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The Creative Symbolism Behind “Lovecraft Country”

HBO’s ‘Lovecraft Country’ at one time had the world glued to their TVs every Sunday night to hear about the next turn in the plot of the script. For ten episodes, we watched as Atticus “Tic” Freeman, beautifully portrayed by Jonathan Majors, explore the ties and road bumps of magic and race during the Jim Crow era. 

What some may have missed while being dazzled by the amazing visual of monsters being brought to life and marvelous plot twists, is the endless symbolism. Misha Green, the showrunner who shaped Matt Ruff’s novel of the same name into a visual masterpiece, gave us a path of symbolic breadcrumbs connected to Black culture and its history that has us begging for season two! While ‘Lovecraft Country’ has plenty of sci-fi and in the dark horror, many of the scenes taking place across the show’s debut season are real life for some of the African American culture of the past. So, what were some of those hidden messages, and what did they actually mean?

The Murder of Emmett Till

In 1955, a 14-year-old boy from the south side of Chicago, Emmett Till, was murdered during a visit to family in Mississippi. It has been reported that Till was attempting to flirt with a white woman. Because of the accusation, Emmett was taken from his family’s home, horribly tortured, and shot to death before his lifeless body was thrown in the Tallachatcie River. The murderers, that would later confess in an interview, were set free by an acquittal given by an all-white jury. After his body was recovered, it was sent back to Chicago to his mother who made the hardest decision of her life. Emmett’s mother, Mamie, made the choice of having a public viewing and open-casket funeral so the world can see what racism is doing to black youth. 

Dee, Tic’s niece, being one of the close friends to Emmett is completely horrified when finding out about his death and how he was murdered. What soon comes is two police officers who end up cursing Dee and she is followed by two of the creepiest little girl demons we’ve ever seen. They had cursed her with something that she could not shake on her own and something that could very well kill her… much like the color of her skin.

Another powerful moment during episode eight, was that of Christina Braithwhite, portrayed by Abbey Lee Kershaw, making an attempt to feel the pain that Emmett Till felt and that the African American community feels every day, by having the same violent incident happen to her. While very direct in its meaning in Lovecraft, it is what the culture wants others to attempt to do; have a bit of understanding. 

The Hunting of The Winthrop House

After Leti, a role taken on by Jurnee Smollett-Bell, gets a beautiful house in a not so welcoming neighborhood on the North side, she soon finds that her new home is hunted by ghosts that lost their lives behind those walls. They all were parts of experiments by the fictional character of Dr. Hiram Epstein until their deaths.

Leti later in the season luckily help the spirits find their peace and be released to their freedom. Her fictional tale, however, is based on real historic events. In 2018, New York City removed the J. Marion Sims statue who was a 19th-century gynecologist. The statue stood in Central Park for many decades before its removal. Sims was well known for experimenting on enslaved women. J. Marion Sims, sometimes referred to as the "father of gynecology," is one of many who would use slaves and unwilling people from the black community as test subjects. Many of these people were used in medical trials and research without giving their consent.

The trends have continued into more modern times as people of color face discrimination in the medical field when seeking help and treatments. 

A Travel Guide for Black Americans

Uncle George travels across the country making note of each location along the way that are safe for those who are Black to use during their journeys. His travel guides provided the African American travelers with recommendations of restaurants to dine, gas stations to get fuel and hotels to get some rest. Uncle George also provided safety tips on which towns are even good enough to drive through. 

George’s travel guide is similar to a guide that was published between 1936 and 1966 called “The Green Book” that was created by a postal carrier from Harlem, Victor Hugo Green. Because of the furious discrimination in the south, guidebooks for the black culture were valued as black people felt safer traveling in their own cars rather the travel by bus or train. 

After more than 24 years of publishing his travel guides, Green died in 1960 at the age of 67. Much like the wife of Uncle George, Green’s wife became the editor of the travel guides for about six more years and continued to release the updated guides. Luckily, the guides became a thing of the past after the passing of the 1964’s Civil Rights Act.

Just Plain Old Racism

With the show being set in the 1950s, real-life visuals of the racism Black Americans endured back then are not pushed aside. There were plenty of images of segregated ice cream parlors and movie theaters and scenes of exactly how the Black community had to deal with “Sundown towns” as Tic, his Uncle George, and his childhood friend Leti travel through the south. There were a number of symbols of the culture’s past but the most notable was that of Aunt Jemima. This well-known face was only recently retired in 2020 because of its deep roots tied to slavery. 

Atticus in the very first scene is seen sitting in the colored section in the back of the bus. When the bus later breaks down on the side of the road, Tic and the only otherlack person who was riding were refused transport into town. Even though the 1940s turned its nose up at bus segregation due to a Supreme Court ruling, the south has always been a little… different. 

States in the south ignored the ruling and they were rarely ever challenged. It wasn’t until after the rise of the Freedom Riders and supporting activists that segregation of seating was officially lifted in the Southern region. 

So many other moments of education can be found throughout the season; from A historical photograph recreation to the frightening scenes from experiencing the world of "sundown towns" in the south. ‘Lovecraft Country’ sat out with a goal to educate Americans and it seems they have succeeded. HBO has not yet decided to renew for season two, but with the level of tension, hefty amount of educational symbolism and just great storytelling, it would be a sin not to! 

Drop me a note and tell me if you learned anything new! Don’t forget to share!


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