Set in the United States in the 50s, that is, in Jim Crow’s America with all its laws and segregation, this HBO series questions and confronts the racism of then (and now) from a perspective of terror, fantasy and the mixture of genres.
It’s clear from the get-go of “Lovecraft Country”, the series which premiered on August 17 on HBO and scheduled to air episode five on Monday, September 14, from the very opening sequence, the keys to this disturbing and surprising series. The premise: the real monsters are not supernatural beings, but institutionalized racism.
To go back to the beginning, the series is set in the United States of the 1950s. The protagonist is a young black man, Atticus (Jonathan Majors), a Korean war veteran who, after returning to a country that despises him, decides to cross the America of segregation to find his missing father (Kenneth Williams). He is accompanied on this adventure by his friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett) and his uncle George (Courtney B. Vance), editor of a travel guide for blacks so they can find safe routes to avoid getting beaten up, or worse still, even killed.
But before we introduce you to the entire family and dive into this road trip where white racists are a threat legitimized by Jim Crow laws, Tick has a dream in which the traumas of war meet the fantastic creatures from his favorite author’s work, gripping stories written by recalcitrant racists like H.P. Lovecraft. As he explains later, he enjoys these tales even knowing that, as a Negro, he could never be the hero.
With this introduction, it’s hardly surprising that the all-absorbing pilot manages to navigate between family drama and psychological terror, typical customs of the day, even including a musical number, and comedy, transmitting to viewers that feeling of constant alertness with which Atticus, in particular, and all African Americans, in general, are forced to live. It also manages to depict the insecurity and inequalities that blacks in America still suffer today, as evidenced by the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the assassination of George Floyd. And it points to the roots of a problem that goes back, as both the actors and the creators of the series have explained, to the founding fathers.
In this sense, if the first episode is titled Sundown, a reference to the cities where white supremacists, in this case led by the sheriff, could kill any black man at sunset, the second, Whitey’s on the Moon, points to the hard-hitting musical poem by Gil Scott-Heron that criticized the US government’s huge spending on the space race while the black population lived in misery.
On the narrative front the series once again changes topic, taking the action to a mysterious mansion where our intrepid trio come into contact with a secret society of wizards, whose spells force them to face their worst fears. Already in the third episode, Holy Ghost, and without giving too much away on the spoiler front, terror dominates over fiction with a haunted house and trapped spirits as protagonists, without abandoning the social critique. Episode four, A history of violence, dissects the adventure genre: from the search for the hidden treasure to the encrypted messages to find it, including the map with clues, the perilous challenges through tunnels, hidden passages and cliffs or the fantastic beings come from another world.
As such, each episode of “Lovecraft Country” destroys any certainty the viewer may have about the which path the series might take, forcing them to reconstruct the story and deconstruct themselves at every step along the way. A fascinating challenge in a time dominated by fast-paced dramas that are forgotten as soon as they are released.
Behind “Lovecraft Country” is showrunner Misha Green, executive producer, and screenwriter of the series “Underground,” a period drama set in 1857 about a group of slaves from a Georgia plantation who traveled almost 1,000 kilometers north in the hope of achieving freedom. And in the production, Jordan Peele, director of two recent hit horror films with an African-American take on things: “Get Out” and “Us”; together with the famous J.J. Abrams, co-creator of series such as “Alias”, “Lost” and “Fringe”, and director or producer of the latest “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” trilogies.