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The Creative Symbolism Behind Lovecraft Country



In 2020, HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' had viewers on the edge of their seats every Sunday night, eagerly awaiting the next twist in the plot. Over ten gripping episodes, we followed Jonathan Majors' stellar portrayal of Atticus "Tic" Freeman as he navigated the complexities of magic and race during the Jim Crow era.


While the jaw-dropping visuals of monsters and mind-bending plot twists may have stolen the spotlight, what many overlooked were the layers of symbolism woven throughout the series. Misha Green, the brilliant showrunner who transformed Matt Ruff's novel into a visual spectacle, left us with a trail of symbolic breadcrumbs connected to Black culture and its rich history, leaving us hungry for more in season two. Amidst the sci-fi and spine-chilling horror, 'Lovecraft Country' delves into real-life experiences of African American culture from the past.


So, what were these hidden messages, and what do they truly signify? Dive into the fascinating world of 'Lovecraft Country' where every scene holds a deeper meaning, unveiling profound insights into the African American experience.



The Murder of Emmett Till

In the somber tale of 1955, a 14-year-old boy named Emmett Till, hailing from the south side of Chicago, met a tragic end during a visit to family in Mississippi. The catalyst for this devastating event was the accusation that Till had flirted with a white woman. Subsequently, he was violently abducted from his family's home, subjected to horrific torture, and mercilessly shot before his lifeless body was callously discarded in the Tallachatcie River. Shockingly, the murderers, who later admitted their guilt in an interview, were granted freedom through an acquittal delivered by an all-white jury.


Following the recovery of Emmett's body, his mother, Mamie, faced an agonizing decision. Opting for a courageous stance against racism, she chose to have a public viewing and an open-casket funeral in Chicago. This decision was a powerful testament to the atrocities inflicted upon black youth by racism, with Mamie Till hoping to expose the harsh reality to the world.


In the series, Dee, Tic's niece and a close friend of Emmett, is profoundly shaken upon learning of his brutal demise. The narrative takes a chilling turn as two police officers, embodying malevolence, curse Dee. Soon, she finds herself pursued by two eerie little girl demons, burdened with a curse she cannot shake on her own—a haunting parallel to the peril faced by her, much like the color of her skin. The storyline unfolds, intertwining historical tragedy with supernatural horrors, leaving viewers captivated and contemplative.



In a striking scene from episode eight, 'Lovecraft Country' delivers another powerful moment through the character Christina Braithwhite, brought to life by Abbey Lee Kershaw. In a profound attempt to empathize with the pain felt by Emmett Till and the African American community on a daily basis, Christina orchestrates an experience mirroring the violence inflicted upon Till. The narrative, while direct in its portrayal within the Lovecraft universe, mirrors a larger societal aspiration—encouraging others to step into the shoes of those who have endured such profound suffering, fostering a deeper understanding of the culture's struggles.



The Hunting of The Winthrop House

Once Leti, portrayed by the talented Jurnee Smollett-Bell, secures a stunning house in an initially unwelcoming North side neighborhood, she quickly discovers that her new abode is haunted by ghosts whose lives met tragic ends within those very walls. Each specter represents a chilling chapter in the experiments orchestrated by the fictional character Dr. Hiram Epstein, culminating in their untimely deaths. The once-beautiful home now harbors not only the architectural echoes of the past but also the lingering spirits of those who fell victim to dark and haunting experiments.



Later in the season, Leti, fortunately, plays a pivotal role in helping the spirits find solace and liberation. While her fictional narrative unfolds, it is rooted in the harsh realities of history. In a parallel to Leti's storyline, the removal of the J. Marion Sims statue in New York City in 2018 reflects a reckoning with a dark chapter. Sims, a 19th-century gynecologist, once hailed as the "father of gynecology," conducted disturbing experiments on enslaved women, a fact that finally prompted the removal of his statue from Central Park after standing for decades.


Sims is just one example of a broader historical pattern where individuals, predominantly people of color, were exploited as unwilling test subjects. Enslaved individuals and those from the black community were subjected to medical trials and research without their consent. This troubling legacy extends into modern times, where people of color still face discrimination in the medical field when seeking help and treatments, underscoring the urgent need for awareness and change.


A Travel Guide for Black Americans

Uncle George embarks on a cross-country journey, meticulously documenting safe locations for Black travelers along the way. His travel guides offer valuable recommendations for African American travelers, including suitable restaurants for dining, gas stations for refueling, and hotels for a restful stay. Uncle George goes the extra mile, providing safety tips to discern which towns are safe enough to drive through.


This travel guide initiative echoes a historical publication known as "The Green Book," which circulated between 1936 and 1966. Victor Hugo Green, a Harlem postal carrier, authored this guide as a response to rampant discrimination in the South. The guidebook aimed to empower black individuals, offering a sense of security when traveling in their own cars as opposed to relying on buses or trains.


Victor Hugo Green continued publishing his travel guides for over 24 years until his passing in 1960 at the age of 67. Following his death, much like Uncle George's wife, Green's wife assumed the role of editor for about six more years, consistently releasing updated guides. Fortunately, the need for such guides diminished with the advent of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, marking a significant step towards a more inclusive and equitable society.

Just Plain Old Racism

In the 1950s setting of the show, 'Lovecraft Country' vividly confronts the harsh realities of racism endured by Black Americans during that era. The series unflinchingly portrays segregated spaces like ice cream parlors and movie theaters, offering a stark visual of the challenges faced by the Black community, especially when navigating through the infamous "Sundown towns" in the South. Notably, the show incorporates symbols deeply rooted in the culture's past, with Aunt Jemima being a prominent example, retired only in 2020 due to its troubling ties to slavery.


The opening scene features Atticus sitting in the colored section at the back of the bus, a poignant depiction of bus segregation. Even though the 1940s saw the Supreme Court ruling against bus segregation, the South remained resistant to change. States in the South consistently ignored the ruling, facing little challenge until the emergence of the Freedom Riders and supporting activists, leading to the official lifting of seating segregation in the Southern region.


Throughout the season, 'Lovecraft Country' becomes a powerful educational tool, recreating historical photographs and delving into the terrifying reality of "Sundown towns" in the South. The show sets out with a mission to educate Americans, and by all indications, it has succeeded admirably. The series, with its gripping tension, substantial educational symbolism, and exceptional storytelling, makes a compelling case for continuation. The world needs a season 2!


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