HBO's Watchmen takes place in the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, the real world history of which proves to be crucial to the show's own events and themes. Created by Damon Lindelof (Lost, The Leftovers), Watchmen is an original story that also serves as a loose sequel to Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons' seminal graphic novel of the same name, taking place decades after the events of the comic.
While HBO's Watchmen does share some DNA with the comic, and broadly exists in the same universe as it, Lindelof has chosen to really shake things up when it comes to the primary setting of the series. Whereas much of the Earthbound elements in the original Watchmen took place in New York City, here the action is shifted to Tulsa, the second-largest city in Oklahoma, with all of the main characters introduced so far living there and a heavy focus on Tulsa's Police Department.
Not only does Tulsa help Watchmen really differentiate itself from the comic - and also allow for some strong references to the musical Oklahoma! - but it's also the setting of a horrific true event, the Tulsa Race Massacre, which is depicted in the show and proves extremely important to what it's trying to say and do.
The Tulsa Race Massacre In 1921
Watchmen's season 1 premiere opens with the Tulsa Race Massacre (or Riot), which took place on May 31 and June 1, 1921, in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma, an area known as "Black Wall Street" for being the wealthiest black community in the U.S. The Massacre saw mobs of white residents attack the black residents of Greenwood both on the ground and from the air. The riots started when a black shoeshiner, Dick Rowland, was accused of assaulting Sarah Page, a white elevator operator. Angry whites gathered at the courthouse where Rowland was being held, where they were met by some of the local black population, who were concerned by rumors he'd been lynched. That confrontation eventually gave way to mob violence; over the two days, 800 people were admitted to hospital, while it's now estimated that around 100-300 were killed. 6,000 black people were arrested or detained, and around 10,000 were left homeless by the destruction caused. Although it was omitted from a number of history books, it's considered one of the worst incidents of racial violence in American history, which is how and why it ties into Watchmen.
The Effect Of Tulsa On HBO's Watchmen
HBO's Watchmen is just under a century removed from the Tulsa Race Massacre, which means that although there is some distance, it's not so long ago to be ancient history, and the events do hang over the series' opening episode. Lindelof is using Watchmen as a means of exploring America in 2019, and among themes such as gun violence and police brutality is, of course, racism in the U.S. By setting his series in Tulsa and depicting the Race Riot on-screen, Lindelof is establishing the necessary real world context for his show, which is repeating itself with the return of the white supremacist group called the Seventh Kalvary. The race tensions in the Tulsa of Watchmen's 2019 are starting to boil over once more into civil unrest and violence, which is a reflection of the Tulsa Race Massacre. It's also shining a light an a horrific but important part of American history, using that to try to open eyes to what's happening in the modern day. HBO's Watchmen might take place in an alt-universe, but its racism, both in its present and the Tulsa Race Massacre, are chillingly real.