This article contains Naomi spoilers.
Black girls and young women are underrepresented in fantasy and science fiction. In the amorphous genre we’ll call “superhero” television (and film), there are very few, if any, major characters who are young, Black girls. We didn’t really see a Black girl superhero in live-action on TV until Jennifer Pierce gets powers and becomes Lightning in Black Lightning. And while that character is important, she’s the only one. It’s not that Black girls don’t exist in these worlds, but that they are largely relegated to supporting characters whose stories serve to further the development of a white and/or male lead—if they’re even given stories of their own. To be a Black girl in a superhero story is to be a sidekick, if that.
That changed with Naomi.
Naomi skateboarded its way into our hearts the moment the titular character appeared on-screen. Braided up and bespectacled, Naomi (Kaci Walfall) was something rare, at least on TV. She was a cool, confident Black girl who loved comic books, had hella friends, did well in school, and had a great relationship with her adoptive parents.
When a Superman stunt in her small military hometown of Port Oswego turns out to be a real sighting, Naomi finds herself the main character in a story straight out of the comic books she loves. Her investigation of the stunt leads her to Dee (Alexander Wraith), Zumbado (Cranston Johnson), Akira (Stephanie March) and the discovery that aliens like Superman—and her—are real. What’s more, she learns that she’s not only not from this planet, but that she has powers of her own.
When Naomi is first confronted by Zumbado, he tells her, “don’t believe everything you think.” This phrase, which serves as the official tagline for the series, becomes a directive for both Naomi and the audience. We’re asked to check all of our assumptions, and constantly re-examine things we’re presented with. And throughout the series, the world expands in ways that challenge Naomi’s, and our, initial expectations.
Where did Naomi come from?
Naomi, Zumbado, and Akira come from Earth-29, Earth in another universe. Earth-29 is similar to our Earth–the show’s main universe, for simplicity–but has two moons, and plants are red because light is absorbed differently. The Tear, an environmental disaster, left the planet bleak. Brutus, a powerful being from yet another universe, controls Earth-29.
It should be noted here that, “earth,” “planet,” and “universe” are used interchangeably throughout the series. Alien is used for folks from other planets and other universes. Dee is Thanagarian (another planet) but it is unclear whether he is from our universe or the universe of Earth-29. Likewise, it is never revealed whether Superman is from our or another universe. We just know he’s real.
Purple meteors crashed into Earth-29 and imbued 29 individuals with unique powers, an interesting coincidence that is not explored beyond some characters’ expressed beliefs in destiny. The Twenty-Nine, as they are called, are met with both wonder and suspicion from folks wary of their sudden manifestation of abilities. Brutus resented the Twenty-Nine for obtaining powers, but mostly left them to their own devices, until he discovered that two of them conceived a child—-Naomi.
Brutus believed Naomi threatened his power and hunted the Twenty-Nine. Someone betrayed the group, forcing them to flee to our Earth. Naomi’s birth parents did not make it, as they were also betrayed, and she was raised by adoptive parents, Jen (Mouzam Makkar) and Greg (Barry Watson) who she later learns are also from Earth-29, but without powers.
Jen and Greg, Alien Alien Hunters
Naomi’s parents are in the military, and Greg works specifically for a unit that tracks aliens. Greg’s superior, Commander Steele, eventually figures Naomi out, but is defeated by her parents when he confronts her–which is when Naomi learns they’re aliens as well. Naomi does not dedicate much dialogue or meaningful plot to this military threat element, opting instead to let the audience fill in the blanks, which… fair. Perhaps this was meant to open the door for storytelling in future seasons. Alas, we’ll have to settle for the common trope.
Et tu, Brute?
When Naomi confronts Brutus on Earth-29, he reveals that he came to that universe for new opportunities, claiming he “saved” the planet because it needed a leader. This is not a major reveal, we know there is a multiverse, but it does play with the possibilities of bigger bads, maybe something or someone Brutus himself is running from. Brutus attacks Naomi, and is able to physically hurt her, even though she is invincible on our Earth. But before he can strike again, she blasts him with her energy, knocking him down and restoring life to the earth surrounding them.
The timeline is a bit unclear, so one can speculate on whether Brutus coming to Earth-29 causes the Tear, and/or subsequently leads to the creation of the Twenty-Nine. It feels like we’ve just begun to scratch the surface. Future seasons could delve deeper, providing more insight into Naomi’s home planet, and perhaps Brutus’. It would be a satisfying bit of cosmic justice if Brutus turns out to have inadvertently created the same power that could be his undoing.
Becoming A Superhero
In just a few months, Naomi goes from regular, well-rounded teenager, to possibly one of the strongest beings in existence. As Naomi’s world expands, so does her understanding of her place in it. And as she unlocks more of her past, she becomes more powerful. This season we see Naomi alter gravity around her, emit energy, move with super-speed, make psychic connections to people and objects, and be physically indestructible.
As said by two uncles and one aunt in other live-action comic book adaptations, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Naomi isn’t just powerful, she is destined for greatness. That becomes clear when she faces Brutus. As her abilities grow, so do the threats against her. Naomi not only has to figure out how these new powers fit into her life now, but what they might mean for her future. And her biggest struggle throughout the series is accepting the responsibility that comes with her abilities.
Throughout Black Lightning, Jennifer Pierce constantly navigated being both powerful and powerless. As Lightning, Jenn was able to actively protect herself, loved ones, and her community. As Jenn, she was a Black girl in an impoverished community, subject to the whims of whoever was in power at any given time. For Jenn, half the battle was defying circumstances, fighting against and rising above corrupt leaders and oppressive systems. And while there are things all Black girls will experience, the contexts will be different. With Naomi, Black girls could see themselves without the omnipresent reminders that the world is against them simply because they are girls and Black.
Naomi has the world on her shoulders, but not the world she lives in. Her world is solid, her life is happy. She’s challenged, supported, and she’s loved. She’s not forced to confront racism, sexism, or ageism directly, even if these things persist on the periphery. Her battles are not with the systemic inequities of our world, and she’s not tasked with changing folks’ minds or attitudes about them. Naomi is allowed to explore who she is, decide what’s important to her, and determine how she wants to inhabit the spaces she’s in. She’s a Black girl who’s just allowed to be herself. And for Black girls, seeing someone who looks like them and who has the same interests, so wholly embraced for being themselves—even before they have powers!—is monumental.
Don’t Believe What You Think
By series end, our understanding of characters is flipped. Zumbado and Akira become allies and protectors. While, in a last-minute finale twist, Naomi’s adoptive parents are revealed to actually be her abductors, and the reason her birth parents didn’t survive. But one thing this show has tried to do consistently is show us that things are never what they immediately appear to be. Naomi’s birth parents warned her that someone had betrayed them and it would be easy to think that Greg and Jenn are responsible… but don’t believe everything you think.
If Naomi is given another chance at another network or streamer, there is plenty left to explore with Earth-29, the Tear, the Twenty-Nine, Naomi’s birth parents, and Dee’s search for lost love Qyeala–which seems important to the show, but not to the story this season. And while the season serves as a fairly complete standalone story that sees Naomi discover, develop, and learn to control her power, the open-ended nature of the finale provides ample opportunity to broaden the show’s scope.
More important than being a cool superhero show with endless possibilities to grow and be great if given the chance (and budget), Naomi is a love letter to nerdy Black girls. It tells them they can be cool and nerdy and powerful! It’s a show that young folks can find themselves reflected in and hopefully empowered by because it makes heroes out of everyone. If this is the end for Naomi, let this be it’s legacy.