Damon Lindelof’s new HBO series, Watchmen, finds the writer and show-runner a very long way from the “middle-aged white men and women having existential spiritual crises” at the heart of his best known previous work, Lost and The Leftovers. The new show — based on the 1986 sci-fi alt-history created by Alan Moore, illustrator Dave Gibbons, and colorist John Higgins — opens in the murderous furnace of Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921, in the midst of the police/KKK bombing of Black Wall Street. For the first time in his career, Lindelof is directly engaging with the issue of race, and he is fully aware of the tightrope he’s walking. “It’s hard to quantify worry,” he says during our hour-long chat. “I’ve been significantly and constantly worried since we embarked on this show.”
There is nothing new about a respected white man using the history of violence against black people as a canvas. To Lindelof’s credit, though, he seems to know that he shouldn’t be left to his own devices. In fact, it’s his history as a “benevolent dictator” in the writer’s room that pushed him to employ his most inclusive writing staff to date — only four of the show’s 12 writers are white men — and rethink what creative inclusivity actually requires. On one level, Watchmen stands as a “game recognize game” hat tip to the source material. On another, it is Lindelof’s attempt to catalyze discussions about the complications of race, policing, and the power of symbols that connect our contemporary reality to the scary fictive world that Moore introduced so long ago.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
GEN: How’s it been spending the last two years in Alan Moore’s head?
Damon Lindelof: His mind is impenetrable. I have a lifelong attachment to his writing, so the paradox was moving past the fact that he is still alive and doesn’t want me to make this show, on one side of the coin; and on the other, I want to be making this show. Someone is going to be making this show. I understand I am…