Entertainment

HBO's Unexpectedly Timely Superhero Show 'Watchmen' Will Stream for Free This Weekend

If you haven't seen the essential Black-led series yet, now's the time.

HBO

Following weeks of worldwide protests against police brutality enacted on Black citizens and other people of color, the entertainment world has made tons of resources created by and about Black people, including documentaries, TV shows, books, and revolutionary texts, available to everyone for free. For example, you can stream last year's drama Just Mercy, about a Black man (Michael B. Jordan) who appeals his own murder conviction, at no cost. The Criterion Channel made an entire selection of Black-led and Black-directed films available for non-subscribers. And Magnolia Pictures has been screening three of its documentaries about racial justice for free.

Now, HBO is making a bunch of its shows, movies, and comedy specials starring and/or directed by Black people available to stream via hbo.com, including last fall's barn-burner and very timely superhero series WatchmenConceived as a continuation in the spirit of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' 1986-87 comic series about a team of costumed heroes in an alternate America who are forced to examine their own sociopolitical morality after one of their own is murdered, the nine-episode limited series stars Regina King as Angela Abar, a costumed detective who discovers that her police department has been infiltrated by white supremacists.

Set presciently in Tulsa, Oklahoma -- which will host a hugely controversial Trump rally this weekend -- much of the story revolves around and is informed by the generational trauma resulting from the very real Tulsa Massacre of 1921, during which the residents and businesses of "Black Wall Street," then the richest Black community in America, were decimated in a single night by murderous, racist white rioters. While the show creates an alternate history, in reality none of the surviving residents or their descendants were ever compensated for the damage and loss of life, and the event, which has been called "the single worst incident of racial violence in American history," was summarily forgotten about for decades.

It wasn't until 1996 that a commission was created by the state government to actually study what happened, and in 2001, that body recommended a program of reparations for the descendants of those who survived. A park was dedicated in 2010, but it wasn't until 2020 (!) that the massacre became part of the Oklahoma school curriculum. Even if you don't credit Watchmen alone for igniting renewed interest in the event, which you certainly could, the show is almost superhumanly deft at weaving this real trauma into a fantastical setting, using the backdrop of an alternate America, where the president has authorized post-slavery reparations for its Black citizens and Tulsa has a museum dedicated to tracing the genealogies of its residents back to that night in 1921, to unearth our own very real present-day sickness. If you haven't seen the show, it's a must-watch, and if you have seen it, there's no better time than right now -- and especially on Saturday afternoon and evening -- to watch it again.

It's no mistake that HBO is making this show, and so much more of its other Black-led programming, available this weekend. It honors Juneteenth, Black Americans' national holiday celebrating emancipation from slavery, and provides much needed counterprogramming against the massively irresponsible Trump rally being held at a flashpoint during the pandemic. Watchmen will be available on HBO's streaming platforms starting Friday, June 19 through Sunday, June 21, and HBO will also be airing a marathon of all nine episodes on HBO and HBO Latino on Friday starting at 1pm.

Other Black-led entertainment that's currently available to stream on hbo.com for free includes Baltimore Rising, Say her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland, as well as episodes of Insecure, Random Acts of Flyness, A Black Lady Sketch Show, Euphoria, and The Wire. This weekend HBO will expand their list of free selections to include Being Serena, Bessie, Moms Mabley, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, United Skates, Jerrod Carmicheal’s Home Videos, Lil’ Rel Live In Crenshaw, The Apollo, and episodes of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, The Shop, Treme, and True Detective.

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Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.