsible for Earl’s death.

There is also a cut flashback of Gambi finding Jefferson who electrocuted himself on a fence. I’m not sure if this was intended to hint at how he got his superpowers, but cutting it helped direct the fact that the powers are genetic especially with his daughter showing her own powers. This flashback also gets rid of how Gambi likely met Jefferson and instead relies on what we assume is a father-son type relationship between the two.

Gambi is eager to have Jefferson back as Black Lightning to help save the city, but Jefferson is adamant he will not return. In the screenplay, Gambi tries really hard to convince Jefferson that Black Lightning is worth it in a lengthy conversation that also touches upon his power and suit limitations. This conversation was shortened and only focused on both men stating their opinions briefly.

With Lynn’s boyfriend cut, all dialogue between Jefferson and Lynn relates to Black Lightning and their family. Lynn doesn’t want him to return and Jefferson is hoping that will lead to getting back with his wife. Although the extra drama of a love triangle can be an interesting touch, its better motivation for Jefferson to keep to his word knowing there is a chance that he and his ex-wife can get back together without someone else involved.

End of Act 2

Jefferson watches as Lynn drives away, hopeful that they will be back together.

Script Notes
Screenplay
Pilot
Gambi sees a small church gathering as he enters his store. Gambi just enters his store.
Inspector Henderson tells the media that they are taking an opportunity to turn a possible Black Lightning sighting into a story. Inspector Henderson uses Fake news to describe the media.
Act 3
Structure
Added
Cut
Tobias Whale feeding a man to piranhas while watching the return of Black Lightning on the news.Jennifer apologizes to Jefferson to for sneaking off to the club.
Flashback scene of Jefferson's sister (Earl's mother) telling Jefferson that she doesn't want to see him again.
Main Points

Jefferson is facing pressure from the school board on how to deal with school security.
Will tries to talk to Jennifer at school, but is embarrassed by Anissa and Jefferson.

Breakdown

A scene of Tobias Whale feeding a man to pirahanas introduces the audience to the villain early instead of at the end. It’s a quick scene that establishes who is in charge and his willingness to punish those who don’t follow him.

A scene of Jefferson talking with Jennifer about her disobedience is cut and instead replaced with him running with his two daughters. This cut scene also led to another lengthy plea from Gambi for Jefferson to become Black Lightning again, which is probably why the entire scene cut.

The flashback story of earl continues with us finally learning that Earl is Jefferson’s nephew and his sister blames him for her son’s death. The flashbacks did a good job of expanding on this story throughout the episode, but I guess it was deemed unnecessary or it took away significance from the current story.

End of Act 3

Will confronts Jennifer at school but gets beat down by Anissa and stopped by Jefferson before he can do anything violent.

Script Notes
Screenplay
Pilot
Jennifer is running and Jefferson catches up with her as they race on the track. Jefferson is running and both Anissa and Jennifer catch up with him as they race down their street.
Mrs. Fowdy tells Jefferson the school board wants to shut down the foster care program. Mrs Fowdy tells Jefferson the school board wants to install metal detectors in school.
Various photos on the wall are shown including photos of Jefferson with Ali and Obama. There are no photos shown.
Act 4
Structure
Added
Cut
Jefferson confronts his girls about the scene outside with Will.Jefferson driving and listening to a radio talk show about Black Lightning.
One of Lala's men shows Lala his burns from Black Lightning's lightning shock.
Main Points

Jefferson talks to Lala about Garfield being a safezone.
Will kidnaps Anissa and Jennifer at gun point.

Breakdown

There is an important scene added of Jefferson yelling at his girls about the Will incident in front of the school. The girls ask what they were supposed to do if Will got violent and Jefferson assures them the proper people will handle it. This highlights Jefferson’s reluctance to use violence as an answer, which is one of the main reasons he doesn’t want to be a vigilante again. His belief is he can fix the city through his work as a principal and although it is helping in some areas, it doesn’t put a dent into the gangs. It also has a possibility of not working at all as we see when Jefferson confronts Lala and is given no respect from his former pupil.

End of Act 4

Will kidnaps Anissa and Jennifer from school.

