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HBO's Watchmen Reveal Unmasks Homophobia and Fetishization

HBO's 'Watchmen' Reveal Unmasks Homophobia and Fetishization

HBO's 'Watchmen' Reveal Unmasks Homophobia and Fetishization

Black superheroes aren't usually contextualized with the effects racism plays on their everyday lives, but Watchmen flips that narrative on its head.

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HBO's newest masked-vigilante series Watchmen is, quite literally, rewriting your standard superhero origin stories.

The latest adaption of the iconic 1980s DC Comics title dives headfirst into the Watchmen universe and into a shocking recontextualization of the world's first superhero: Hooded Justice. 

Warning: heavy spoilers ahead!

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In episode six, "This Extraordinary Being," we see the origin of Hooded Justice, whose identity has always remained a mystery in the comics. It was believed he was a German strongman and a tv-show within the universe called American Hero Story reveals that everyone more or less believed this to be true, with the world assuming he was a white man.

But the hero was actually Will Reeves, a survivor of the real-life 1921 Tulsa Massacre, an event that's been called "the single worst incident of racial violence in American history." In the '30s, Reeves became a Harlem cop on his own personal search for justice who quickly stumbles into the inner workings of a KKK-adjacent, white supremacist organization called Cyclops, who string him up from a tree as a warning to leave them alone. He adapts the noose placed around his neck as well as white paint around his eyes and a hood to beget a masked kind of justice that could be accepted by the masses.  

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Black superheroes aren't usually contextualized with the intrinsic effects racism plays on their everyday lives, but Watchmen flips that narrative on its head. The world's first known superhero was birthed out of America's ultimate injustice. And to take it a step further, he was queer.  

Hooded Justice inspires the first wave of superhero leagues called the Minutemen, led by Captain Metropolis. In the comics, it was rumored that the Captain and Hooded Justice had a sexual relationship. This is true in the HBO series as well, but the revamped character comments on the race dynamics between the two at the time, fetishization, and even the secrecy and homophobia that shrouded their relationship. 

"The original text does suggest that Captain Metropolis and Hooded Justice did have a sexual relationship. But from there, we knew there’s no way to have a sexual relationship in the 1930s between a white man and a Black man without discussing the racial politics of it, and without discussing how these men view each other," episode co-writer Cord Jefferson told Vulture.

In a pivotal moment in the episode, Hooded Justice calls on Metropolis to help him squash Cyclops' plans of turning Black people on each other, literally and violently, through mesmerization. Metropolis laughs at Justice's plea for help, discounting the very real, nefarious racism he and the Black people of the town are facing, and all but tells him to come back to bed and so they can fool around. 

"To me, it felt very real that Captain Metropolis might fetishize Hooded Justice and get a thrill out of this sexual taboo," Jefferson says. "That is a relationship we discussed at length in the room. People were confused by it at first. There was a discussion as to whether or not this would even happen, like, 'Is somebody who’s a racist actually going to wanna have sex with a Black person?' And it’s like, yes, of course. There’s a lot of misogynists who sleep with women, for example. You don’t have to love the person that you’re having sex with. And because sex is complex and confusing, there was a long discussion about what exactly this was going to look like. I think that what we hit upon is something that feels very true, even though it’s gross and icky."

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By applying the hood as well as the white paint, Jefferson points out that Reeves is "wearing two masks. The layers that he’s wearing also suggest the layers that he’s hiding, right? Because not only is he Black, he’s also queer. He’s hiding things from his wife, he’s hiding things from his colleagues at the police station, he’s hiding things from his colleagues in the Minutemen. He’s wearing all these masks to block who he actually is from everybody in his life. And so, it makes sense that underneath his one mask is another mask entirely."

So much of the series is about duality, underscoring the splitting of the self that people who wear masks must undergo as well as the clandestine nature in which they live their lives. These themes can ring familiar for LGBTQ+ people. Hooded Justice's cis/straight-passing mask is one that many of us adopted at one point in our lives. But those lines between the hidden self and the real self get increasingly blurry over time, and eventually leads to the implosion of Reeve's home life with his wife and son. 

"I think we all wear masks from time to time," says Jefferson. "We all hide things from people from time to time, and it eats away at you when you can’t reveal your full self to the world. When he finally sees his son, Marcus, wearing the facepaint and pretending to be him, he has to have a real reckoning with what it means for him to suppress who he actually is. That’s the real pain and agony that he’s dealing with in that moment."

"June, in that moment, is seeing what he has become. He is a man who’s still haunted by all that trauma that he experienced as a young man, and now is haunted even more also by the trauma that he’s experienced in recent years, by hiding his sexuality and getting demeaned constantly by his coworkers at the police station, getting demeaned constantly by his coworkers in the Minutemen. He’s added onto the trauma more so than he’s been able to get rid of it."

This is just a bit of what makes the series so enthralling. Will Reeves/Hooded Justice isn't the only one with skeletons in the closet. Angela Abar (Reeve's estranged granddaughter, played by the legendary Regina King) learns his truth, but she's hiding plenty of her own. 

New episodes of Watchmen premiere Sundays on HBO. Watch the first seven now

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Taylor Henderson

Taylor Henderson is a PRIDE.com contributor. This proud Texas Bama studied Media Production/Studies and Sociology at The University of Texas at Austin, where he developed his passions for pop culture, writing, and videography. He's absolutely obsessed with Beyoncé, mangoes, and cheesy YA novels that allow him to vicariously experience the teen years he spent in the closet. He's also writing one! 

Taylor Henderson is a PRIDE.com contributor. This proud Texas Bama studied Media Production/Studies and Sociology at The University of Texas at Austin, where he developed his passions for pop culture, writing, and videography. He's absolutely obsessed with Beyoncé, mangoes, and cheesy YA novels that allow him to vicariously experience the teen years he spent in the closet. He's also writing one!