[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Season 2 of The Umbrella Academy. Read at your own risk!]
When it was revealed that the Hargreeves siblings transported themselves back to 1960s Dallas to stop another apocalypse in The Umbrella Academy Season 2, it seemed like a pretty epic adventure. However, it became obvious in the season's opening montage that some of the siblings would have an easier time than others fitting in to the new time period until they could find a way back to their own timeline.
When Allison Hargreeves (Emmy Raver-Lampman) landed in the decade, she ran into a diner for help only to see a "Whites Only" sign hung above her head. It immediately became clear that navigating these surroundings were going to be more complicated for Allison than for most of her white siblings. However, Allison is resourceful and soon finds herself as part of a Civil Rights group, organizing protests and sit-ins to fight back against segregation. Even though the show finished filming in 2019, Allison's storyline aligned eerily well with the current social and political climate.
"I wrote this a year ago before the Black Lives Matter movement was really in the cultural zeitgeist like it is now, post-George Floyd," showrunner Steve Blackman explained to TV Guide. "But I knew from the beginning that if we were going to send these kids back to the '60s, I couldn't send Allison, a woman of color, back into 1963, in the South, and not talk about racism and segregation....We're a heightened fantasy show, and in some ways, we're very funny and light, but I didn't want to just gloss over racism and violence. So it's very important to tell as authentic a story as we could."
Raver-Lampman also felt the pressure to play a woman of color stuck in that time period authentically and correctly, specifically because she knew that there are many people still continuing the fight of the Freedom Riders and other activists still in 2020.
"Taking on the Civil Rights for this season was a big task, and I'm honored that I got to be a part of it. I also wanted to make sure that it was done correctly and respectfully, and properly depicted the struggles and the situations in which so, so, many people had to live through and are still living through today," she said. "Episode 3, with the big riot scene, it is so similar to the protests that escalate to violent acts by agitators in cities and countries all over the world right now. It's the same thing. It's the same fight, the same struggle."
The creative team dug into the research to create a storyline of Allison that honored the Civil Rights activists of the time, mashing-up stories of various sit-ins and acts of civil unrest they ingested to create the sit-in sequence where Allison and her husband Ray (Yusuf Gatewood) are threatened and harassed by white patrons at the same diner that Allison was rejected from at the start of the season.
"The writers and I did an incredible amount of research and that sit-in story wasn't based on any one sit-in. It was sort of an amalgamation of many sit-ins, but it was so emotional when we shot it on set. It was two days and nights and all of us sort of watching in awe of how great these people were back in 1962 and '63, going to these places, expecting possible violence and holding their heads up high with such dignity," Blackman recounted. "It was an incredible couple days of shooting and it was such an amazing part of history. We're clearly learning that, although we wish we'd done better, we still have a long, long way to go with racism and violence."
At the end of the season, Allison realizes she must return to her own time period and that Ray will not follow her into the future -- his place is to continue the fight where (or when) he is. She pens him a letter before she leaves to express how much she loves him, but also warns that while things get better in the future, it's not all peachy keen in the modern era either. She warns him that things will get worse before they get better, and he needs to be prepared for the long haul.
"The idea, pre-this movement, was simply that there was still a long way to go, and there were going to be wonderful things like an African American President Barack Obama, but at the same time, you know, we're still dealing with racism and the struggles in this country," Blackman said of the letter. "Allison knew that even before this movement in 2019...So she said, 'You know, we'll make some progress, but there will still be more work to do and the fight goes on.'"
"The fight goes on" couldn't be more evident than it is at this moment. Raver-Lampman found it surreal that the season is coming out now, as America is in the midst of a reckoning with its white supremacist history, and she hopes that the show reminds people that the '60s are not the distant past. Many people would like to assume that the fight for justice and equality was won with the expansion of The Civil Rights Act after Martin Luther King's assassination in 1968, but the work still continues and the struggles that faced not only people of color but LGBTQ persons as well, don't look as different today as one might hope.
"The biggest take away is that the '60s is not irrelevant. The '60s is so relevant. It is so surreal that [the show] is coming out right now in this moment, during this movement. I hope it is just a further example, fitted perfectly inside an entertainment medium, depicting the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement and of the '60s for the LGBTQ community and for the Black community, and for marginalized communities," Raver-Lampman said. "Those struggles are still so relevant and the '60s were not that long ago. It was our grandparents' and our parents' lives, and that fight is still happening. Those acts of violence are still happening. That systemic racism is still so deeply rooted in this country and still such a prominent, relevant, problem in the world right now."
The Umbrella Academy Seasons 1 and 2 are now streaming on Netflix.