Content warning: The fourth paragraph contains descriptions of racist violence.
This article contains spoilers for Lovecraft Country
HBO’s Lovecraft Country takes an unoriginal concept — magic — and looks at it through a new lens: Jim Crow America. Adapted from Matt Ruff’s 2016 novel of the same name, Lovecraft Country is a wild, visceral ride through 1950s Chicago and the Jim Crow South. With a cast of compelling, complex characters, the 10-episode series is an ode to Black history with a horrifying, fantastic twist.
The series tells the story of Atticus “Tic” Freeman (Jonathan Majors), a Black Chicagoan returning home from the Korean War after receiving a mysterious letter from his father. Back home, Tic teams up with his Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) and childhood-friend-turned-love-interest Letitia “Leti” Lewis (Jurnee Smollett). Together, the band of heroes traverses the country in search of Tic’s father Monstrose (Michael K. Williams), while facing threats from violently racist police and Lovecraftian horrors along the way.
At the end of their cross-country journey, Tic and company discover a magical conspiracy to achieve immortality perpetrated by Christina Braithwhite (Abbey Lee), the scorned daughter of an ancient order of rich, white men. As the series progresses, Tic’s and Leti’s friends and family become trapped in the expanding scope of Christina’s plan and the ancient order’s history.
Lovecraft Country is a much-needed injection of Black voices into two genres — horror and fantasy — from which they have been historically excluded. Both the elements of horror and the use of magic widely mirror the fear and anxiety Black people have contended with throughout American history and today. As the sun sets, Tic, Leti, and George must race against the clock to escape a sundown county (an all-white county whose inhabitants threaten violence against any Black people within its borders after sundown) and its armed sheriff, only to be attacked by Lovecraftian creatures on the other side of the county line. Leti buys a large house in a white neighborhood with the intention to rent out the rooms to young Black adults in need, only to discover that it’s haunted by the ghost of a white eugenicist who kidnapped and experimented on Black people. Tic’s aunt Hippolyta (Aunjanue Ellis) discovers a key to a multiverse machine and accidentally travels to the far future, where she is freed from the limitations of society’s misogynoir by an afro-futurist goddess. The impact of executive producer Jordan Peele shines through, making the show a staple of Black horror, a genre that’s breaking through to mainstream audiences through films like Get Out, Us and the upcoming Candyman.
Lovecraft Country also uses music to juxtapose the show’s time period with its more modern perspective. Songs from today’s Black artists play over scenes of 1950s Chicago, creating a dichotomy between today’s Black cultural identity and the characters’ own understanding of their Blackness. From Rihanna to Frank Ocean to Tierra Whack, the anachronistic sound design explores today’s concepts of Black identity through the show’s characters while maintaining and paying homage to the identities they would have held as Black Americans in 1950s Chicago.
The characters of Lovecraft Country are complicated and compelling, and the stakes feel real. The show touches on issues of anti-Black discrimination and police violence and makes reference to events like the murder of Emmett Till and the Tulsa Massacre. The story ramps up all the way until the season’s climactic finale, exploring themes of intersecting Black identities and family along the way. While no second season has been officially announced, the first season stands on its own as a well-paced, well-written, compelling gem of a show. For any viewers looking to explore America’s modern racist history and Black horror, Lovecraft Country is an absolute must-watch.
Lovecraft Country can be streamed on HBO’s website or on demand.