Lovecraft Country review: This sci-fi horror addresses racism and violence without rehashing trauma

An adaptation of Mark Ruff’s novel, set in the Jim Crow era, this 10-part series deals with both racist monsters and literal monsters

Chanté Joseph@chantayyjayy
Monday 17 August 2020 14:04
Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett-Bell star in new HBO series 'Lovecraft Country'
Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett-Bell star in new HBO series 'Lovecraft Country'

Lovecraft Country is one-part monster-fuelled horror, one-part condemnation of racism and oppression in the Jim Crow era. That it merges the two and manages to be both educational and entertaining is no mean feat.

The first episode of the 10-part sci-fi series, which is based on the novel by Mark Ruff, introduces our main character, a young and curious Atticus Black (Jonathan Majors). Atticus, who left the Korean War jaded by his experiences and rejected by his country, receives a mysterious note – in the way that all good stories start – from his vanishing father. He has a “secret legacy and birthright”, his father claims, that has been kept from him. As he begins to investigate these claims, an increasingly distressed Atticus weaves through the small town, picking up confusing clues with furrowed brows and finding friends and family committed to helping him.

There is a genuine softness to Atticus, despite him having experienced the cruelty of combat. He is warm and forgiving. His father, a well known abusive drunk, made his childhood a misery – yet still, he goes on a dangerous journey to find him. With help from his jovial uncle George Freeman (Courtney B Vance), who curates the “Safe Negro Travel Guide”, and old school friend Letitia “Leti” Lewis, an artist and activist played by Jurnee Smollett-Bll, he sets off on a journey to find his father and discover the truth about his past.

The show keeps you alert. There is a constant feeling of heightened anxiety, as the characters duck and weave from white supremacists who won’t let them eat in peace, and cops that enforce sundown law. Just when you think they have narrowly escaped death by the hands of racist monsters, they are met with – you guessed it – literal monsters. But when things become too much, they are helped by mysterious beings who are protecting them on the journey to complete a greater mission.

The series is set in the Jim Crow era, and adequately addresses the racism and violence waged on African Americans – but it does so in a way that adds to the story, rather than rehashing trauma for our entertainment. Each character, each story, each line serves a purpose that helps to build a world of mystery, magic and Lovecraftian lore.

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