Watchmen’s first episode bowled much of the audience over simply because of the matter-of-fact way that it presented us with a brutal, frank depiction of the Tulsa race riot and the way that black Americans were viciously brutalized by their racist white counterparts. Watchmen’s depiction of the massacre was powerful, but it also raised questions about whether the show was merely mining black pain for shock entertainment.
According to Watchmen’s executive producer Nicole Kassell, though, that’s not at all the case, and the show’s creative team understood just how important it was that non-white voices were part of the creative process that gave birth to the series.
On its face, Watchmen doesn’t shy away from the fact that anti-black racism is a core element of American society, but the story it’s telling also frames the Tulsa police force as being diametrically opposed to the cells of racist, white terrorists who’ve turned Rorschach’s mask into their symbol. That makes for an interesting enough story, but its black and white simplicity belies the reality that American police departments are often lousy with racists who feel as if their jobs as cops give them license to terrorize and murder brown people.
When we recently asked Watchmen’s executive producer Nicole Kassell about this, she explained that these concerns were very much a part of conversation as the series was coming together and that they were something that the show’s predominantly non-white room of writers constantly kept in mind.
“There were countless conversations. That started in the writer’s room, and full disclosure, I’m not in the writer’s room; I’m running production,” Kassell said. “But I was the first wave of feedback for a lot of the writers, and there was a 100 percent awareness about the difficulty surrounding these issues and there were countless hours of conversation.”
Kassell said that given Watchmen’s subject matter, it was obvious to everyone involved that it was important to have writers of color in the room in order to create a narrative that didn’t gloss over the realities of the ways in which racism factors into American policing culture.
“We knew that we were taking on race and eight out of the 12 writers in the room were not Caucasian,” She said. “One of our writers was a cop and I believe her mother was as well, and so I’d say that the majority of our conversations revolved around this issue and looked at it from multiple perspectives in order to tell this story in a thoughtful way.”
Of course, a show can have a predominantly non-white writer’s room and still end up fumbling the ball if the executive team that has final say over the shape of the story isn’t diverse itself. But given the care Watchmen’s taken to give Angela Abar and her family depth and complexity, it feels like the show isn’t going to try to put her into a corner in order to downplay the real kinds of emotions we as an audience would expect to see from her.
Watchmen airs Sunday nights on HBO and you can look out for more from our conversation with Kassell in the coming weeks.
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