The cultural relevance of HBO’s Watchmen series has continued to grow in the months since it first aired last fall. The cast of the series reunited as part of Variety’s “Streaming Room” series and proved that they’re all well aware of the ways the drama speaks to the current moment and the ways it’s succeeded in educating audiences. One of the most striking and memorable elements of the series is the fact that its first episode opens with a dramatization of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, an event that many members of the cast — and even series co-creator and executive producer Damon Lindelof — had no idea about.
“It’s something that, fortunately, I was aware of prior to that, but I knew that so many people, Black people as well, were not aware of the story,” Regina King said in the discussion. “What I’d hoped actually did happen. When it premiered, people went online to see if it really existed, and they were able to discover that Tulsa wasn’t the only massacre. There was Rosewood, there was Arkansas, and Florida. Whenever you have an opportunity to express your art and also do it in a space where social commentary is really present in that moment, I’m there for it.” Praising the decision to make her character, Angela Abar, a direct descendant of the Massacre, King continued, “For the character who is the window into all of this be a Black woman, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“The thing that was most shocking was that I’d never heard of it,” Lindelof added. “And I think that the more significant damage done over the course of last century, in addition to everything that was stolen from generations of everyone who lived in Greenwood, was that it was erased from history.”
#Watchmen star Regina King on the shift in awareness of the Tulsa massacre: “When it premiered, people went online to see if it really existed, and they were able to discover that Tulsa wasn’t the only massacre” https://t.co/VpxoxAvFOY | #VarietyStreamingRoom presented by @HBO pic.twitter.com/gPZqQMW7GT
— Variety (@Variety) June 24, 2020
Joining King and Lindelof for the reunion were cast members Jean Smart, Tim Blake Nelson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jeremy Irons, Hong Chau, Louis Gossett, Jr., Jovan Adepo, and directors and executive producers Nicole Kassell and Stephen Williams, many of whom voiced their disappointment for not being aware of the massacre sooner.
“I was so horrified that I’d never heard of it,” said Smart. “It was just astonishing to me that something like that could have happened so recently and that we were not taught that in school. And so the fact that our show was able to educate people about that was very meaningful.”
They also went on to discuss the show’s portrayal of police, especially regarding the character of Will Reeves a.k.a. Hooded Justice (played as an elderly man by Gossett, with his younger self played by Adepo). A particularly memorable episode of the series tells Reeves’ backstory as an officer just starting out on the force and facing near-constant racism.
“It was something that I really wanted to help tell the story of, [that] even though [my character] was one of the few black officers in the NYPD early in that time, there was still a private sector within that system that I couldn’t be a part of, and it turns out is because it was the color of my skin,” Adepo said of the episode. “That was the main thing that I zeroed in on and wanted to help highlight with this cast and the creators, to show the imbalance and inequality in the police force.”
Maybe the most heartening part of the reunion when Gossett was asked by Abdul-Mateen how he feels about the uprising of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the ongoing fight against police brutality, to which Gossett replied with a message of hope.
“Being 84 and seeing this, it’s history to me. It’s wonderful,” said Gossett. “Now, everybody knows and everybody is sensitive to it. It pulled us together in such a wonderful way that we wouldn’t have to be brave about Holocausts anymore. It’s out. So now we can grow. We can grow together the way it’s supposed to be. We tell these stories and we come with a sigh of relief.”