INTERVIEW: DAMON GUPTON – BLACK LIGHTNING
BLACK LIGHTNING first appeared in BLACK LIGHTNING #1 in April 1977, a DC comic by Tony Isabella. Fast forward to today where it has become a much loved and highly controversial CW television show. The show has broken down many walls and has shed some light on some very under represented people on television. FEAR FOREVER had the absolute pleasure to chat with one of the shows leads, DAMON GUPTON. Some may remember him from BATES MOTEL or his prior stint on CRIMINAL MINDS but his performance as Detective Inspector Bill Henderson is one that will be another one of his stand out performances. He isn’t your average tv cop from central casting. Then again, this is not your average show. We got to talk to Damon about BLACK LIGHTNING and his character just slightly after the shows start, so it seemed only fitting to share this towards it’s season’s end. Don’t forget to tune in to the seasons final of BLACK LIGHTNING tonight on the CW!
FF: Okay Damon so first of all you and I go way back. Well we go back to your days on BATES MOTEL, but frankly, I want to talk about BLACK LIGHTNING because this show is so fucking dope. There is so much to address not only about the show but also the comic book.
Damon: haha yeah! Lets talk about whatever you want!
FF: Great answer. How much of the BLACK LIGHTNING origin story do you know?
Damon: Well I didn’t know much before but when they called with the offer I started doing some research. I was trying to see what I could come up with which was A LOT from various incarnations so I just bought a the comic book. I got all the originals. They come in a volume. Then I bought some of the later ones. Tony Isabella has been on board with this project since day one and he is a living breathing resource. Now my character has a history beyond BLACK LIGHTNING he’s interacted with SUPERMAN, and has existed in other worlds but as of now there no crossover. He is staying in one universe for now. But he has been everything. There is some great history there.
FF: Well I didn’t know about that!! I did see a great little doc on Youtube called “Justice Like Lightning” that focused on the BLACK LIGHTNING creator Tony Isabella. Tony said he worked on some black superheros at Marvel and then he got brought on to do this. Originally the characters name was BLACK BOMBER.
Damon: Yeah , yeah it sure was.
FF: Tony was incredibly offended by it and begged to change it.
Damon: That’s right.
FF: Then he thought of the name BLACK LIGHTNING which he got from WONDER WOMAN. He has been super on board with the show which is great.
Damon: Yeah his support has been really great.
FF: So that documentary called JUSTICE LIKE LIGHTING actually is also the opening line from your show’s pilot episode it says : “Justice like lightning, should ever appear, to some men hope (in the comic book the words are mans ruin) and to other men fear”. This is the opening line to the show which Jefferson’s daughter says her father taught her that poem but it wasn’t till now she truly understood what it meant until now.what does that poem mean for the show? What does the change of wording mean?
Damon: That’s an interesting question. It would be a great one for the shows creators. That’s interesting, but I really don’t know.
FF: Jefferson quotes Martin Luther King saying “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars”. Martin Luther King day was January 15 and BLACK LIGHTING had its pilot episode premier on January 16th. Was this a coincidence or purposely done?
DAMON: That was really cool because we were in DC for the premier and we went to the King Monument on the day of the premiere. It was when DC had their “DC IN DC” special presentation event and there was a meet and greet. It was very cool to be there in that time, at that moment and in this moment in our country, well in the world really. As we were walking around the king monument you can read his quotes. I don’t know if you have been there but if not, they have a lot of his more popular quotes, namely from the sixties. But they have all of these quotes all around and its interesting to see the evolution of his thinking, and you get to see how…..we haven’t done shit about that in a lot of ways. You know we are still stuck in the same battles. So for our show to be able to come there as a landmark show, being the first African American superhero family on television with statements about community and yes, they are superheroes with unnatural powers but they are superheroes with regular everyday powers in our community. So to be in that city particularly, staying in a hotel across the street from the White House and the current administration, going to the King monument and having an after party at the African American National History Museum which was extraordinary.
FF: Holy shit!
Damon: Yeah I was like “forget the after party!” and I just went straight through the museum because we had the whole museum to ourselves. We only got through the bottom level because…IT’S MASSIVE! It took us about 3 hours to get through slavery to reconstruction. So for us to be there in that moment is really, really special.
