The opening scenes of HBO’s Watchmen portrayed the horrifying events of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre — in which upwards of 300 African Americans were killed when mobs of white residents attacked “Black Wall Street” in the city’s prosperous Greenwood District — leading to a spike in internet searches by viewers who had never learned about the racial violence and weren’t sure if the depicted events were actually true.
In the months that have followed, the team behind the critically acclaimed show has made that education an ongoing effort. In accepting the Emmy for Outstanding Limited Series Sunday night, creator Damon Lindlelof wore a “Remember Tulsa ‘21” T-shirt and dedicated the win to its victims and survivors.
Earlier in the weekend, co-star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II talked to Yahoo Entertainment about the show’s pivotal history lesson during an interview promoting his upcoming Netflix film, The Trial of the Chicago 7.
“It was something that I was aware about, somewhere along the line in my education I learned about Black Wall Street. It was a place that really existed, and that it was bombed, it was attacked and terrorized and torn down,” said Abdul-Mateen, who won Best Supporting Actor in a Limited Series for his role as Cal Abar, aka the godlike Dr. Manhattan from the seminal DC Comics graphic novel on which the show was based.
“I’m really happy that Watchmen was an educational tool for a lot of people. Recently there’s been a lot of focus on Tulsa, and the residents and the descendants from the massacre. There’s a lot of work being done to, so to speak, to attempt to right the wrongs.”
Abdul-Mateen is particularly proud that the show helped correct past characterizations of the events as “a race riot.”
“Even the fact that we’re talking about it in terms of a massacre and not a race riot, those are positive steps towards correcting a lot of the wrongs that had been done to that particular place in history. And I’m really glad to be a part of something that aided in the betterment of those conversations.”
In a July interview with Yahoo Entertainment, Regina King — who won the Lead Actress in a Limited Series Emmy for Watchmen — related the 1921 events in Tulsa to the ongoing rash of unarmed Black people being killed by police.
“Look, we’re talking about 1921, this happened,” said King. “Cut to [today], same s***’s going down. There’s the same mentality happening. We’re not having another massacre, but it feels like we’re having little mini-massacres all around.”
Watchmen is available to stream on HBO or buy on Amazon.
— Video produced by Jon San
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