Script Notes
Screenplay
Pilot
Kids pick up Candy boxes to sell at Lalas. Jefferson watches as drugs fall out of a kids bag at Lalas.
Lala doesn't mention if he is related to Will. Lala mentions Will is his cousin.
Lala calls Will, but Will doesn't answer. Lala doesn't call Will onscreen.
Unconscious security guard lays on the ground int he background. No signs of a security guard.
Music is playing as the girls are kidnapped. Actually dialogue is used as the girls are kidnapped.
Act 5
Structure
Added
Cut
Lala is captured by henchmen of Tobias.Jefferson driving to Gambi's.
Jefferson reuniting with his girls and Lynn outside their house.Flashback of Jefferson all bloody and his daughter seeing him. This scene was condensed and added after Jefferson and Lynn talk about the club incident.
Jefferson showering the blood off of him.Jefferson walking down the street to Gambi's store.
Jefferson shutting the light off of his girl's bedroom.Jennifer and Anissa take out the guy watching them and escape.
Lynn thanks Jefferson and Jefferson says its not over yet.Black Lightning engaging Lala and his men in a fight.
Lala barely escapes in his car as Black Lightning rescues his daughters.
Jefferson and his girls rollerskating.
Gambi watching the news report of Black Lightning returning.
Jefferson talking to a neighborhood watch program group.
Anissa and her girlfriend getting tear gassed, but get away unknowingly due to Anissa's powers.
Black Lightning sharing a chocolate bar with a kid.
Main Points

Jefferson gets a new suit from Gambi.
Jefferson rescues his girls, but Lala gets away.

Breakdown

Jefferson becomes Black Lightning to rescue his girls from Lala, and that’s about the only thing that stays the same in Act 5. The ending rescue is a confrontation between Black Lightning and Lala which turns into a chase before Black Lightning finally rescues his girls with Lala barely getting away. The aired pilot is a lot more shortened with a few brief scenes of fighting and Black Lightning immediately rescuing his girls before interrogating and knocking Will out. Originally, Lala actually kills Will before Black Lightning shows up, but it makes a lot more sense that Black Lightning would fight Will instead of Lala due to the fact that Will is the reason he has to rescue his girls. Although Lala is involved in the scenario, he is a leader in his own right, and a confrontation between him and Black Lightning would be better paid off in another episode.

The aftermath of the girls being rescued is also different with the focus being on Jefferson and his family safely under one roof. Jefferson also promises Lynn that Black Lightning was only brought out to rescue the girls and there is a hint that Lynn may be interested again. The mother mentioned in the beginning flashback is given time to let the audience know that Black Lightning was the answer to her prayers when her son was killed. It comes full circle at the end, but with the beginning bit cut, there was no point of still including it.

Anissa still discovers her powers at the end but instead of using them to protect herself from the police, she gets more time to realize that something is wrong by waking up and experiencing them by breaking a sink.

End of Act 5

Screenplay:
Black Lightning has chocolate with one of Lala’s young students Malik.

Pilot:
Anissa wakes up and breaks a sink with her powers.

Script Notes
Screenplay
Pilot
After Jefferson tells Lynn that he is going to get their girls, she says nothing. After Jefferson tells Lynn that he is going to get their girls, she says bring them back which approves the use of Black Lightning.
Gambi gets Jefferson's suit ready in an upstairs workshop.Gambi gets Jefferson's suit ready in a downstairs lair.
Lala shoots Will. Lala tells Will to get rid of the girls and then to leave town.
Black Lightning looks through several rooms and doesn't find his girls.Black Lightning looks through a few rooms before happening on Will and his girls leaving.
Tobias asks Lala why Black Lightning is targeting him.Tobias asks Lala if he can take care of Black Lightning or should Tobias just kill him now and take care of it himself.

Overall Breakdown

Black Lightning is a character-driven superhero script focused on a vigilante trying to decide whether or not to return to fighting crime with his city on the brink of chaos. There is an underlying family tone to it as Jefferson now has a family to care for and there are consequences to his actions. In the script there is an extra story with a flashback of Jefferson being responsible for his nephews death, but that is cut from the aired pilot. Overall Black Lightning’s script is very similar to the aired pilot with a few story decisions changed as well as a changed ending which has been common in a lot of pilots.

