Racism and Monsters in ‘Lovecraft Country’

Adapted from Matt Ruff’s dark fantasy horror novel, Lovecraft Country tells the story of Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) as he embarks across Jim Crow America to find his estranged father. Atticus, an avid fan of 20th century fantasy literature, along with his Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) and childhood friend Letitia Lewis (Jurnee Smollett) soon find themselves in a real-life horror novel that reveals the true terrors of 1950’s white supremacy by mixing in layers of the fantastic. Many of the episodes relate directly to works of fantasy and science fiction literature from the time, most notably the works of racist horror author H.P. Lovecraft.

The show, created by Misha Green (Underground) and produced by Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us), received a Golden Globe Award for Best Drama Television Series on Feb. 28. Its exploration of Black agency and identity within a world plagued by tyrannical white supremacy and homophobia sheds light on many of the major issues America still suffers from today. The combination of racism, monsters and magic serves to strategically reveal the harmful, parasitic nature of American whiteness on the bodies of racial minorities. The various plot lines tied to pertinent historical moments and texts like the murder of Emmett Till, Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Tulsa Race Massacre further qualify the show and its social critique.

HBO Max

Right from the start, our protagonists are antagonized by white police officers from racist “Sun-Down Towns,” all-white areas that enforce their own laws of racial segregation after dark.  Soon after, this racial violence is mirrored by Green’s inclusion of the famous Lovecraft monster Shoggoths. Blood-thirsty beings with hundreds of eyes, these beasts mimic the vicious police officers, creating a chaos filled with blood and death. The Shoggoths, however, end up leading us to the real monsters: a cult called the Sons of Adam who happen to be both white supremacists and magicians. The magic they practice is far from party tricks, though. The Sons’ main goal is to use Atticus’ body as a sacrifice to achieve their own immortality, with clear allusions to the historical white exploitation of the Black body. By breaking through the walls of reality, using both science fiction and fantasy, Green is able to explore the silenced horrors around racial violence in America.

In more recent news, and against the main themes of the show, Lovecraft Country has been accused of darkening the skin of one of their actresses. Kelli Amirah, featured as an extra on the show, came out on TikTok in February stating the show’s makeup artists made her skin darker using cosmetics before her cameo. In response, HBO has made a few comments apologizing for the incident, assuring the public it will not happen again. We will definitely see how this issue of colorism plays into a possible season two of Green’s otherwise brilliant horror show.

Overall, Lovecraft Country combines pulp fiction and racial violence to shock their viewers with the horrors of American slavery and Jim Crow. With a stellar cast and strategic writing, Green delivers one of the best and most important drama series of the last decade.

‘Lovecraft Country’ is available to stream on HBO Max

By Erik Mathews

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