Surviving 2020: Watching “Lovecraft Country”

By Joan Amenn

If there was any cinematic solace to be had for me in 2020, it was Misha Green’s “Lovecraft Country.” COVID-19 became symbolized in the supernatural horror of the series while the injustices of this year were echoed in the experiences of the characters in the 1950’s. As producer, writer and director (of the episode, “Jig-a-Bobo”) Green brought the issues that were flashing through our newsfeeds into deeper focus and I am so grateful she did. Jurnee Smollett as Letitia Lewis was the hero I needed as a woman who is fighting to find her place in the world but never for a minute doubts her own worth. She and Aunjanue Ellis as Hippolyta Freeman strive to improve their lives under the dark cloud of racism and the threat of otherworldly forces they do not completely understand. Hippolyta, in particular, spoke to me as a woman who needs to be more than just a traditional wife and mother but is fierce in her devotion to her child.

The entire cast is outstanding but the female roles are particularly strong which was so satisfying. The most powerful episodes dealt with the history of racial injustice in America and I don’t think Green had any idea while filming them how perfectly they would frame the ongoing protests of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020. She unflinchingly reminded her audience that “sundowning,” segregation and prejudice never really went away in the daily life of African Americans. To see the history of racial injustice juxtaposed with the present day struggle that was depicted in social media was both horrifying and inspiring. There is so much dignity, intelligence, and strength in the main characters of “Lovecraft Country.” They are not perfect and don’t pretend to be but they do persist and endure. Decades of oppression, hurt and misunderstanding do not stop them from claiming their right to happiness as best as they can achieve it. In the episode that Green directed, the focus is on the children like Emmett Till who must grow up in a sometimes terrifying world or perish at its hands. Horror in “Lovecraft Country” can occur in the bright sunshine of day as much as the foreboding darkness of night.

The series is a reminder that humanity is its own worst enemy and can either rise up to conquer the monsters within us all or be crushed under the weight of terror much worse than any slithering, multiple armed beasts that Lovecraft could dream up. I was riveted to the screen for each episode and can’t wait for the series to return. Like all great art, it raised a mirror to our times and I can only hope that the strife of 2020 ebbs somewhat in the coming year. I’m sure Misha Green will continue to point the way to constructive dialog in “Lovecraft Country” even as she scares us out of our minds.

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