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The Face Behind the Mask: Race, Trauma and Storytelling for a Pandemic

If you are like me, you may not have known anything about The Watchmen--the comic book or universe. And yet the Watchmen TV series, masterfully led by Regina King as Angela Abar, offers an unforgettable entry into the world of costumed heroes and alternative American history, through the eyes of a black woman. Now is as good a time as any to watch, or re-watch Watchmen for the 5th time. Director Damon Lindelof, well known for Lost and The Leftovers, has created yet another series that throws us into the aftermath of catastrophic, life-changing events, and asks us to swim to the finish line. The series takes us beyond the comic book kitsch of the 2009 film of the same name, into the current reality of a nation still divided by racism in 2019!

The May 31st- June 1st, 1929 Tulsa Race Riots, may have seemed like an unlikely place to start a story about superheroes, but Lindelof draws parallels between the trauma of violent racism and a catastrophic “Dimensional Incursion Event” featured in the original graphic novel. In 2019 everyone in this alternative universe has experienced the trauma of 11/2, and even those who were not born at the time continue to live with its effects. Baby squids periodically drop like rain for example, and people have simply adapted to living with them. It sounds strange or ridiculous, yet we live with a level of gun violence, that many people in the world find absurd. Throughout the season we see how trauma not only impacts an individual but how our collective trauma can reshape our entire world view. Events such as The Holocaust, 9/11, or a global pandemic for instance, fundamentally transform every aspect of life for those who experience it, and even future generations who have not. While our fiction characters simply accept raining squids, it parallels how many of us have simply accepted the real life trauma of racism and racists policies as just a daily inconvenience of life.

In the show, Angela’s grandparents continued to experience racism and segregation through time, and across the country, that ultimately separated their family. Angela loses her parents to ‘rebel terrorists’ in Vietnam, now the 51st state, after Dr. Manhattan kills millions to end the war and bring