Socialist Worker

Lovecraft Country turns horror tropes back at racism

Horror author HP Lovecraft supported lynching, and hated black people and Jews. But this new drama series subverts his legacy, writes Simon Basketter

Issue No. 2722

Leti, Tic and George

Leti, Tic and George

The young Korean War veteran hero of the fantastic—in many senses—new drama Lovecraft Country has a weakness for pulp stories.

Atticus “Tic” Freeman (Jonathan Majors) says, “I love that the heroes get to go on adventures in other worlds, defy insurmountable odds, defeat the monster, save the day.” 

His favourite author, the horror creator HP Lovecraft, was a supporter of Hitler and of lynching in the US to keep the white race pure.

The problem for modern horror is that Lovecraft’s legacy is everywhere. His influence is ubiquitous in fantasy popular culture.

The series teems with Lovecraftian tropes—creepy New England villages, dark mansions with esoteric secrets, and tentacle monsters shipped direct from the cosmic void. But it’s also full of the very realistic horror—the racist police violence and white power structures that our heroes must ­confront at every turn.

It is about battles with both ­monsters from myth and flesh‑and‑blood ones. There are burning crosses on lawns and ghosts in basements.

White racists are the real beasts. With the long history of black people being depicted as monsters, especially in sci-fi and horror, this is admirable.

Using supernatural ­terrors as ­metaphors for the more down‑to‑earth kind is a staple of the horror genre. But here there is something rather good going on.

It’s 1954, Tic’s Uncle George (Courtney B Vance) produces a guide that lists safe places for black ­travellers to visit—and those where it is dangerous or deadly to be out after dark.

His father is missing so Tic, George, and Tic’s old friend Leti (Jurnee Smollett) set off to find him. Their predicament involves demons, shape-shifters and white supremacist cults who can cast magic spells.

“Seems the KKK isn’t just calling themselves grand wizards anymore,” Tic says dryly as they sink deeper into nightmare.

The series is a collage of ­influences, travelling through America’s history of racial atrocities.

Tic’s father looks at a fire and mutters, “Smells like Tulsa”—the scene of the horrific 1921 massacre.

A child—Emmett Till—asks the spirits if his trip to the South will go well. “No” is the simple reply. Till was a 14 year old lynched in Mississippi in 1955.

Lovecraft’s horror was borne of malignant, baseless fear of the other—of black people, of immigrants and of Jewish people. Lovecraft Country’s horror is borne from a fear of the very real violence that results when that prejudice isn’t stopped.

There’s a haunted house story, and a treasure hunt underneath a museum. It examines sexism and homophobia along the way.

The glorious soundtrack is ­sometimes era-specific but often not. The horror is satisfyingly pulpy, but has intrigue and dread.

Leti uses a baseball bat to attack a group of cars parked around her home by racist bullies. She and her companions kneel and hold their hands in the air as the cops arrive.

The scene is as riveting as it is cathartic. As is the rest of the series—watch it.

Lovecraft Country is on Sky Atlantic and available to stream on Now TV

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