Supernatural horror and real world monsters collide in HBO’s Lovecraft Country. Adapted from Matt Ruff’s novel (that’s based on H.P. Lovecraft’s iconic yet racist works), the show feels more timely than ever. The cast spoke on the Lovecraft Country ComicCon@Home panel about their characters and the ugly truth of American society, both then and now.
Produced by Misha Green, Lovecraft Country follows Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors), his friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett), and his Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) as they embark on a road trip across 1950s Jim Crow America in search of Atticus’ missing father (Michael Kenneth Williams). This journey soon becomes a struggle to survive both the racist terrors of white America and the terrifying otherworldly creatures they encounter.
“It’s a family drama,” Smollett-Bell explained, that explores “who we were as a nation.”
“And how the themes of what happened back then are still going on today,” Vance noted.
We learned that George is essentially writing the green book as they travel across the country. Rather than a terrible Oscar Award winning movie, the green book “was this manual that was used by Black citizens that gave an outline of places that were safe to go to in segregationist America” like restaurants, hotels, and vacation spots, Aunjanue Ellis, who plays George’s wife Hippolyta, explained.
Hippolyta and George are essentially discovering new areas to pass along that are safe when Letitia hitches a ride with them.
“She’s traveled across the country as a photographer covering the Civil Rights Movement,” but then she returns home and is still estranged from her family, Smollett-Bell said. “There’s this animosity and this real resentment that exists between Leti and [her sister] Ruby,” who has a more stable life situation than Leti.
Fighting both humans and monsters is a lot to ask of the characters, but the show perfectly balances the “socially charged mixed with the bizarre,” Williams said. “This was a particularly good reminder of The Twilight Zone for me.”
For Majors, the big draw for him was how three-dimensional Atticus was, as he challenges the “archetypical” roles that Black people tend to play. “Atticus is a bibliophile [and] an adventurer,” he said.
We also learned a bit about Abbey Lee’s Christina Braithwhite. “She’s the only daughter of a leader of a secret order called the Sons of Adam,” Lee said. “She’s a white antagonist” who Lee likened to a “Karen” type. “She represents the oppressed 1950s woman liberating herself from patriarchal society … all while doing it with her white privilege.”
It’s unavoidable that Lovecraft Country is going to feel all too prescient for today. The cast explained that at one point Atticus and his family get approached by cops in a sundown town, which is a town where “Black people needed to get out of town before sundown, otherwise they’re fair game to be killed.” It’s scenes like these that Smollett-Bell said were particularly tough, and the show contains “so many themes that resonate with us as Black Americans in 2020.” Trauma, she said, is generational, like a “blood memory” passed down.
“It’s something that’s ancient, systematic racism,” Majors explained. In their show, racism is the “demonic spirit” that follows them wherever they go; they just happen to be plagued with literal monsters on top of that.
It’s heavy, but Vance noted that he hopes through education that the scenes that unfold in Lovecraft Country will one day feel like dated history, rather than a terrifying echo of present day.
And ultimately, the cast is optimistic that the blend of social commentary, action, and horror will strike a chord with viewers, just as Get Out and Watchmen did in different ways. “You thought you had something going on with Game of Thrones? Watch out,” Vance said with a laugh. “We working our throne, and this ain’t something you’ve ever seen before.”