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Lovecraft Country Premiere: “Sundown”

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After the critical success of Get Out and Us, I was eager to see what Jordan Peele would do next. With film, he has been focusing on his own original works, and they are cerebral, compelling, and thought-provoking. With television, his focus has been on adaptations, but they are no less intelligent or insightful. His Twilight Zone (CBS) is a perfect project for him, a remake of a show that was intended by its creator to raise questions and make observations on current political affairs and philosophical questions. Its creator, Rod Serling, would have loved Jordan Peele’s take on The Twilight Zone.

17472bc0c988a13c3a832566ced505b4Lovecraft Country also seems like a perfect project for Peele to adapt. In this case, he is the producer, and the showrunner is Misha Green of Underground fame. As I mentioned in my review of Us, representation matters. Peele and Green understand that. The protagonist Atticus “Tic” Freeman (Jonathan Majors) embodies that. Lovecraft Country centers on Atticus, a young soldier who has just returned home to Chicago from Korea in the 1950s. Atticus had become distanced from his family in Chicago, but he decides to go home after receiving a mysterious letter from his father, who has since disappeared. Together with his uncle, George (the always wonderful Courtney B. Vance), and childhood friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett), Tic travels to the sinister town of Ardham, Massachusetts. They undertake a journey through parts of the country that are not safe for a black family in America during Jim Crow.

The premiere episode of Lovecraft Country (titled “Sundown”) is necessarily comprised of setup. We are introduced to characters, locations, entanglements, and estrangements. Tic has had problems with his father. Letitia has become distant from her siblings as well. George is trying to preserve his wife and his daughter’s sense of wonder and creativity while protecting them from the horrors of the road. He spends his time literally finding ways for black folks to navigate America safely, leaving his beloved family at home. Though the series shows patience in laying the groundwork for the dynamics between the characters, there is nevertheless a lot of plot progression and suspense during its first hour. As the trio leaves their friendly Chicago neighborhood, they are immediately made to feel unwelcome by the different groups of white people they meet along the road. They are keenly aware that they can be harmed and even killed if they cross the wrong individual. Unfortunately, they are about to realize that the wrong individual can sometimes be supernatural in nature.

Lovecraft Country is not a simple show to categorize. It is a drama, it is horror, it is science fiction. Most importantly, it is a show that acts as a discourse with history, both literal and literary. People of color have grown up loving and dreaming about stories written by white authors for white audiences, featuring white characters. Often, these stories, much beloved by minority folks, make a point of putting down and insulting these same minority audiences. In “Sundown,” Tic mentions H.P. Lovecraft’s most blatantly racist poem. That is the reason the series bears Lovecraft’s name: he is a giant in the pantheon of science fiction, talented, admired and emulated, yet he was also an obscene racist. Lovecraft supported Hitler and segregation and he believed in the inferiority of non-whites. Lovecraft is just one of many writers who have expressed their contempt for other races. When Peele and Green called author Matt Ruff to express their interest in Lovecraft Country, Ruff quickly understood why:

“Part of what I tried to dramatise in the book is the difficulty black nerds had in loving a genre that was constantly ignoring them.”

Like Atticus, Peele and Green are black folks who love genre fiction. Lovecraft Country is a way for them to comment on what came before, as well as leave their own mark on the genre as it moves forward. They purposely populate their world with creative, vibrant black characters who love to read and to dream and to create art. Also, their experience as black folks in America means that they recognize horror that many white people might not see in their everyday lives: fraught interactions with the police, for example.

This is an exciting time in sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, full of new voices. I look forward to what this series could be, though I am aware that one episode is not indicative of the whole. I already love its characters, and I want to see more of George’s family members. Not having read the book, I don’t know where the plot will take us, and there is always a risk that the creators will lose said plot, but for now, I’m interested in seeing what they have up their sleeves.

What did you think of the premiere? Let us know in the comments below.

HBO’s Lovecraft Country airs on Sundays at 9 PM EST.

Before you go, check out the latest teaser for the series:

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