For one, “Watchmen” had the guts to put a mask on the two biggest real-life threats to black existence — racism and white supremacy — and turned those social ills into a supervillain (represented by the Seventh Kavalry) that Regina King could beat up.
Then there was the shocking secret identity of Hooded Justice. And Doctor Manhattan, the only superpowered being in their world, became a black man — one who willingly wiped his own memory to forget he’s the most powerful being in existence, just to be with the black woman he loves. And that black woman, King’s Angela Abar/Sister Night, didn’t just turn out to be the granddaughter of Hooded Justice, but the central protagonist of “Watchmen’s” entire story.
That’s a lot of blackness — more blackness (Wakanda aside) than black fans of comic-book culture are used to getting out of mainstream superhero entertainment. So now that “Watchmen” is done (assuming this season is the only one), where will we go to satisfy our black superhero needs? Because let me tell you, waiting every three years for a “Black Panther” movie is not going to be enough after being treated to nine consecutive weeks of this HBO series.
Yes, there’s the CW’s “Black Lightning,” which, like “Watchmen,” is a DC Comics property. That’s a start. But can DC get bolder? Can it take the chances “Watchmen” took on HBO within its own film division? Surely there’s someone at Warner Bros. (which owns DC) who has seen what this show has achieved and is trying to figure out how to apply that swag to its superhero movies.
There are many ways that could be done. Would WB/DC — who has admittedly stumbled on how to keep Superman on film — give a chance to Calvin Ellis? (The Earth-23 black Superman created by Grant Morrison could be played by an actor who has the presence and build — like Michael B. Jordan — to make that performance believable.) Or maybe now that Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s star is burning even brighter after his foray as Doctor Manhattan, he’ll be given more than 15 minutes on-screen when he returns in the “Aquaman” sequel as Black Manta. The creators of DC Comics’s newest black, female Green Lantern, Jo Mullein, admitted that her likeness is inspired by Afro-futuristic singer/actress Janelle Monáe. So why not cast her as the next Green Lantern?
And the discussion certainly applies to Marvel Studios, too. Anthony Mackie’s Falcon was handed Captain America’s shield at the end of “Avengers: Endgame,” but will he wield it? And would Disney/Marvel be brave enough to let the crowning of a black Captain America happen? (Marvel recently took on those themes when Sam Wilson’s Falcon became Captain America in the comic books; the country he protected was divided over the decision. Could Disney Plus be ready for that type of smoke when “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” starring Mackie and Sebastian Stan, begins streaming?)
Being a black side character — a War Machine in “Avengers,” a Cyborg in “Justice League” — is not going to do it for black folks anymore. Post-“Watchmen,” those of us with the black geek gaze now have the audacity to be demanding.
Showrunner Damon Lindelof was aware of his whiteness and consequently let his black writers, producers, directors and actors tell a story that spoke from the heart of the black experience in America. He was willing and able to yield to those who knew better, stepping aside to let black people make black greatness when certain moments called for such awareness and understanding.
That in and of itself may be one of the most heroic acts of this “Watchmen” experience. Now there’s no excuse why something as powerful and culturally significant on-screen can’t happen again.