A couple of weeks ago, Issa Rae did a hilarious skit for Saturday Night Live, in which she tried to explain HBO’s Lovecraft Country to a group of friends, leaving them bewildered and disinterested. The skit really hit home for me, as I’ve spent the last two months justifying my affinity for the show that’s so layered with competing elements, it’s impossible to sell.
One wonders how producers, Jordan Peele and Mischa Green, packaged violent racism, witchcraft, aliens, and ghosts so neatly as to win the HBO commission in the first place, but I’m grateful that they did. The world of torment and mysticism presented by the Lovecraft writers facilitated my much-needed weekly escapism from the COVID clusterfuck that is 2020.
I’m not a fan of traditional horror storylines but Lovecraft Country is far from traditional. Based on a Matt Ruff novel of the same name, the series was intended as a subversion of the racially insensitive works of historically renowned sci-fi/horror writer, H.P Lovecraft and his peers. In centering the plights of Black people in 1950s segregated America, the show mounts how unprocessed racial trauma can be a more sinister demon than anything the underworld has to offer. That’s not to say that there’s any shortage of actual monsters and demons, quite the contrary; most episodes are peppered with spine-chilling supernatural creatures, that unnerved me to my core.
The show is also rich with plot, following protagonist Atticus Freeman on an initial quest to find his missing father, that unfolds into so much more. In ten, hour-long episodes, we get everything from troubled family dynamics to imperialist exploitation, to Korean folklore. Truly jam-packed, the heavy concentration of complex themes is at once the best and worst thing about Lovecraft Country. Critics of the show have complained that certain storylines and characters were underdeveloped, resulting in shallow explorations of heavy themes such as internalised-homophobia and misogynoir.
I agree to an extent that certain representations lacked depth but for me, that doesn’t diminish the show’s eerie allure or poignancy. I was captivated by the elements of heartbreak and romance in the story as well as the abundance of bossy female characters and the dark humour scattered throughout. My fave of the Lovecraft bad bitches has to be Hippolyta, played by Aunjanue Ellis; she’s a gregarious housewife with big dreams and a penchant for the stars. Her character personifies the struggles of so many Black women at the time, who were forced to suppress their passions in pursuit of peaceful family life.
The authenticity I saw in characters like Hippolyta is also present in the narrative. The writers made the conscious decision to reference various historic atrocities, such as the brutal murder of Emmett Till and the Tulsa Massacre of 1921. Though gut-wrenching to watch, these scenes are some of the most powerful in the show as they provoke genuine emotion and expand the audience’s knowledge of America’s racist past, allowing us to draw parallels with how racism manifests there in the present-day.
Overall, I would say the show is an uncomfortable yet gripping viewing experience. Each episode left me spooked and head-spinning but I was always thirsting for the next installment. I envy those of you who waited and now have the luxury of binge-watching because the suspense from week to week was almost unbearable. I’m usually quite good at predicting story arches (because I watch too much TV) but Lovecraft served plot twists aplenty and had me shook right until the end. If tense, historical dramas, or majority-Black casts are your bag, then don’t let the fantastical horror stuff put you off; you may never be able to describe it to your mates but it’s definitely worth the watch.