My grandfather was almost killed in a city at sunset.
I never met him, but I vividly remember my grandmother recounting how her husband, my grandfather, sometimes took trips across the country. And on several of those trips, because he didn’t know the city he was in, he would have to find accommodation before sunset because, well, maybe it’s a sunset city. Sun.
Cities at sunset, like the city I live in now, were cities where black people were relatively free to roam during the day, but once the sun went down they were arrested and sometimes killed – simply by because of the color of their skin. Sometimes the founders and rulers of these cities rationalized their treatment of people by talking about the threat of crime following blacks, but in reality it was just a way to keep people who looked like me in their place.
The story goes that one night my grandfather found himself in one of these towns. He had to keep driving for hours until he found a place that would allow him to spend the night. Fortunately, he never met a policeman, because if he had, he might have been, at best, arrested and, at worst, killed. It’s the kind of danger black people have historically faced in this country – and it’s something that HBO’s new show, Lovecraft Country, captures perfectly.
I was surprised to see how Lovecraft Country depicts the horror that can be black life in America. Yes, the show was intentional to show off the joy of Blackness by centering the music, dancing, and tenderness between George Freeman (Courtney B. Vance) and Hippolyta Freeman (Aunjanue Ellis) in the pilot’s first act, but once George, his nephew Atticus (Jonathan Majors) and the childhood friend of Atticus Letitia (the scene thief Jurnee Smollett) are leaving the confines of the house, we quickly realize that being black in this country is also loaded and full of dangers than any horror movie.
For me, this is brought home when our protagonists have a fateful encounter with the police near the end of the episode. They are informed that they are in a county with a sunset policy (hence the title of the episode, “Sundown”), and they head as soon as they can to the county line. to try not to break the law.
Misha Green, who previously co-created WGN’s Underground, is the showrunner and wrote the pilot episode, but I can feel the influence of Jordan Peele, an executive producer, on this element of the series. As Get out, this series shows that the experience of being Black in this land is far more terrifying than any creature the creators could imagine. And using horror and fantasy as a means by which they examine that reality is what elevates a good show into something that has the potential to be great.
As the shoggoths appear – those many-eyed monsters imagined by HP Lovecraft, the notoriously racist horror writer – we are intrigued by their existence, but what remains in the foreground of our minds is the fact that our protagonists have almost been killed not by the monsters that appeared, but by the monsters that actually existed. It remains for us to reflect on the beings who appeared, but the real horror of the show centered on a very real phenomenon. The thing that almost killed my grandfather.
Cities at sunset weren’t just located in the southern United States. Contrary to what many northerners believe, these cities hostile to black presence were spread across the country. In the first half of the 20e century, cities from Arkansas to Michigan proudly announced that they were black-free. During the same time period, the actions of Chevy Chase, Md. Included “restrictive covenants” that prohibited the sale or lease of the land to “any person of black blood” (in addition to “any person of Semetic [sic] race ”), and this too was not uncommon. The African-American Tubman Museum in Georgia has a sign found in Connecticut that read “White people only within city limits after dark.” And those signs weren’t empty threats: A 1940 Pittsburgh Courier article reported that a group of blacks on a trip to church in South Carolina were shot and killed by a group of white men who told them. reportedly said, ‘We don’t allow d-nn-rs’ here after the sun goes down. According to the article, five people were injured.
During the Sunday night premiere, the city our protagonists meet is in Massachusetts. I have to believe it was intentional on the part of the writers and the showrunner. They illustrate the pervasiveness of this evil and how inevitable the fate of blacks in America was.
It is not lost on me that the wicked of Lovecraft CountryThe first episode of this is the police. It’s the kind of thing that might make you call it the “show of the moment” or “the show that we need right now”, but then, is it just a moment? Do we only need it now? The police at all times in history (including this very moment) have always been antagonists in the history of America’s relationship with blacks. Misha Green was not responding to George Floyd when she wrote this episode – she was responding to the story of police violence inflicted on people whose skin has been kissed by the sun. The only thing that is new is the mythical beings that save them.