EXCLUSIVE: 'Black Lightning' Star Nafessa Williams on Confidence and Beauty

Jarelle Lee

The Philly native dishes on her glorious hair, a possible beauty collaboration and more!
Jessica Wilkins Nov, 08, 2018

Nafessa Williams is best known for her current role as Anissa Pierce, aka Thunder on Black Lightning, making her the first gay Black female superhero.  Those of us who are fans are also privy to the gem that is Williams’s Instagram account, because sis serves style and beauty looks for days.  

When scrolling through Nafessa Williams’s feed, you can’t help but notice a similarity to the brown girls we grew up seeing on television in the 90’s.  From Lisa Turtle, to Ashley Banks, to Zaria Peterson, the influence of the golden age of Black television is present in the Philly native’s vibe, both on and off screen.  The versatility of Black hair, style, and beauty is ever present from red carpet looks with bold colors and patterns, to hair that is bone straight and long, to curly and full, this style chameleon and rising star is goals for black girls who need inspiration.  Especially those who don’t mind not fitting in.

Jarelle Lee

We caught up with Nafessa to find out who inspires her style, what she hopes to instill in the new generation of girls who are now looking to her, and the role of confidence.

ESSENCE: Do you think being from Philly shaped your views on black beauty?

Nafessa Williams: For sure.  I still try to put a spin on some of the hairstyles and the fashion that I saw coming up in the nineties, that were inspired by being from a Black city.  You know seeing the women like my mother from the bamboo earrings to the poetic justice braids. I definitely think that being from the inner city, and having that culture definitely helped shape my fashion and beauty.

ESSENCE: You’ve previously spoken about being inspired by the brown girls you saw on shows like Fresh Prince of Bel Air.  You are now inspiring a generation of young black girls.  What are you hoping to teach them about identity?

NW: First, be yourself.  I think whenever in life, whether it’s personal life or career, I believe that you have to be yourself.  You can never go wrong with that. Be comfortable with who you are, embrace who you are, embrace individuality.  I feel like we’re living in a time when everyone wants to look alike, and we’re changing our bodies, and we’re changing our faces, and we have this one idea of what beauty is.  And it’s so not okay for the young girls that are coming up behind us to feel that they aren’t adequate because of the images they’re seeing online, or on social media, or in the media in general.  I just want them to be okay with how they are, how they look, and to know that it’s beautiful, and that natural is still in. I think confidence is very, very important.

ESSENCE: Did it take you time to develop confidence in yourself?

NW: I can remember being confident as a really little girl.  It’s funny because having brown skin, I would get people saying, “You’re so pretty for a brown skinned girl.”  And a lot my boyfriends when I was coming up, I was the exception. That whole light skinned thing was very present when I was growing up.  But I just remember always loving my brown skin, and always being happy to be brown skinned. It’s funny because out of my mom’s four children, I’m the only one who’s brown.  Everyone is light skinned. I don’t know I just always liked the way I looked, and embraced my skin, my skin color. Hell, I wish that I were darker sometimes. I remember being really young like five or six years old and really appreciating my skin.  I thank God, there weren’t many, but there were the Rudy Huxtable’s, and the Ashley Banks’s that I saw on tv that looked like me.

ESSENCE: You and your character Thunder switch up your hairstyles often, really showing the diversity of black hair.  How much input do you have on how Anissa/Thunder wears her hair? What is that process like for you on set?

NW: We definitely have input.  Salim was very open, because he wanted it to be like real Black women, and Black women switch up their hair a lot.  So if we’re gonna do a show about a Black family, we have to be true to that. He allows us to give him ideas about styles that we like, or he’ll even go through our Instagram, and say, “Hey, I like how you had your hair there, I like those braids, we want to do this.”  So they definitely take our feedback, and they’re open, and with his own great ideas too. I think it’s just about being realistic about how Black women switch up their hair.

ESSENCE: You mentioned making the foray into beauty.  What would that look like for you?

NW: I’m actually really into hair.  One of my best friends, who’s been my hairstylist since I was 15, her name is Keke Taylor, I could see myself doing a collaboration with her.  I used to work at a hair salon too, so I know quite a bit about hair. I was a shampoo assistant for years, all throughout school, so I know how to do some hair, and I know a lot about hair care.  I wear weaves sometimes, I wear braids sometimes, I put clips in, so I know it’s super easy to switch our hair up, and convenient. But I also believe that you have to take care of your hair underneath all that.  Making sure you’re getting your trims every six to eight weeks, and you’re getting your deep conditioners. I’m really into natural hair care, so I could see myself doing a collaboration with her, or someday having my own products.  I’m definitely inspired by Rihanna, and Jessica Alba, and finding out what I’m most passionate about in the beauty industry, and creating my own.

ESSENCE: Did you ever struggle with getting your hair properly done on set when you were a model?

NW: Whenever I used to model, I would go with my hair already done, and let them just put a little spray on it so they can pretend they did something.  I just never wanted to even chance it. I’d go there ready.

ESSENCE: How would you describe your personal style?

NW: My personal style is fearless.  I’m not afraid to try colors, or going with big bold prints.  It’s really about my mood. I pick my looks out depending on my mood, and the vibe I want to give.  I really look at fashion as a form of self expression. I’ve been playing dress up since I was four years old, and it’s something that’s truly within me, that I truly love to do.  A lot of times I go off of how I want to wear my hair. Sometimes I start with my outfit, and then I’m like okay, what hair would go best with this outfit? I believe it’s really about a head to toe situation, a full look.  Like I don’t think you should have on a dress with a beautiful neckline, and your hair is covering it. So I try to think of the whole look when it comes to my fashion, and how I feel like expressing myself that day. It can’t just be about how you want to wear your hair, you have to think what is going to make this whole look pop off.

ESSENCE: Do you have a dream role?

NW: I really want to do a modern day love story for us, because I don’t believe we’ve had a really good one in a long time.  And I definitely want to do a biopic.