Monday With Mildred: “Lovecraft Country”

Lovecraft Country tv show posterLovecraft Country

In the opening minutes we see desperate fighting in the trenches of the mostly forgotten Korean War, in black and white with areas of color bursting out, and then there’s a huge tentacle with flying saucers in the background and a baseball player walloping the green snot out of the multi-eyed creatures on the battlefield. It has all the strong elements the viewer sees for the rest of the show, from cinematography to music to a sense of bizarreness that is either subtle or in your face.

And then the dreamer wakes, in the back of the bus he was sleeping in. Tic is in the back because that was the colored section. When the bus breaks down he and the other person in the back have to walk, carrying their luggage, while the front of the bus travelers are driven. This is our introduction to the kind of story being told. In 1950s America there was a clear racial divide, and on Tic’s side was a strict set of rules for engaging with white citizens. Following the rules doesn’t guarantee safety, and he continually runs into humiliating and deadly dangerous situations. Tic has come up from his home in Florida to look for his father in Chicago, but his journey continues into other parts of the country. They’re all dangerous to him, especially when he runs into supernatural creatures which are even more dangerous than the gun toting rednecks and evil Sheriffs.

The show is beautifully shot, with the rich color saturation of the 1950s, great lighting and camera focus to make the look keep up with the challenging story. There are so many gorgeous cars, beautiful costuming and fantastic settings that you may not notice for a while that the acting is great, subtle and powerful.

This series is based on a novel by Matt Ruff, that I really want to read now that I’ve seen the show, and the showrunner – the person who developed it, writes episodes and is an executive producer is Misha Green, a youngish African American woman. She’s known primarily as a writer for productions like Underground and Helix, but this show is mostly on her. You will recognize the many faces of actors who rarely work in productions so heavy with African American talent.

The story is challenging for me as a white viewer to watch because of the unrelenting and in your face hatred, vitriol and violence shown toward all the African American characters. I know all of it happened, but it’s tiring to know that every white character in every scene is going to be hateful. Kinda like it was tiring to tiptoe through the trips and traps of 1950s American as a black person. It may seem on the face of it to be a harsh, possibly over the top message, but I began to see it as a subtle lesson in endurance. We can turn off the tv if it gets to be too much. They didn’t have that choice.

I enjoyed basking in the knowledge of that the notoriously racist Lovecraft would have hated the use of his most famous stories as backdrop to a series sympathetically centered on the lives and tribulations of African American citizens in one of the worst eras of racial tension. Worst because it was so smothered beneath the slick and colorful surface appearances created by the ruling class. The characters in the show are familiar with Lovecraft’s works because they’re genre fans, but that doesn’t begin to prepare them for the monsters they encounter. It’s a fun sort of meta layer of stories and messages.

The show is gorgeous from every standpoint, from writing and visuals and acting to the depth of story and connections to classic horror fiction. I recommend watching this if you are a fan of horror fiction, especially if you can handle the real life horror of our history.



CFR: In Addition: Oh my YES! This show is sooooo goood! AND YES MILDRED IT IS GLORIOUS TO KNOW THAT RACIST HP IS TURNING OVER IN HIS GRAVE! And yes to the real horror in this series being racism. The real monsters, white racism and privilege. It is soooo good.

For more see Trailer Tuesday: “Lovecraft Country”.

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