The Umbrella Academy S2: Being a Black Woman in the Dallas of the 60s
The Umbrella Academy is a tv series based on the eponymous comic by Gerard Way (who some of the readers may know as the front man of the band My Chemical Romance) and Gabriel Bà. In 2019, the first season landed on Netflix with a quite enthusiastic reaction from the public.
The show deals with the vicissitudes of a dysfunctional family: the Hargreeves, consisting of a cold, manipulative father, a robot mother and seven estranged grown-up children endowed with superpowers, whose mission is to save the world from an imminent apocalypse. At the end of Season One, the Hargreeves siblings find out that their efforts so far are completely useless or even backfiring since the announced catastrophe is also caused by their actions to avoid it. Therefore, they decide to travel back in time using one of their superpowers to try to save the world once again.
Season Two picks up the narrative following the Hargreeves family split and relocated in different years of the 60s, everyone trying to reach the others and to survive at the same time. This way, the viewer gets to watch different storylines, one for each sibling. Among these seven points of view, one appears to be particularly interesting especially considering some recent attentions the Black Lives Matter movement has raised: Allison’s issues living in the Dallas of the 60’s as a Black woman.
Allison, originally called “Number Three” by Mr. Hargreeves, has the power of mind control through the use of the formula “I heard a rumor…” Even though she is one of the most powerful in the family, she is also the most reluctant to use her ability. In fact, she has had problems in stopping herself from using it in the past, with some unpleasant consequences. For example, in Season One she uses her power to calm her little daughter and convince her to sleep while her husband is casually watching. This will cause him to ask the divorce from her for manipulating their child and to obtain her custody.
When Allison arrives in Dallas in 1961, she is not only wary of her powers but cannot physically use them. This is a consequence of the last episodes of Season One, where her sister Vanya loses control of her powers during a fight between the two sisters and accidentally cuts Allison’s throat. Even though she miraculously survives, she loses the use of her voice for almost a year.
The impossibility to speak doesn’t stop Allison to find a job in a beauty salon for Black Women and to meet Raymond Chestnut, who will become her husband soon after. Together with him, she will start a series of meetings with members of the Black community of Dallas with the aim of creating a pacific activist movement for the Black people rights.
Her actions as a Black woman activist coming from the future (and consequently aware of what is coming for her people) are one of the most interesting issues of the season.
Allison’s first minutes in the 60’s are quite traumatic: after appearing in a desert alley without her siblings, she enters a diner searching for information, but she is immediately expelled by one of the waiters who angrily points at a sign saying: “Whites only.” Right after that, she is followed by some men and eventually finds shelter in the beauty salon where she will work for the rest of her time in Dallas and where the meetings of the movement will take place. Even when still incapable to speak, Allison participates at the meetings and contributes to the movement’s projects with ideas and notes. This is also how she will get close to her future husband: her bond with him and the community will be the only thing keeping her from going back to 2019 when she will have the possibility to do so.
The most powerful sequence (not only within Allison’s storyline but of the whole season) is the one following the development of the movement’s sit-in. The scene takes place on November 1963, a few days before John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s assassination. Even though Allison already knows that the president is going to die, she fully supports her community in the organization of a sit-in in the same diner where she has been expelled when she first arrived in Dallas. The idea is to attract the attention of the press and, consequently, the interest of the President, whose visit to the city has been planned. Her worries are mostly for Raymond, who has really high hopes in Kennedy’s interest for minorities’ needs: “I just don’t want you to get your hopes up… about Kennedy” (episode 1, 29:28).
The protest is supposed to be pacific and absolutely non-violent, but something goes wrong.
The first obstacle comes when Raymond gets arrested for an alleged aggression to a rich, White man, who didn’t like their meetings at the beauty salon. In the scene where Allison helplessly stands still while the police breaks in her house, beats and take her husband for no reason, it is hard to avoid thinking about the recent stir caused by Breonna Taylor’s case, among many.
