H. P. Lovecraft, whose work inspired the surreal horror aspects of the show, was a prolific writer of unsettling pulp fiction in the early 1900’s.
The show, based on Matt Ruff’s bestselling 2016 novel, takes place in the mid-fifties Jim Crow era, and throws “Lovecraftian” horrors and cosmic freakery into the mix with systemic racism and violence.
It’s a genuine “Who’s the REAL monster here?” situation, and it couldn’t come at a more appropriate time.
The ensemble cast is led by Jonathan Majors (White Boy Rick) as Atticus Black, Jurnee Smollett-Bell (Birds of Prey) as Letitia Dandridge, Courtney B. Vance (American Crime Story) as George Black, Wunmi Mosaku (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) as Ruby Dandridge, Aunjanue Ellis (If Beale Street Could Talk) as Hippolyta Black, Michael Kenneth Williams (Hap & Leonard) as Montrose Freeman, Abbey Lee (Mad Max: Fury Road) as Christina Braithwhite, and Tony Goldwyn (Scandal) as Samuel Braithwhite. Also starring Jamie Harris (Rise of the Planets of Apes) as Eustace Hunt, Jamie Chung (The Gifted) as Ji-Ah, Jordan Patrick Smith as William, Jamie Neumann as Hillary, Erica Tazel as Dora Freeman, and Mac Brandt as Lancaster.
The series mainly follows a trio who drive across America to find the missing father of genre fan Atticus, played by Majors. He is accompanied by his friend Letitia (Smollett) and his uncle (Courtney B. Vance). As they travel in service of the main story arc, they document towns that are either friendly or hostile to their skin color, while dealing with escalating threats both human and supernatural in nature.
Seven of the show’s cast members were on hand, broadcasting via webcams from the comfort of their homes including Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Jonathan Majors, Michael Kenneth Williams, Aunjanue Ellis, Wunmi Mosaku, Abbey Lee and Courtney B. Vance. The conversation ranged from experiences on set (much of the show is filmed in Chicago,) to the cast’s experiences with real-life racism.
There was much talk of the family vibe on set. Vance shared, “There were challenges on our set, as in on all sets, and we became tighter… I’m always so wonderfully impressed by the organized chaos of a set… How the family happens when you don’t know nobody, and you’ve gotta do an intimate scene on the first day! ”
Michael added this about his first day, “It was …a very difficult scene emotionally, a lot of heavy lifting, and when the cameras, when the director yelled “Cut!” we couldn’t stop… so much energy on set. That day I knew I was around family.”
When talk turned to the characters dealing with racism, Smollett-Bell noted “In general, tapping into the systemic racism that our nation’s been built upon, it is, of course, a dark place to go to, but it’s necessary.”
Majors added a personal anecdote about growing up in Texas, which he summed up with “getting pulled over by the cops was the worst day you could have.”
His fellow black cast members could relate and told emotionally jarring personal stories as well.
On a lighter note, Smollett-Bell and Majors laughed about the FX people spending an hour trying to get “some monster spit” just right, so it wasn’t all heavy stuff. It looks like HBO is, once again, pulling out all the stops for this one. Everything in the impressive, nightmarish trailer suggests that production values are through the roof. Watch below:
If Lovecraft had been told, at the turn of the twentieth century, that a black cast was the centerpiece of a show based on his work, he might have come unglued in the same manner as his characters. The author was fairly racist, perhaps a product of his day, but he was also a genre-defining storyteller whose influence in popular media is as present as ever.
The next time there’s a Comic-Con we can actually attend, we can look forward to seeing some attendees cosplaying as these characters, posing for pictures with some brave person on stilts towering over them in a Cthulhu costume.
Lovecraft Country premieres on HBO on August 16.
Katharin Mraz is a contributing writer for Reel Chicago and Reel 360. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org+