Reactionaries are attacking HBO’s Watchmen for being too political—Star Regina King responds


HBO’s Watchmen is a strange show, a continuation/reimagining/recontextualisation of Alan Moore’s classic 1986 graphic novel about a world where superheroes are real and have reshaped the course of human history. It’s a show not afraid to examine sensitive issues through a sci-fi lens. The plot revolves a white supremacist called the Seventh Kavalry group targeting police officers in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The officers then start wearing masks to conceal their identities, which has a side effect of making some of them act more like superheroes…or villains. You already have the mask so you might as well go the extra mile, right?

The show opens with a recreation of the Tulsa race riots of 1921, an event star Regina King (Angela Abar, aka Sister Night) was surprised to find out wasn’t widely known among the American public. I’ll be honest: I hadn’t really heard of it before Watchmen, despite it being considered the single worst incident of racial violence in American history.

We’re living in the wake of stories of police violence and white supremacist rallies, so this material is timely and touchy. Naturally, that means plenty of people have taken a reactionary posture, review-bombing the show for having the audacity to be openly political. “They took my favorite comic series and used it as a vessel for delivering political/ ideological rhetoric,” reads one comment on Esquire. “Was really looking forward to this.”

 Speaking to Digital Spy, King isn’t having it. “With some people, I wonder if it’s one of two things: were you truly a fan of the graphic novel?” she asks. “Because if you were, you’d realize there was a political story in there. And two, did it feel less political for you because you, as a white man right now, watching this, it’s making you uncomfortable? Which one is it? A combination of both?”

"It’s terrifying to deal with pain. You know, as humans, that’s what we try to do. We try to avoid it all the time. And then just as black people, we have not only pain, but also so much anger wrapped up in the pain."

If anything, I think King is underselling it. To complain about HBO’s show being too political…I mean, what did these people think the original comic was about? Moore’s Watchmen, which has a rather apocalyptic message about the then-raging cold war between Russia and the US, is absolutely drenched in politics, and Moore himself isn’t shy about his left-leaning views.

Another point of contention among reactionaries is that, in the show, the hero Rorschach has been appropriated by the Seventh Kavalry as a symbol for their hate movement. Reviewers on IMDb are aghast at this, and again, I have to wonder what they were getting out of Moore’s original text, since the author always meant the obsessive superhero to be, at minimum, deeply compromised and misguided. “I meant [Rorschach] to be a bad example, but I have people come up to me in the street saying, ‘I am Rorschach! That is my story!'” Moore once recalled. “And I’ll be thinking, ‘Yeah, great, can you just keep away from me and never come anywhere near me again for as long as I live?'”

Also, these readings ignore all the fascinating contradictions present in showrunner Damon Lindelof’s vision. In the world of Watchmen, actor Robert Redford has been president for decades, mirroring how Nixon stayed in the Oval Office long past his sell-by date in the original comic. Reactionaries have labeled the show a “liberal fantasy,” but what it depicts is far from a liberal utopia, whatever that is. Hard drugs are legal in this world, with the chief of the Tulsa police (Don Johnson) doing a bump of cocaine at a family gathering in the first episode. No one is allowed to use smart phones or other such devices. If anything, this is more of a dystopia.

Critiques of how the show uses Rorschach are misguided, too. While the original hero has been appropriated by the Seventh Kalvary, the character clearly intended to resemble him — Tim Blake Nelson’s Looking Glass — is working for the police and fighting against the terrorists. This show is SO much richer and more interesting than these shallow readings give it credit for.

King also isn’t buying complaints about the show not being enough like the graphic novel, since that was never the intention. “Damon [Lindelof] wrote an eloquent letter before we even started shooting to all the true fans of Watchmen, telling them: do not expect a sequel,” she said, accurately. “This is not a sequel. This is not a remake. This is a person who has great love and respect, and who was influenced by the source material in everything that he does as a writer, that is taking this on.”

"So I won’t be satisfied with that as your answer. I need you to dig a little deeper to tell me what it was that made you feel uncomfortable. I feel that that’s very fair… Now, tell me why you feel uncomfortable?"

King has one last message for the trolls: “keep watching.”

"I would like for [trolls] to reserve their judgement until they get to the ninth episode. From there, then express what you feel. But please let your expression be truly what you feel."

I’m honestly not sure if I’m enjoying Watchmen — it’s a hard one to wrap your head around — but I’m definitely not bored by it. Given what I’ve already seen, I fully expect the rest to be as textured and dense as King suggests.

Next. His Dark Materials: James McAvoy filled in as Lord Asriel at the last minute. dark

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