HBO does good

HBO’s new blockbuster series is Watchmen, a sequel to the original comic book, and they’re doing something bold and educational: the opening sequence is a recreation of the Tulsa race riots, in which a white community rose up and murdered and burned an entire black community. Even today, the city of Tulsa is searching (reluctantly) for the mass graves that were dug in 1921. I’d read about this before, and it’s unbelievably horrific — it was such an awful act of blatant racism I had trouble believing it when I first heard about it. It happened, though.

One concern is placing it in a work of fiction, and specifically a show about alternate history. I hope no one comes away dismissing it as a comic book story, because you can find real-life, historical accounts of the event fairly easily.

What I didn’t know until this morning was the extent of the open race war that went on in this country after the Civil War. It’s shocking that this wasn’t taught in any school I attended! Check out this eye-opening thread on Twitter:

I had never heard of the Kirk-Holden War before. This was a real war in North Carolina, in which the Ku Klux Klan declared war against the state, the army was called in, and the KKK won, dictating terms to the government…terms that included allowing no Northern intervention in how they “regulated” elections, where “regulation” included murdering black elected officials. One outcome of that kind of action was that the victors celebrated by erecting Confederate monuments all over the place. Our country supported the oppression of a democratic majority! It still is.

I’ve only seen the one episode of the series so far, and to be honest, I have mixed feelings about it as a story…but as a slap-in-the-face wakeup call to deplorable events in American history, it’s a five-star triumph. It promises to develop further as a story about American race relations, and all I can say there is that it’s about time we actually had a media confrontation over it.


  1. says

    Tulsa race riots

    We need a better term than “race riot” since it implies a sort of “both sides were involved” kind of thing. In most of the “race riots” in the US it has been white people going shitfuck and killing everyone who doesn’t look like them. This has happened over and over and the casualties have consistently been their victims – very few white people get hurt or killed, comparatively.

    The bit about the air force dropping bombs on their fellow American citizens is true, too, unfortunately. The military was often an enthusiastic participant in these pogroms.

  2. Walter Solomon says

    I had never heard of the Kirk-Holden War before. This was a real war in North Carolina, in which the Ku Klux Klan declared war against the state, the army was called in, and the KKK won…

    This is the reason we should learn and celebrate the actions of real “superheroes” such as the Lumbee American Indians who battled the Klan and won in the Battle of Hayes Pond. The Battle took place in Maxton, NC in the 50s.

    As for racist mass violence, it was shockingly common in the early 20th Century. It also wasn’t isolated as the “Red Summer” of 1919 shows quite well.

  3. wzrd1 says

    They didn’t send in the army, they sent in a militia. To date, the only time the militia, via the National Guard has performed well has only been after the year 2000, when the Guard finally was brought up to military standards.
    Every other time, you got either Kent State massacre or mass casualties of USANG members.

    The semi-official line for the army is, army gets beaten back, send a bigger army.
    Instead, the militia beat the klan back, they hid and impeached the governor.
    Oddly, that governor was pardoned in 2011, pardoned for no crime committed.
    Frankly, the counties involved should have depopulated of Caucasian people. Such a abomination is referred to as “sending a clear message” to the remaining populace.

  4. Akira MacKenzie says

    I was expecting the worst, but was pleasantly surprised. I’m not at all partial to Damon Lindelof (the man The Buffalo Beast once said was guilty of ”more religious pandering than the Creation Museum”) but I’m intrigued enough to see where he’s going with this.

    Oh, and I’d definitely want to live in President Redford’s America.

  5. gijoel says

    Another show that I’ll add to the “I’m not watching it because it will make me too damn angry” list. :(

  6. Gregory Greenwood says

    As PZ says, acknowledging the horror of the Tulsa racially motivated massacre is very much overdue, but…


    …as the episode went on I couldn’t help but notice that there seemed to be an awful lot of fascism from both sides in the alternate history modern part of the story. Obviously the White supremacist Rosarch wannabes of the 7th Cavalry group were unambiguous neo-Nazis, but the actions of the police force, including the protagonist of the show, were in many ways not much better.

    Police officers who conceal their identities behind masks is an inherently sinister image (even though the show tried to justify it by saying it is done to protect the officers and their families from being targeted by criminals) that seems to invite abuse of power, and we see a suspect attacked in his domicile and rendered unconscious without any warning and without any rights being read to him (the show doesn’t state whether the Miranda Act exists in this version of the US) and seemingly with no evidence against him other than the protagonist’s alleged ability to ‘smell White Supremacy’ (whatever that is supposed to mean), and interrogated in a manner that employed sound and images as a form of ‘enhanced interrogation technique’ without access to legal counsel (supposedly because the suspect was accused of terrorism offences, as if that justifies ignoring due process).

    The other masked cop who performed that interrogation then claimed that the suspect definitely knew something more than he was saying on the basis of his pupillary dilation when asked certain questions (something that would be totally inadmissible in a real world court of law for very good reason), and on that basis the protagonist goes on to drag the suspect into an off screen room, and we hear her beat him savagely demanding answers to her questions, a beating so savage that blood runs out from under the door. The suspect is not seen again in the episode, so possibly did not survive. All the while, her colleagues, including her boss who appears to be a local police commissioner or other senior officer, stand by and do nothing

    Following this, a 7th Cavalry hideout is raided resulting in a very intense shootout, at the culmination of which the local head of police pursues and destroys an unarmed fleeing aircraft in a version of the owl craft from the original graphic novel. There seems to be no legal consequences for this unnecessary killing of suspects who could have been followed, forced down and arrested or, for the earlier torture and possible murder of a suspect in custody.

    All these actions seem indicative of a fascist police state, yet so far (admittedly still only the first episode) the show has not acknowledged this point at all. I hope going forward the show runners and writers have some plan in mind for discussing the gross abuse of police powers going on. The fact that the show’s plot line means that the people the police characters are going after are the nastiest kind of racist White supremacist scum does not excuse the tactics and abuses of power of the police faction in the show.