FF: So the story lines are heavily based off the comic book from the seventies but its also quite aptly times, which is really quite sad to be honest. It’s about unfair and unjust treatment in the country in the community and violence and gangs, which is absolutely no different than today. I think that is what makes super heroes so wildly popular. It’s because we need them. When the world is fucked up we need and turn to superheroes to uplift us. BLACK LIGHTING is special because it shows the superhero teacher, the superhero principle!
Damon: That’s right. Yeah he is just a normal dude who is actually retired so he had really dedicate himself to being a citizen of the community once more. He’s just a regular cat you see every day and an upstanding citizen in the community. Not because of his wealth or because his family was prominent, he was just a regular cat who grew up in that community and of that community. And that community looks like its citizens. It’s so heavily based on reality in the worlds that they created that while it’s a superhero show it is…but it isn’t, you know what I mean?
Damon: That is one of the really interesting things about it. It’s almost kind of the backdrop which is cool. I think that is a cool way to start it.
FF: BLACK LIGHTNING is really the first black superhero show that I know of. But it’s also the first superhero show, black or not that has a lesbian female superhero character
Damon: That’s right. Absolutely.
FF: How do you think that will be received?
Damon: I’m interested to see. A lot of people out there will be more than happy to see that representation on television and it’s long overdue. We have seen an LGBTQ relationship like that say in THE WIRE representing that aspect of our community, though certainly not enough and I hope that this brings it to a whole new level. I’ll be curious to see how the CW viewership respond. For the black community to see two of their own represented it will be fun to watch.
FF: I like the realism that it brings and this is a “real world” comic book and story line. I found that very cool. These days there are a lot of fantastical stuff that hinges on reality, but your show is very very real. This show does not shy away from that and I liked that. It’s a hard thing to confront. I thought it was pretty punk rock of the show to do that…especially on the CW!
Damon: yes! Kudos to them for taking it and trying to take a risk to get that vision across. I think it’s really important and timely.
FF: Right now The show is listed on rotten tomatoes in the number one spot for most popular with a 100% rating. Your IMDB rating stands at an 8.9 out of 10 which is incredibly high. What does this mean for the future of the show and what is it about the show do you think is what has people so stoked on it?
Damon: I think that this is a time where people are starting to delve into community oriented themes, justice themes. I think on behalf of black people, we are so hungry to see ourselves represented in more light in this particular time where it’s very clear where being of “the other” whether you are Black, Latino Asian, but being of another race is so under target right now. Not that it ever ceased being a target. It’s just that things are so crazy here right now. Its absolutely nuts so I think that makes people excited to see stronger women, stronger black men, communities coming together, people standing up to the police and standing in favor of good police. Black Lives Matter, #Metoo, these movements are just blossoming and so I think that a show that has started out by embracing that is a welcomed thing. It’s also because people like to have a good time in a fantastical world, who wouldn’t love that show if they gave it a chance? I mean clearly it’s not everybody’s cup of tea. “BLACK LIGHTNING racist” is also trending on twitter. There is a segment of the population that think BLACK LIGHTNING is a racist show. It makes me laugh because how ignorant is that? The comic was created by a white man and people don’t even know that!
FF: Your character is veteran detective inspector Bill Henderson, who is an unlikely ally of Jefferson despite your role in the community. In the beginning of the show they talk about how your popularity with the community has sort of waned.
Damon: Yeah, they call me Uncle Tom!
FF: What other character elements did you personally add to give life to your character from the page of the comic book to the screen?
Damon: There isn’t a lot about him in the comic other than he is a dogged police officer who is interested in protecting and serving the community who is going to rat out evil etc. etc. The traditional superhero fare and fashion. For me, I wanted to bring a little conflict to him as he is a member of this community and he’s totally shunned by it. It’s not like “OH LOOK! There’s the inspector he is going to save the day!” it’s like “Oh look there is the inspector- that sell out, that turncoat”. Here is a cop that is written from a black man’s perspective at a time where cops are vilified, even the good ones. It’s like “you’ve seen one, you’ve seen’em all” and that’s just not the case. So I thought here is an opportunity to bring light to a man who is doing the right thing. He wants to do the right thing but he is surrounded by these sharks. I saw it as an opportunity to say “how does he express himself? Who are his allies?” he has none really. He’s alone. He’s a singular force and I liked that. I wanted to bring wit and humor as well because I thought that would be an interesting thing to do with him but also a sense of “I am a man in this moment and I have to prove that I am here to be part of the greater good” and I think that is exciting.
BLACK LIGHTNING SEASONS FINALE IS TONIGHT SO TUNE IN!