The first Black-led superhero show on network television was “M.A.N.T.I.S,”, starring Carl Lumbly, and premiered in 1994. The series, directed by Sam Raimi, only ran for 22 episodes. A decade later, actress Kaci Walford, star of The CW’’s “Naomi,” was born. It would take another 17 years for “Naomi” to make history as the first canonically Black superhero show led by a Black woman character. A queer one, no less.
Although “Watchmen” starring Regina King as the masked vigilante “Sister Night” and the recently canceled “Batwoman,” another CW show featuring a queer Black woman superhero starring Javicia Leslie, came first, neither Angela Abar nor Ryan Wilder existed in the comics before their series. (The latter being a character replacement after her predecessor left the show).
Other powered sisters like Iris West (Candice Patton) from “The Flash”, Misty Knight (Simone Missick) from “Luke Cage”, Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) from “WandaVision,” and both Thunder (Nafessa Williams) and Lightning (China-Anne McClain) from “Black Lightning” all primetime superheroes in their own right, were all secondary characters.
However, I will acknowledge that “Naomi” probably would not have been greenlit without her predecessors garnering sufficient popularity themselves. That doesn’t make the story of “Naomi” any less important, and as I look back over this first season, I’m reminded of a comment Ava DuVernay made on Twitter in the weeks before the show aired:
I was asked why I’m doing a show on the CW about a Black girl learning that she’s actually a superhero.— Ava DuVernay (@ava) January 10, 2022
Because I want there to be a show about a Black girl learning that she’s actually a superhero. And then being a great one.
NAOMI debuts tomorrow. So proud. All-new trailer. pic.twitter.com/1eSSn403fh
In season one, Naomi McDuffie’s arc centers around finding out who she is and where and when she’s from. What begins as an adopted army brat searching for her birth parents turns into an unraveling mystery. Bringing us to the conclusions that Naomi is not from this Earth, and that her biological family has been lost to a terrible war. As her powers manifest, so does the painful truth about what brought her to our planet.
When characters are adapted from licensed material, especially comic books, show creators often find themselves fighting fandoms tethered to storylines that don’t play well off the page. However, Award-Winning show creators Ava Duvernay and Jill Blankenship wisely chose to step outside of the framework of the DC Comics series of the same name. “I think Naomi is a muscular enough character that she..can hold multiple iterations of artists interpreting her. Just like Spiderman, just like Batman, Naomi should be able to have…multiple interpretations as well. So we’ve enjoyed that freedom”. DuVernay said during an early press junkett.
Originally written by Brian Michael Bendis and David F. Walker and drawn by the highly underrated Jamal Campbell, NAOMI (aka – “Powerhouse”) had only one 6-issue comic book run before The CW optioned the story.
*mild spoilers ahead
In the comics, Naomi is raised by a human mom and an alien soldier Dad, protecting her from the evil metahuman Zumbado, who has destroyed her home planet and is out to use her powers for himself. But, as we learn in the final moments of season one of The CW series, those roles have now been reversed in the DCEU continuity. We see Naomi come into her full powerset in the final episode and, after a devastating realization, fly away to find the truth on her own.
It’s been exciting watching a superpowered Black teen on screen, but what makes Naomi truly special is that outside of her powerset, she’s pretty much a normie. Your basic, naive but well-adjusted, super-smart middle-class high school student. A combination I have realized is a rarity for Black girls in primetime.
And one I can relate to.
Unlike her, I didn’t have my own super-understanding ‘Scooby Gang’ of friends (or a boyfriend who could be Barack Obama’s love child), but it was refreshing to see the team sort out their issues without killing each other every week.
Which is also important.
Pictured (L – R): Will Meyers As Anthony, Mary-Charles Jones As Annabelle, Daniel Puig As Nathan, Camila Moreno As Lourdes, Aidan Gemme As Jacob And Kaci Walfall As Naomi — Photo: Danny Delgado/The CW
In our quest for representation within genre shows on the screen, we have very few Black women-led shows that aren’t violent, traumatic, or tropey. And after the last couple of years in the real world, it’s nice to just see a Black girl living her magical best life.
Like most first season shows on The CW, it wasn’t perfect. The middle episodes suffered from pacing issues and questionable plot twists and it seems more money was put towards Zumbado’s suits than the set design. In addition, the tangential Superman storyline, although canon, bothered me as much as it did in the first season of “Supergirl.” Later in the season, both the writing and the performances gained some traction and by season’s end and rendered an emotional season finale.
I, for one, would like to see the series get a second season. And for those who doubt my declaration, I would like to remind you that both “Legends of Tomorrow” and “The Flash” had questionable first seasons before they found their footing.
I hope Naomi gets that chance. I would love for the show to grow into an even bigger budget. I want to see Walfall mature as an actress, and I hope the “Naomi” writer’s room gets the chance to give her the love that “Black Lightning” and “Supergirl” received.
Most of all I want to sit and watch reruns with my baby niece when she’s old enough and let her know that sometimes the world can be a terrifying place and although adults don’t always have the answers, she has the power to do whatever she wants. Just like Naomi.
Because that’s important.