Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen (2019) dramatized the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 on HBO, and a new documentary will further uncover the truth on PBS. The film (literally) digs deep on a local level and will arrive on May 31, which will mark the 100th anniversary of one of the most horrific instances of racially-motivated violence in U.S. history. It’s well worth putting on your calendar, especially since the deadly mass-killing didn’t emerge often in history books, and many people didn’t even know what transpired until watching the recontextualized Watchmen. Lindelof became aware of the massacre after reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Case for Reparations” 2014 article in The Atlantic, and the rest, as they say, is unearthed history, albeit still in process.
As seen in the trailer above, Tulsa: The Fire and the Forgotten (directed by Jonathan Silvers) will dive into how hundreds of Greenwood-district, Black-owned businesses and neighborhoods full of homes burned to the ground after a false accusation of violence against a Black man. All told, the massacre killed up to 300 Black Tulsa residents and left thousands without homes, and The Washington Post‘s DeNeen L. Brown speaks within the film and lays down the project’s tone in a press release:
“Stories have power and if they’re told, they can change the future and they can provide some healing. So my goal here would be to finally find answers for some of the descendants of the victims, and if they do find bodies, put those souls to rest. This spring, the City of Tulsa plans to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the massacre, as descendants of survivors demand reparations for what was lost and protest against current oppression and racism.”
The film will also chart the resilience and revival of the Greenwood district and the reexamination of the massacre as well as efforts that have been made to atone for and reconcile the past for Black Tulsa residents. The project features interviews from several local leaders (including Mayor G.T. Bynum, who officially opened the search for mass graves) and civil rights activists (including Greg Robinson II, Kristi Williams, Regina Goodwin, Rev. Robert Turner, and more). As Mayor Bynum notes in the film, “It is terrifying because you realize that it could happen today… I hope that people see that it’s never too late to try and do the right thing.”
Tulsa: The Fire and the Forgotten will air on May 31 on PBS.