Lovecraft Country uses the Black experience to wage a righteous war

With its backdrop of Jim Crow-era America, Lovecraft Country isn’t just the stuff of nightmares. But by the end of the first episode, you’ll wish it was.

Lovecraft Country, which premieres August 16 on HBO and HBO Max, follows Atticus “Tic” Freeman (Jonathan Majors), a Black Army veteran, on a mysterious mission to reunite with his father, Montrose Freeman (Michael Kenneth Williams). On a journey that is already rife with the dangers of traveling while Black in segregated America, Tic and his companions are immediately thrown into a plot of holy and godlike terror, as they wrestle with not just bigotry, but dread as gods of old come to life in front of them.

As the show progresses through its first five episodes, it becomes strikingly clear that Lovecraft Country isn’t just a show about racial tensions. It’s about spiritual warfare — both against eldritch horrors and the far scarier struggle for Black survival.

And Lovecraft Country uses its characters’ Blackness as their source of strength. Being Black in Lovecraft Country doesn’t just feel like representation. It feels like power.

Tackling Lovecraft’s monstrous legacy

Lovecraft Country — based on the 2016 fantasy novel by Matt Ruff and developed by showrunner Misha Green and executive producers Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams — obviously pulls much of its inspiration for supernatural entities from the works of H.P. Lovecraft. But Lovecraft himself, while hugely influential to the horror genre, has been rightfully challenged not just for his racist beliefs, but for the way bigotry influenced his work.

HBO

Lovecraft is best known for his mythology of ancient, unknowable, and terrifying beings, a spiritual twist on insignificance and the outsider where the greatest monsters weren’t created by technology, but rather existed long before us as gods. Lovecraft’s work harnessed the sudden and frightening awareness that the world was much bigger than humans. If miracles of science could exist, so could the horrors of the gods.

But Lovecraft’s work is also peppered with his racist beliefs, treating non-white characters as barbaric beasts. Perhaps his most common trope, the fear of the outsider, allowed Lovecraft to embed his xenophobia and prejudice deep into his creations.

Perhaps Lovecraft’s most common trope, the fear of the outsider, allowed Lovecraft to embed his xenophobia and prejudice deep into his creations.

While a lesser show might have shied away from the insidious effects of Lovecraft’s racism, Lovecraft Country turns his legacy into its own kind of weapon.

Our heroes are already quite aware of the white “monsters” in their world, so their response to the existence of more supernatural threats doesn’t paralyze them. Instead, in choosing to spiritually deconstruct the insidious nature of Lovecraft’s mythology, the series takes on the much bigger monster of racism and white privilege in the only way it can: By waging its own kind of spiritual war.

Using the Black experience to fight back 

Spirituality has long been an integral part of Black culture and history in America.

Once used as a tool by slave owners to control the masses, Black spirituality developed into its own act of rebellion. The Black community rallied around a spirit of overcoming, channeling their shattered sense of familial bonds into a community that transcended blood. Lovecraft Country uses that collective sense of self to empower its characters to fight back.

HBO

In Tic Freeman, audiences are given a protagonist whose time as a soldier never ended.

With a complicated relationship to his family, Tic jumps at the chance to learn more about where he came from. Even Tic’s companions, Letiticia “Leti’” Lewis (Jurnee Smollett) and his uncle, George Freeman (Courtney B. Vance), continually fight the outsider status put upon them by friend and foe alike.

But their quest to escape the feelings of otherness leads the three down a dangerous path. The characters come face-to-face with the gods that Lovecraft created, full of privilege and power, and when they enter this kingdom of gods, they wrestle with birthrights far more ancient than the one white Americans already forced on them.

While HBO’s Watchmen was praised for its portrayal of the Black experience overlaid on the superhero genre, Lovecraft Country reads less like a historical awakening and more like a revisionist revolution, deftly putting the horrors of racism and physical monsters from the deep on the same and ever-present plane.

Lovecraft Country reads less like a historical awakening and more like a revisionist revolution.

It would have been easy for the HBO series to simply focus on horror tropes and supernatural battles. But its use of the supernatural to fight the supernatural puts the show on an entirely new level.

Getting in good trouble

Lovecraft Country is always clear about one thing: Monsters walk among us. But as Black Americans living at the height of racial injustice and outright oppression, fear is nothing new for these characters. The group finds itself caught between a paradise of the gods that will never accept them and a kingdom of man that refuses to see them as equals.

Rather than accept their fate, the characters of Lovecraft Country turn the mythology of Lovecraft back against him, using their own experiences with rebellion, legacy, and the spiritual to resist.

By the end of the first five episodes, it’s clear the characters of Lovecraft Country are fighting a battle bigger than all of them. But they aren’t fighting alone.

HBO

The Black American birthright has always been one of injustice over privilege, a reminder that we live in a system created to keep us the outsider. As a Black writer truly tired of seeing Black bodies disrespected on my screen, I was surprised to see black trauma feature in a horror series, not just as a blatant example of disproportionate tragedy, but as the key to survival.

The generational horror this series explores is never seen as a detriment to the characters. Instead, it becomes the only way they are able to fight back, a hidden power, a secret weapon that enables them to truly go to war. The HBO series’ characters are powerful because they are Black.

Lovecraft Country is more than a science fiction/horror series with a social justice lens. It is a manifesto, where Black characters are given the opportunity and agency to fight for their tomorrow using the birthright of yesterday. The series does have a tendency to play up its shock factor more than its characters, an instinct that may cripple the show’s in-depth plot lines as the series progresses. But as an overarching tableau, the show doesn’t just succeed — it calls its characters to righteous action.

In its swift and decisive look back at the genre’s legacy — and the Black experience — Lovecraft Country isn’t just horror. It’s real life.

The first episode of Lovecraft Country will premiere August 16 on HBO and HBO Max.

Editors' Recommendations