Character

Overall the characters stay relatively the same in the pilot, but there are minor changes to each character.

Jefferson
The flashback death of Earl shows us that Jefferson has regret in his life and probably part of the reason he stopped being Black Lightning. With that flashback cut, the focus switches to Jefferson’s relationship with Lynn and how his actions of Black Lightning affected his family. Although the flashbacks would have made him a more sympathetic character, his motivation of resorting to changing lives through education instead of violence still maintains him as a noble character and someone worth rooting for.

Lynn
The only change for Lynn is that she does not have a boyfriend. This establishes that Lynn hasn’t moved on and wants Jefferson back in her life now that the kids are grown up and moving on. However Lynn still holds Jefferson to his promise and with crime happening everywhere, its up to Jefferson to choose between Lynn and Freeland.

Anissa
Anissa also remains the same protesting intelligent young woman who can take care of herself as seen with her confrontation with Will. The only change is more focus on her experiencing her power for the first time. In the screenplay, it happens while she is in danger so she cannot fully comprehend what is going on. In the pilot, she wakes up and accidentally breaks her sink which gives her more time and focus to reflect on what happened.

Jennifer
Jennifer initially comes off as a spoiled daughter who doesn’t really take in the consequences of her actions because she wants to live her own life. Although that motivation remains for her character, she is a lot more reflective of her actions and comes off as more intelligent.

Gambi
Gambi really wants Black Lightning to come back and save the city. There is extensive amount of dialogue and push from Gambi in the screenplay and a lot of it is cut in the aired pilot. Gambi still wants Black Lightning back but he knows to give Jefferson time. There is also a scene of Gambi interacting with Jefferson’s family in a paternal role, but that was cut from the aired pilot. It is unknown whether he knows Jefferson’s family well.

Will
Will has a lot more to say in the screenplay, especially when he is trying to reason with Lala. In the aired pilot, he is pretty one dimensional and acts more of a plot driver than as a character. He is also changed to Lala’s cousin in the aired pilot instead of a random gang member, which gives Lala a reason to spare his life after acting recklessly.

Verdict: Several minor changes.

Structure

Act 1, 2, 3 and 4 have no significant changes except a few scenes cut and scene reductions.

Act 5’s ending is changed significantly with Lala disappearing right away before Black Lightning shows up.

The flashback story line with Earl which is present in all acts is taken out completely.

Verdict: Significant Changes.

Three Biggest Differences

1. Earl flashback story line cut.
2. Act 5 changed entirely.
3. Relationship focus of Jefferson and Lynne.

Overall Difference

Scale:
1: Significant Changes.
2: Significant changes to story and structure, but same characters and scenes.
3: Significant changes to scenes or characters, but same story and structure.
4: Minor Changes
5: Identical

Script and Pilot Difference: 1/5

Screenwriting Techniques

Flashbacks

Although most of the flashbacks were cut for the air pilot, it still made a coherent plot and is a good example of flashbacks used in a screenplay.

Exposition

The exposition in Black Lightning is depicted through a news reporter (script) and a speech (aired pilot). If you’re looking for a way to convey a lot of information about your protagonist, this is a good source to examine.

Action Scenes

There are three main action scenes in the script if you’re looking for examples of describing action scenes. Black Lightning fights once in a flashback, once at the club to rescue Jennifer and then finally to save his daughters at the end.

Character

Jefferson is a well written character with a clear motivation and a conflicting decision to make. He has to decide whether to save his city or his relationship with his wife. He has tried to save Freeland through his school, but with the city descending into chaos, he may have no choice but to become a vigilante again. It’s a perfect example of balancing internal and external conflict and challenging the characters beliefs with a choice they need to make.

News Exposition

Exposition is already mentioned, but I just wanted to point out that news reports on television are a common way to communicate stories not directly involved with the main character. News reports of Black Lightning returning and the state of Freeland are used throughout the pilot to give the audience context for the state of Freeland.

Use of Music

Although Black Lightning opted to create its own soundtracks, it originally mentioned several songs in the screenplay. If you have a song in mind for one of your scenes, check out the scene when Black Lightning takes out the officers after the club scene.

Thanks for reading and feedback is appreciated.

Next Pilot: Counterpart

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *