Lovecraft Country: Negotiating Humanity and the Black Body

Season 1, Episode 1

Lovecraft Country is a dark fantasy horror television series grappling with the Jim Crow Laws in the United States. Developed by Misha Green and based on the work of Matt Ruff, the series follows the characters Letitia, Atticus, and George in search of Montrose Freeman.

Season 1 Episode 1, is a perfect introduction to Lovecraft Country. This episode shows you what racism does to the body. The audience does not know because the piece is explaining it to you, you know it is wrong because you feel it with each scene. You feel it when you juxtapose the scene of sweet love between Uncle George and Hippolyta. Then, when the audience is greeted by Sheriffs at the county line with shotguns. The audience feels it when we see the loving community of Chicago and then experience the shots from firemen in Simmonsville. In each scene, the audience is taken through seemingly mundane activities, withe jarring experiences that come with being black.

This jarring feeling is perfectly displayed in the scene after crossing the tracks to leave the county before the sun is down. As Letitia, Atticus, and Uncle George leave Sheriff Eustice, they think they are in the clear but are immediately met by officers from a different county. Shotguns in hand, the officers march Letitia Atticus, and George, in the forest while brainstorming stories to justify the death, harm, or criminalization of the black body. At that moment, they know that whiteness and the state grant them immunity, which allows the police to negotiate the rights of these black bodies. They do so with laughter and you feel what whiteness is to the black body, a threat.

“The world does not need white people to civilize others. The real White People’s Burden is to civilize ourselves.”

― Robert Jensen, The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism, and White Privilege

When Sheriff Eustice Hunt transforms into a Shoggoth, the last officer refuses to shoot him. He also never ceases to stop pointing his gun at Atticus and George. His allegiance to whiteness won’t allow him to turn his gun away and shoot his partner. He is more afraid of what the black body can do than what a monster can do. His failure to turn away from whiteness ultimately led to his death.

“If we are to be honest with ourselves, we must admit that the “Negro” has been inviting whites, as well as civil society’s junior partners, to the dance of social death for hundreds of years, but few have wanted to learn the steps. They have been, and remain today — even in the most anti-racist movements, like the prison abolition movement — invested elsewhere. This is not to say that all oppositional political desire today is pro-white, but it is usually anti-Black, meaning it will not dance with death.”

― Frank B. Wilderson III

Letitia, George, Hippolyta, and Atticus are educated, living the “right way”, abiding by the rules, and serving their country. Yet, all of these markers of humanity and citizenship are constantly stripped away when they venture further than Chicago. When they are confronted with this reality, the characters develop a sort of sixth sense or muscle or feeling that helps us examine a scenario, space, and a person, and immediately know if there is impending danger.

The first instance of this sixth sense is when Atticus is driving. Without prompting, Atticus hyper-focused on the fire department with three white men and a barking German Shepherd in front. There is no reason to be afraid, but that image sticks in his head and is highlighted as he travels to the diner. Later, we find out, that his fear or caution was right. The audience would soon find themselves chased by the same group who sat outside the fire department. The second scene that highlights this sixth sense is inside the diner. When, Atticus, Letitia, and George enter the diner, they read the face of the patron, and sense the hesitation of the waiter. They decide at that moment to look for signs of impending danger. Uncle George sits aware but hopeful and scans the menu. Letitia follows the waiter to the back and overhears his conversation alluding to danger. Atticus scans the room noticing the brick wall painted white after being torched for feeding a black patron. Without having seen nor hear danger, they rush out sensing the wrath of white supremacy and are met by the three firemen from the previous scene.

Visually seeing how black bodies process their environment shows the audience what black bodies go through to survive. We try to explain the amount of energy exerted to outmaneuver white supremacy, but it is difficult to adequately demonstrate exactly what that energy is or sixth sense is. However, with the first episode of Lovecraft Country, we see a perfect rendering of the strangeness of being in a black body. In a scene with Hippolyta played by Aunjanue Ellis, she asks the crew, “are we checklist ready?” Meaning are you prepared to go out into this world as a black body? Do you know your humanity and citizenship could be negotiated? Do you know that white supremacy can take your body with inequity? Do you know the rules? “Say no sir and yes sir to police”, “you cannot do the same things your white friends can”, “remember my number”, “never sign anything from the police without my presence”, “be aware of your surroundings”, “don’t look suspicious”, “Don’t wear a hoodie”, and “don’t walk too slow in neighborhoods.”

It is strange and unreasonable to ask a group of people to negotiate their identity every time they step outside their house. It is unreasonable to constantly prepare yourself for the ways that you can be hurt. To live in that state is to be in a horror novel. To be on edge daily feels like facing a monster. To be anxious all the time feels like impending doom and Lovecraft Country shows that doom and fear is as much with white people as it is with monsters.

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