Taylor’s case dates back to March 2020 but has been brought to the international attention only after the protests for George Floyd’s assassination in May. The young woman has been killed by three police officers who entered her and her boyfriend’s house in the middle of the night in the context of a drug dealing investigation. While Breonna’s boyfriend reportedly shot first at one of the policemen, Breonna never left the bedroom but was still hit by eight bullets.
The violence depicted in Raymond’s arrest is obviously not even close to the one of the Louisville’s tragedy, but it is clear that the authors are addressing the recently very discussed police brutality.
In addition to his unfair arrest, Raymond’s legal rights are completely ignored by the police, who impede him to call his wife or to have a lawyer. He will be released from prison only with the help of Klaus and Ben (two of the Hargreeves brothers) and their superpowers.
When Raymond arrives to the sit-in, the other members of the movement are rigidly following his indications: they have to simply remain sat at the diner counter, ignoring the waiters and the White clients who try to send them away by throwing food and drinks at them. In fact, the only strict rule of the movement lead by Raymond is the non-violence of their action, a choice that not everyone in the Black community of Dallas shares but to which everyone in the movement agrees to submit.
“I have been getting a lot of questions from the young folk asking me about why it is that the S.J.C.C. chooses to be nonviolent. And they’ll say to me thinks like ‘Ray, these people are killing us. So why don’t we just fight back’? And I understand their sentiment. Believe me, I understand it. ‘Cause I was there once myself” (episode 6, 3:16).
Raymond’s morals are also the feature that attracted Allison when she first met him, and his words will become a sort of mantra for her in the situations where she would like to use her power but tries to resist that temptation.
“Look, there’s no room for error here. There is no room for images on the tv of violence, aggression, or even disrespect. No matter what they do to us we have one rule: honor and dignity at all times” (episode 1, 32:52).
Going back to the sit-in, in a moment of distraction Allison gets up from the chair and the police immediately takes her and Raymond right after for trying to defend her. This is the moment where the direct violence exerted by the authorities is shown.
Allison runs away from the diner trying to get to Raymond and the police take the control of the protest: there are Black people on the ground being beaten and Raymond himself is violently and repeatedly hit by a cop, who only stops when Allison takes control of his mind, forced to use her power by the desperate situation.
These events will profoundly sign Allison, who at the first occasion will try to get revenge for what she and her community has suffered. After finally telling Raymond the truth about her origins and her superpower, Allison goes back to the diner where everything has started for her. She sits at the counter and she obliges the waiter to serve her some coffee using “the voices” (that is how she calls her power). While the waiter bears the humiliation of serving a black woman in front of the White clients, Allison also makes him overthrow the boiling coffee on his own hand, causing him a severe burn. This is the moment where Allison’s powers take over her self-control once again, also scaring Raymond who will stop her and take her away.
This series of events in Allison’s storyline appear to be not only a reference to the recent facts regarding the Black Lives Matter movement, but also to the mixed feelings connected to them. When the viewer sees Allison making the waiter who mistreated her suffer, it is inevitable to feel satisfied, to recognize a sense of justice in that violence. But when George Floyd was murdered and the protests burst all over the USA, there were a lot of people complaining about some violent behaviors coming from the protestants. It was a matter of vandalism more than physical violence, but it still, sometimes, affected the public perception of what was the motive who moved so many people around the country. The other side of the coin, was represented by the police brutality captured by cameras during those days, which was certainly condemned by the majority of people, but also found some kind of mitigation in people who wanted to clarify that “not all policemen” use to act like that.
Analyzing both that real events and fiction, it is clear that it is difficult to react to violence with a quiet response, it is difficult for minorities to be heard without making some noise, and in the same way, it is difficult for non-oppressed people to understand that. That is why Allison’s storyline in Season Two is so important: because it creates empathy towards people who suffers in real life what she suffers in the show, and it offers representation for those who are discriminated in our world and feel like no one is seeing them.