The premiere of HBO's "Watchmen" was packed with allusions to the dense mythology of the landmark 1980s graphic novel that inspired it, thrilling fans and newcomers alike. But a solemn nod to a real-world event appears to have left the greatest impression on viewers.
The pilot episode opened with a stylized, searing recreation of the Tulsa race massacre of 1921, a two-day explosion of violence in which white Oklahomans killed hundreds of African-Americans and burned businesses in a prosperous district known as "Black Wall Street." The bloody attack is considered "the single worst incident of racial violence in American history," according to the Oklahoma Historical Society.
The facts of the Tulsa massacre — bullets flying, buildings aflame — appeared to have been unknown to many "Watchmen" viewers who expressed their disbelief on social media. Some said they were appalled to first learn of the event through a superhero-themed television show, while others blamed the country's educational system for failing to highlight it in history curricula.
The attack, coming amid the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan and racial terror through much of the country, was not widely reported at the time. "News reports were largely squelched, despite the fact that hundreds of people were killed and thousands left homeless," History.com says in an overview of the violent siege.
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The unsettling recreation of the Tulsa massacre helped set the tone for the "Watchmen" series, which has been described by creator Damon Lindelof ("Lost," "The Leftovers") as an ambitious "remix" of the celebrated 12-part comic series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.