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'Watchmen' began as an 'experiment.' It became an Emmy winner for our troubled times

By Glenn Whipp and Greg Braxton, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

When HBO announced three years ago that Damon Lindelof would be rebooting the celebrated comic book franchise "Watchmen," hardcore fans greeted the news with equal parts anticipation and skepticism. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' beloved 1987 graphic novel had been adapted before, and not very well, when Zak Snyder brought it to the screen with a widely panned 2009 film. Snyder had, in fact, been tapped for another go-round, until HBO went with Lindelof instead.

Lindelof, known for his work on "Lost" and "The Leftovers," realized that expectations would be high. But though he understood it would be risky, he believed his plan to blend the fantastic "Watchmen" superhero universe with volatile issues such as racism, police brutality and the rise of white supremacy could approach the art that Moore and Gibbons created.

Those convictions were affirmed Sunday as "Watchmen" became one of the biggest winners at the 72nd Emmy Awards. The series, which entered the evening as the most-nominated show, earned four awards, including prizes for limited series and lead actress Regina King, with 11 Emmys overall.

The series also won for writing for Lindelof and Cord Jefferson and supporting actor Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.

Now that it's all over, maybe, just maybe, Lindelof can relax. (But knowing him, probably not.)

"Every week an episode aired, I was scared that it was going to be misunderstood, that it was going to be more harmful than helpful," Lindelof told The Times in the days leading up to the awards. "I feared that it was going to be seen as tone-deaf, and that no one was going to give me points for being this close."

 

Really, though, the Emmys are beside the point. The true legacy of "Watchmen" will be the ways it has resonated and dovetailed with hot-button issues gripping the country, particularly around race relations. The series was instrumental in putting a spotlight on the 1921 Tulsa race massacre, a relatively little-known chapter of America's past despite being one of the worst incidents of racial violence in the country's history.

Lindelof, who wore a T-shirt that read "Remember Tulsa '21" on Sunday, learned about the event through author Ta-Nehisi Coates, who frequently writes about Black identity and white supremacy. King already knew the details, having long wanted to make a project depicting the two days of murder and destruction carried out by white residents upon the prosperous area of Tulsa known as Black Wall Street.

"When you talk about people not knowing about Tulsa, it's the majority of us," King told The Times recently. "No matter what your history was. No matter what your complexion was. Most of us did not know about that before the first ['Watchmen'] episode came out because the schools never taught it. I like to consider myself someone who goes the extra mile to get more information, and I didn't learn about Tulsa until my late teens. How is that possible?"

Viewers unaware of this history experienced a steep learning curve in October when "Watchmen's" first episode opened with scenes depicting white mobs murdering Black people in Tulsa and laying waste to what was then the wealthiest Black community in the United States. "Tulsa was trending for a couple of days," King said. "People wanted to find out more."

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