A love letter to being black: Regina King chats about Watchmen's increased relevance today
The American superhero drama series Watchmen is based on the 1987 DC comic of the same name, created by Alan Moore, and is set in an alternate world of masked vigilantes. Star ring Re gina King, Don Johnson, Tim Blake Nelson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Andrew Howard, Jacob Ming-Trent, Tom Mison, Sara Vickers, Dylan Schombing, Louis Gossett Jr, Jeremy Irons and Jean Smart, the show was created by Damon Lindelof.
Watchmen unfolds in an alternate reality, where masked vigilantes are treated as outlaws. Vigilantes, once seen as heroes, have been outlawed due to their violent methods. In the TV show, Regina King — who’s also a music director and a filmmaker herself — plays the lead role of Angela Abar / Sister Night, a Tulsa Police detective who wears a nun’s habit and a balaclava (Faithe Herman portrays a young Angela Abar). Here, the actor chats about the relevance of Watchmen to so many present-day concerns. She also tells us about her upcoming personal project, based on the night that Cassius Clay or Muhammad Ali became heavyweight champion of the world.
Watchmen is one of the best television series in recent times. Yet, you probably didn’t guess how big a role masks were going to play in the current timeline we’re living in. And obviously, it’s resonating even more. What do you have to say about that?
It’s definitely an honour to be able to have been a part of a piece of work that was entertaining but also socially relevant. Prior to Watchmen, I had done Seven Seconds and American Crime, and both of those shows had commentary rooted in them, around the things that are going on in our country right now. With Watchmen, it was unique because Damon and the entire writing team were able to give a history lesson, infuse a bit of love story in there, shine a light on how pain is inherited, a light on police violence in our country. To do all of these things and be entertaining at the same time, and also have comedic moments, it feels like I was a part of something that’s never been done before.
When the show came out last year, everybody was talking about the Tulsa race massacre of 1921. As the events unfolded in America in the past month on police brutality, the show was a helpful tool for people to realise that this is not new and is something that’s been going on for a long time. You talk about the inherited pain. Were you aware of the Tulsa massacre when you took on the project?
I was aware of Tulsa. My mother is a teacher. While that wasn’t taught in school — school isn’t where I learned about it. I think that we have this wonderful thing called Google. So when people typed in ‘Tulsa Massacre’, they were able to discover that it wasn’t just at Tulsa — there was a Rosewood, there was an incident like that in Florida, in Arkansas. It just opened people up to correct the wrong that happened in our school when it comes to US history. And omitting stories and events that actually took place and have become a part of the fabric of America. Whether or not you didn’t know about Tulsa, because Tulsa happened and this is why we are here right now.
Your character in the show, Sister Knight, has a mask on. Apart from the themes that really apply now more than they did a year ago, your mask also became something of a phenomenon now with COVID-19. How do you feel about that?
So, my girlfriend, Patti sent me that picture of me wearing the mask and said to me, “Who knew that your costume was going to be our grocery store attire”. And I do step out for groceries. It is funny, because of Watchmen coming out not too long ago, people are looking for my eyes, so I feel like I am being recognised even more now in the store with the mask on.
You have been in showbiz for a long time, and even directed episodes of television. You directed your first film One Night in Miami, based on a play on racism in history. How was it for you, directing a film for the first time? Tell us about the project.
Oh, it was terrifying and exhilarating, all at the same time! It was a great experience and it is ongoing because I am editing right now. I am doing music. And these performances that our actors gave, I call them our quadrumvirate because there are four great actors. The film is about the night Cassius Clay, Muhammad Ali, became heavyweight champion of the world, and the night that they spent with Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Jim Brown. It is just a love letter to being black in America. And Aldis Hodge, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree and Leslie Odom Jr, they were all amazing. I just can’t wait for everyone to see these performances. And unfortunately, the story is timeless. Because the discussions these men were having are even relevant now. But one has to be hopeful. I am hopeful things will get better.
Watch HBO’s Watchmen with back-to-back episodes on Star World over the weekend of July 11-12, 7 pm onwards.