HBO’s ‘Watchmen’: Why Star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II Says the Series Is ’60 to 70 Years Late’

Just months after its release, the HBO superhero drama Watchmen has been cited as an apt message for the times. However, it’s been relevant far longer than many would care to admit. Star Yahya Abdul-Mateen explains in a June 2020 interview.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II stars in ‘Watchmen’

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in 'Watchmen'
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in ‘Watchmen’ | Mark Hill/HBO

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Abdul Mateen portrays Calvin “Cal” Abar in Watchmen. Cal is depicted as the loving, dutiful husband of Regina King’s Angela Abar. Angela is a cop in an alternate version of 2019, in which Robert Redford is president, alien squids fall from the sky, and, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, police officers cover their faces to do their jobs.

While Angela is masquerading as Sister Night, Cal stays home with their three children. But toward the end of the first season, it’s revealed that he is, in fact, the superhero Doctor Manhattan. He took on this form to live a normal life with his wife. In the finale, he is captured, and though he does not survive, he passes on his abilities to Angela.

The series has been hailed as a deviation from the film

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Watchmen is based on a comic book series that was published in the 1980s. It was later adapted for the big screen with the 2009 film of the same name. Starring Billy Crudup as Jon Osterman (Doctor Manhattan), it was mostly faithful to the source material.

But the series didn’t draw from this. Instead, it took a few of the characters (including Laurie, formerly the heroine Silk Spectre, and Adrian Veidt, aka Ozymandias) and continued the comic book storyline decades in the future. And though the world is still fantastical, it continues to bear similarities to our real one.

‘Watchmen’ calls attention to generational trauma

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The series starts with what’s known as the Black Wall Street Massacre in 1921. From there, we learn more about how a fictional boy who escaped became Hooded Justice, the first of the Minutemen. This blending of historical events and vigilante heroes is paramount to Watchmen‘s storyline about racism within the police force and the U.S. as a whole.

“I was really proud to be a part of a show that was talking about that part of American history that’s often not talked about,” Abdul-Mateen told The Hollywood Reporter in June 2020. He explains that the series makes this subject “very, very accessible to anyone who was willing to sit down and allow that narrative to penetrate.”

Abdul-Mateen on its relevance in 2020

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While this may seem particularly timely, Abdul-Mateen says it’s been a relevant subject for decades. “I [spoke to someone] yesterday, and they said, “It’s really relevant now, right?” And I said, “Well, actually, Watchmen is 60 to 70 years late.” So that’s kind of sad. It’s chilling.”

He continues, adding, “The time is always now to make content that is going to make people uncomfortable, and, for as long as we’ll be around, I believe that Watchmen will be relevant. Hopefully it becomes relevant in a way that causes us to look back and remember what we came out of.”