HBO’s Lovecraft Country Review: Racial Commentary Meets Witches and Vampires

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Courtney B. Vance, Jonathan Majors et Jurnee Smollet dans Lovecraft Country. HBO

Lovecraft Country is difficult to categorize. HBO’s new drama, which premieres August 16, is set in racially segregated 1950s America, Jim Crow. But just when you think the story couldn’t be more historically accurate, the show takes a turn paranormal.

I have often been disturbed by Lovecraft Country, but not just by its monsters and evil spirits lurking in the dark. I was also scared of the depiction of towns at sunset, separate buses and separate entrances. The show describes the lives of those who have been refused service because of the color of their skin. They were harassed daily. By the police. By their white neighbors.

I am not black. I am not from America. Yet this story resonates strongly with me. It helped me better understand the historical complexities of the country to which I immigrated.

Jonathan Majors (The last black man in San Francisco) plays Atticus Freeman, a Korean War veteran with a penchant for science fiction novels. He travels to Chicago to find out what happened to his father, Montrose (Michael K. Williams), who disappeared a few weeks earlier. Atticus ends up embarking on a road trip quest through the Midwest and Massachusetts with his uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) and childhood friend Leti (Jurnee Smollett.)

The journey begins with a driving sequence on the words of James Baldwin in 1965 during a debate at the University of Cambridge on the inaccessibility of the American dream for blacks. Baldwin’s voice isn’t the only welcome anachronism in Lovecraft’s land. The soundtrack is filled with songs from Etta James and Nina Simone from the 60s, but also Rihanna, Frank Ocean and Marilyn Manson. There is footage from Leti in church that incorporates the sound of this 2017 Nike campaign that advocates for equality for the LGBTQ community. Audio from different eras connects the present and the past.

You can’t sit back and watch Lovecraft Country. The 10-episode adaptation of Matt Ruff’s novel of the same name is filled with symbolism and commentary. It includes many book references, from The Outsider and Others by HP Lovecraft to Dracula by Bram Stoker to John Carter’s stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Keep your brain switched on as you watch.

Nothing seems to be left to chance. Even Atticus’ last name is determined. He’s a slave’s great-grandson, and his name is Freeman.

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Jonathan Majors et Jurnee Smollett dans Lovecraft Country.

HBO

Amid this summer’s global protests calling for racial justice, you might think Lovecraft Country is a timely historical drama that comments on race in the United States. But that’s it and more. The show is produced by Jordan Peele (Get Out) and JJ Abrams (Lost). Misha Green (Helix) is showrunner and executive producer. There’s a reason this title has so much credibility in sci-fi and horror.

The opening sequence of Lovecraft Country is Atticus’ nightmare, haunted by the ghosts of his past as a soldier in the trenches. But it’s also filled with flying saucers and dragon-winged octopuses. This sets the tone for the rest of the show.

Lovecraft Country can be a case of intellectual challenge and racial criticism with a generous helping of gothic and fantasy, but it’s also just a very entertaining drama. And it’s entertaining without feeling like you’re trying to juggle too many coins. There are vampires and witches, haunted houses and treasure hunts. Atticus reads novels starring Confederate soldiers like John Carter, simply because there aren’t any fantasy novels starring black heroes. He ends up becoming the hero of his own story.

I loved Atticus, George, Montrose and the rest of the Freemans. They are ruthlessly bookish. Their reading habits come in handy many times. They guide the viewer through the complex mythology of this story. It’s much better if you tell them why this show is called Lovecraft Country.

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Jonathan Majors in the land of Lovecraft.

HBO

These aren’t the only interesting characters. The Leti is independent and the most skillful driver when needed. Leti’s sister, Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku), is a passionate and charismatic singer. Then there’s Christina (Abbey Lee), a witch deeply frustrated with the limits of her gender. “I don’t know which is more difficult: to be of color or to be a woman,” Ruby tells Christina.

Don’t judge any of the characters on the first impression. After watching the five episodes available for review, I realized that I had made a lot of wrong assumptions about Leti, Ruby, Atticus, and the others when I first met them.

But you can definitely judge Lovecraft Country by how it looks. he is a very sexy show, from the average production and costume design and cinematography to the incredible chemistry between Atticus and Leti. Between George and his wife, Hippolyta (Aunjanue Ellis). And among other characters. The sex scenes are filmed with style and are not limited to young people or heteronormations.

“It’s the story of a boy and his dream. But more than that, it’s the story of an American boy and a dream that is truly American. This quote from the 1950 film The Jackie Robinson Story appears at the start of Lovecraft Country and introduces the show beautifully. It is an inherently American story.

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