The first few minutes of HBO’s ‘Watchmen’ (2019) don’t come with a trigger warning, but maybe they should. Warning: This is violent. Warning: Black Americans are gunned down by the Klan in the street. Warning: This really happened.
Beginning during the Tulsa Race Massacre in 1921, ‘Watchmen’ is unlike Zack Snyder’s 2009 neo-noir picture and concerns itself instead with an alternate America in which the Klan has rebranded as the white supremacist Seventh Kavalry.
In this skewed version of reality, black survivors of the Tulsa massacre have been offered reparations by current president Robert Redford.
Like black economic empowerment policies, these ‘Redfordations’ are met with contempt from segments of the white community and exacerbate racial tensions in the city. The Seventh Kavalry in particular is bent on killing police officers, while they also root out violent white supremacists.
Created by Damon Lindelof (‘Lost’, ‘The Leftovers’) and starring Regina King, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jean Smart, Tim Blake Nelson, Jeremy Irons and Hong Chau, ‘Watchmen’ is a prescient retooling of the DC comics against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement.
With BLM currently calling to defund the police, which have proven to grossly abuse their power while disproportionately targeting and even killing black Americans in the execution of their duty to protect and serve, ‘Watchmen’, which came out last year, seems to spell out elements of the future with the policemen’s use of masks coincidentally an eerie foreshadowing of Covid-19.
As the real-life volume on anti-police rhetoric increases, the show’s premise of law enforcement forced to wear masks to protect their identity doesn’t seem particularly farfetched if the American police continue in their racist profiling and abuse of power.
Neither does the faction of white people who react violently and with racist vitriol in response to the issuing of reparations for the largely unacknowledged violence meted out to black Americans since time immemorial.
In real-life America, the racially charged violence and hate speech is an everyday occurrence, but in ‘Watchmen’ this is intensified by social justice in favour of black people.
Almost prophetically, ‘Watchmen’ leaves one thinking: What then awaits if the Black Lives Matter movement rightly has its way?
The increase in filmed incidents of entitled and racist Karens, the white people unable to hold back their hate speech online and in public, the biracial woman burnt by white youths shouting racial epithets last week, the defiant flying of the Confederate flag, the six black people recently found hanging from trees, mimicking lynching yet said to be suicides, as well as the continued murder of black people by policemen even after the unprecedented BLM protests offer a glimpse of the pushback to come.
Though ‘Watchmen’ also features a dystopian superhero plot that occurs at various points in time giving insight and underscoring the effect of the Tulsa Race Massacre, an ostensibly alien mass murder, an alternate Vietnam War as well as the origins of the vigilante Minutemen, Hooded Justice and Dr Manhattan, it also offers keen commentary on the real world – a place that plays almost like fiction, particularly in the show’s opening scenes, the horror of which chronicles some of America’s buried shame.
This fictional show begins with the facts – the bombs, the Klan, the estimated 150 people murdered in cold blood in the then wealthiest black community in the United States and nicknamed Black Wall Street – and it’s hard to believe. It is even worse that many Americans and people around the world will have come to this knowledge through a television show rather than history books.
Employing a medley of genres including dystopian, detective and superhero formats, ‘Watchmen’ was good when it came out and is even better given what is happening in the world today.
At one point, a villainous white character laments “It is extremely difficult to be a white man in America right now”, and it’s hard not to scoff. It has and continues to be extremely difficult, even life-threatening, to be a black person in alternate and real America right now, and ‘Watchmen’ brings some of the receipts.
Stream this for the excellent cast and the mind-bending (possibly too convoluted) plot, which brings sidelined black American history to the centre with nerve, skill and the finger.
‘Watchmen’ (2019) is now streaming on Showmax.
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