Lovecraft Country
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Lovecraft Country and the reparations of H.P. Lovecraft's karma

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Sep 21, 2020, 6:00 PM EDT

Content warning: Discussions of racial violence and racially violent language.

Reparations for African Americans have always been a source of controversy in the United States' history. Historically, enslaved African Americans were "promised" 40 acres and a mule upon emancipation from their plantation. This exchange of capital for capital bears scandal in our history because of its failure to accurately compensate a group of individuals that were treated as animals for numerous decades — and the farce became the first of many failed reconciliatory acts by the U.S. starting from Emancipation/Reconstruction to the Civil Rights movement and even up to today, the Black Lives Matter era.

While fiscal reparations are criminally overdue for African Americans, it should be noted that money is not the only thing that is owed to the ancestors of those enslaved Africans. The nameless artists, philosophers, and writers who were overlooked and lost due to mercantilist capitalist greed are owed a voice in so many of our artistic spaces — including horror. The genre of fear and terror is, ironically, the best in which to suss out the ugly undertones of our society. Author H.P. Lovecraft made a career of writing about the squalors of human life and created legendary beasts that were the result of the irrational human mind. The real fear for him, however, was the acceptance of those who differed from him — ethnically.

Credit: Elizabeth Morris/HBO

Lovecraft Country has taken the quarantined masses by storm and for some, the concept is a bit murky and brand new. Quite frankly, the legacy of Lovecraft the man is one of eugenics, xenophobia, and Cthulhu. Though some will argue that it is necessary to separate an artist's personal life from their body of work, this belief appears to only have weight when the artist is a cisgender white man. Thus enters the brilliance of Lovecraft Country, adapted by Misha Green from the 2016 novel written by Matt Huff. The source material was created as a means of reimagining the terrors of Lovecraft's imaginary world in the context of American sociological horrors endured by the same people he loathed in real life.

The show is none too shy to disclose the fact that Lovecraft was no friend to the marginalized and racialized people of his time. Many tend to forget Lovecraft naming his cat the N-word and the xenophobia internalized in his characters in numerous short stories ("Red Door" or "The Rats in the Walls," to name some). For his mythos and legacy to be rewritten to showcase his own monstrous participation in white supremacist colonialist culture is a form of reparations for those who have loved his work but knew that he would dismiss their praise if he knew that they were Black or a person of color. In the pilot of the series, Atticus and George Freeman (Jonathan Majors and Courtney B. Vance) lament on their joint love for Lovecraftian tales but grimace at the grisly details of the author's personal transgressions. They seem to give him a pass, choosing their love of his stories and the genre over his well-known racist tendencies.

"On the Creation of n******," Atticus sighed, as he picked up a copy of The Outsider and Others. "Pops made me memorize it word for word when he caught me reading this. Thought it would turn me off the pulp trash here to respectable literature." This acknowledgment of Atticus's love for the pulp genre, but also his awareness of how terrible Lovecraft was, is something that a lot of Black people in subgenre culture have had to do repeatedly. The separation of art and the artist becomes necessary during a time where Black subgenre content is a rarity — and to forget the harsh realities of the world towards our communities.

Credit: HBO

Upon Atticus' discovery of his father's disappearance in Lovecraft Country (aka the deepest pits of WASP hell), the show invites us to step into the slow-burning of dread and anticipation of the protagonist, just as Lovecraft had successfully done in his novels. "Lovecraftian" themes present include secret powerships, unfathomable hierarchies, and yup — racism. With the trio in his unknown universes, Lovecraft could have based his literary monsters off of his own racist perceptions of non-white individuals. In Atticus' world, the monsters are not only fictional but also exist in the same county and world that coddles beliefs Lovecraft internalized throughout his life. The art and the artist walk hand in hand and take an entire world with them.

The irony and the glory of this show insists that the true monsters in this story are very much human. The atrocities of white supremacy, Jim Crow, eugenics, anti-blackness, and misogynoir are real horrors that Black people have endured and still endure to this day. From this oppression, we have found the resilience to build off of the systems that have dealt us faulty options. In a sense of creating reparations for ourselves, we have been adept at taking those options and using them for our own benefit and expression. In retrospect, Black people are now allowed to take the craft into our own hands and to wield it as a sociological means of righteous expression. The loss of Black voices in science fiction, horror, and fantasy has created toxic fandoms that feel comfortable coddling the so-called great white creators of the past decades.

Black children should be allowed to embrace artists that affirm their existence while giving them a vision of artistic possibilities. Atticus Freeman, had he not been a Black man from the south side of Chicago, could have been the pulp fiction author whose influence spread like wildfire. Lovecraft Country envisions another world where we confront the monsters of our own realities in hopes of gaining the privilege to create harmless, imaginary ones. While Lovecraft may be spinning in his grave at this adaptation, the timing couldn't be more appropriate. Black people are owed the time and space to exist in realms of fantasy and science fiction and horror — and to triumph against our own frightful creatures — by any means.

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