Lovecraft Country is an action/horror series set in the American Midwest and North in 1955 told from the vantage point of its majority black cast. The creator of the series Misha Green gained well-deserved praise with her previous black historical drama series Underground that aired on WGN America for two season (2016-2017). Both Underground and Lovecraft Country puts on full display the struggle and survival of Black people throughout American history without the filtered white gaze.
Today as we are presently living through the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and racism, Lovecraft Country feels eerily relevant in the moment we are living through. Black people are fighting the invisible monster of COVID-19 and racism and yet and still the scariest of the two remains racism just as in Lovecraft Country.
An upheaval of stereotypes is abound in episode 1 of the new HBO series Lovecraft Country. This review takes a look at how the writers brilliantly upended a variety of Black stereotypes.
The series begins with the protagonist, an African-American Korean War veteran named Atticus (Tic) Freeman fighting for his life in the trenches in what seems to be the Korean War but as the camera pans outward we notice the sky is red and there are flying saucers and alien-like machines splattered throughout the screen. Tic looks to the sky and sees a beautiful Asian woman with red colored skin descending from the flying saucer. Tic embraces her as if he has found his true love. She and Tic are suddenly attacked by an alien-like monster and are rescued by the iconic Jackie Robinson wielding his bat and wearing his famous Dodgers 42 baseball uniform.
Tic wakes up from this dream and in his lap is the novel ‘A Princess of Mars, a book about an ex-confederate soldier, John Carter who is magically transported to the Mars. In the novel, John Carter fights aliens and falls in love with a Martian princess. Tic was dreaming of himself as his own version of John Carter.
Tic longs to be a character in pulp story where heroes get to defeat monsters and save the day. Little does Tic know that he is about to live out his fantasy and be a Black hero in world full of magic and mystery.
Stereotype: Black people are uneducated.
Truth: Black people value education & read A LOT.
This show does not just break this stereotype it demolishes it. Throughout this episode and this series we see how much value is placed on reading and education in the lives of the Black characters. So often Black folks have been relegated to playing roles in film and tv as uneducated people who are in desperate need of a White person to bring them education (Dangerous Minds, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Blindside) but not in Lovecraft Country.
Uncle George loves to read in particular horror. His favorites include H.P. LoveCraft’s Outsider & Others; whereas, Tic’s father vehemently disliked Lovecraft because of the racism he often spewed in his work. ‘On the Creation of N—–s’ was a Lovecraft poem that Tic’s father made him memorize so that Tic can remember that authors like Lovecraft do not write books for Black folks and so he should stay away from those writings.
Tic returned home to Chicago because his father is missing. Tic received a letter from his father stating that he found out information regarding Tic’s deceased mother’s family history and he wanted Tic to come home so they could travel together to learn more about her family secrets. Tic was confused that his father’s letter was poorly written despite his father’s love for education. This was a clever foreshadowing tool used by the writers to let the viewers know that something sinister is afoot.
Stereotype: Only the South Segregates.
Truth: The North is just as racist and segregationist as the Jim Crow South.
Tic is in the back of a bus in the “Colored Only” section with a Black woman. They have just crossed over a bridge named after some “dead white slave owner.” Tic flicks his middle finger out at the Welcome to Kentucky sign and says “Good riddance to Old Jim Crow” as the bus crosses over the Kentucky border into Illinois. Unfortunately the bus breaks down and everyone has to get off the bus. When new transportation arrives, this transportation is for whites only. There are no words said on screen but the viewer knows what Tic knows – that the new transport is not for Black people. Tic and the Black female passenger are left to walk to rest of the way alone.
The common stereotype is that the Jim Crow South was the only place where racists and segregationists lived. Black Americans knew this was a false narrative, and now through Misha Green’s brilliant guidance the Lovecraft Country viewer is too learning that even in Illinois, Black people felt the fear and power of Jim Crow.
In 1955 Jim Crow was as American as apple pie.
We learn that Tic’s Uncle George is a traveler and writer of The Green Book. The Green Book is was a travel guide created by Black people to let other Black people know where it was safe to travel. Uncle George has suffered the consequences of traveling while black – two shattered knee caps he received while traveling. Black people knew very well that knowing your surroundings matters when traveling as a Black person in America.
Stereotype: Black families are rare.
Truth: Black families exist.
We see a Black man in love with his Black wife and cherishing their child. We meet Uncle George, his wife Hippolyta, and their artistic daughter Diane. We see the delightful bedroom talk of a husband and wife. We see them make love to each other in the light of day. We see a beautiful Black family in their kitchen hugging and welcoming the newly arrived Tic back home.
Stereotype: Black people are dangerous.
Truth: Black community is safe.
We are given a front row seat to a fun black party where we meet two other main characters Leticia (Leti) and her sister Ruby. The two sisters perform for their community. The neighborhood is overflowing with Black faces smiling, singing, and dancing together. There are no white people. There are no police. There is only Black joy.
It is only once they leave their community do they find themselves in danger’s eyesight. Uncle George, Tic and Leti leave on their mission to find Montrose, Tic’s father. The journey from Chicago, Illinois to Ardham, Massachusetts proves to be the most horrific part of the episode.
Stereotype: Black women are weak and inferior.
Truth: Black women are heroes.
Leti saves the day twice in this episode. First she successfully drives away from White people chasing them in cars with guns after they attempted to eat at a white diner. As Leti is driving away from a barrage of bullets, Uncle George repeatedly refers to her as girl. But Leti does not have time for that. She firmly reminds him – “My name’s not ‘girl’. It’s Letitia fucking Lewis!”
Leti saves the day a second time after successfully out running the multiple-eyed monsters, Shoggoths. She is forced to run to the car under the cover of darkness because the hateful racist police officers refused to let Tic run. Even while trapped in a cabin with three black people, the two injured white police officers refused to let their racist ideologies go even when in the midst of being chased and mutilated by the Shoggoth monsters. Leti did not let her fear stop her. Her fear fueled her for the run of her life. She made it to their car just in time to save Uncle George and Tic from certain death.
Stereotype: Monsters do not exist.
Truth: Monsters do exist. White people living in the North were dangerous and racist.
In episode 1 we meet two different types of monsters – one based in fantasy and the second based in reality. The Shoggoth monsters are ameoba-like creatures with multiple floating eyes and hundreds of teeth that are afraid of light and can turn its victims into Shoggoths after biting them much like a vampire.
The second monsters were the white people acting out their racist ideologies. These monsters included the white men at the gas station mocking Tic by mimicking a monkey. The white women who giggled at the sight of the mockery. The white people who chased down the traveling group after they attempted to eat in a diner they erroneously believed served Black people.
The scariest of the monsters was the Sheriff who threatened to shoot Tic, Uncle George and Leti if he found them still in his county after sundown. Leti’s brother, Marvin warned them that this particular Sheriff was infamous for killing black people. They were warned to steer clear of him, but he still found them.
The Sheriff chased them out of Devon county in what was slowest, most terrifying car chase scene I have ever seen. I was filled with dread listening to Uncle George countdown the time till sundown and watching Tic drive no more than 25 MPH.
Even though they made it safely across the county border, that same Sheriff along with other police officers presumably from the neighboring county were laying in wait for the traveling group. The police officers took Uncle George, Leti, and Tic into the woods ready to lynch them. Lynching was common place in the mid 20th century throughout the US. If not for the sudden arrival of the fantastical Shoggoth monsters, the Black travelers would have most certainly met untimely and tragic deaths.
Episode 1 ends with Tic, Leti, and Uncle George surviving a myriad of monsters.
What will episode 2 bring?
I can’t wait to find out!
By: Nisha Williams