Jordan Peele will finally bring his Black horror genius to HBO with ‘Lovecraft Country’
Diversity was Lovecraft’s nightmare.
by Andrew Keahey
Jordan Peele is really killing it lately. First, there was the unprecedented success of his horror opus Get Out, for which he won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Now, he’s been announced as the showrunner for a new, updated Twilight Zone. His next horror project, Us, will star Winston Duke and Lupita Nyong’o of Black Panther and has been scheduled for a Spring 2019 release. He’s a busy man, but it takes a lot of work to revolutionize a genre.
This wave of unambiguously socially conscious horror produced by a Black creative is desperately needed in these times. I’m pleased that Jordan Peele is the one to do it, using the same observational eye that he once used primarily in a comedic capacity, which he has now turned in a new direction to show us more horrific things, and I can’t get enough of it.
It’s his nuance and talent for indulging us in the horrors all around us that make me extremely excited for a new project that Peele is working on with HBO. Based on the 2016 novel my Matt Ruff, Lovecraft Country is a straight-to-series horror drama that will explore the horrors of Jim Crow era America, that also endeavors to subvert the tropes of the cosmic horror genre.
Focusing on the underlying intolerance in a broken nation, rather than solely on otherworldly monstrosities, this is a narrative choice which kicks noted piece-of-shit HP Lovecraft right in his racist, xenophobic teeth. This is something that I appreciate immensely as a fan of the horror genre and as a Black man. I am all for dethroning the likes of Lovecraft, because his prolific contributions to the genre should not mean that he should go unchallenged.
The story focuses on Korean war veteran, Atticus Turner, who discovers that his father has gone missing under mysterious circumstances. The audience will follow his quest to find out what happened to him. Along with his Uncle George, his childhood friend, Letitia, and help from a publication that George created called “The Safe Negro Travel Guide”, they set out on a journey from Chicago to New England to seek out answers.
What they find are the untold horrors from other dimensions, fanatical cultists who will stop at nothing to get what they want, haunted houses, and perhaps scariest of all, white people in 1954 America.
The novel itself has so much to offer in terms of an amazing story, and despite being a white author, Matt Ruff crafted a respectful, fulfilling novel that does a wonderful job of highlighting the injustices suffered by Black people in the Jim Crow era. Ruff states in his afterward that the story was inspired by the essay “Shame” by Pam Noles, a simply fantastic read about being Black and how that Blackness fits into fantasy and geek culture. That inspiration shows in his careful handling of the story and the history of the era.
When I finished reading his book, I knew that this would make for a perfect series if picked up by the right network, and with the right creative forces behind it, as the novel is broken into short stories that would absolutely lend themselves to the medium. When I learned that Peele was involved, it sent my hopes for the show into overdrive.
Not only is the show going to be on a network where all the gritty details can be included, but everyone involved seems tailor-made to work on the project. We have the incomparable Mr. Peele doing what he does best, along with the showrunner Misha Green, who created Underground and writes for shows such as Helix and Sons of Anarchy.
Combine that with the amazing team of actors that have already been cast like rising star Jonathan Majors (Hostiles), Wunmi Mosaku (I Am Slave, Luther), and Jurnee Smollett-Bell (True Blood, Underground), and you have a piece of Black media that can really shine and make a good home at HBO. Peele and Co definitely have their work cut out for them, but I know they’re up to the task.
People look around at the state of our country today, and they say that the outrageous levels of intolerance and bigotry are not indicative of who we are as Americans, but Lovecraft Country will showcase a part of our history that proves them wrong.
There’s a chapter in the novel about the Greenwood Massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, more commonly known as the bombing of Black Wall Street. This is a largely ignored, incredibly violent mass-lynching that is so mischaracterized that its often called the “Tulsa race riot.” The accepted version that history tells suggests that the Black population of Tulsa was somehow responsible.
Lovecraft Country not only tells us what really happened, but it does so in a way that fully conveys the horror that those people suffered. I think people in this country need to feel that, at least those who refuse to recognize the history white violence in this country. I think they’d do well to recognize that these are not scars, but open wounds.
When I learned about Jim Crow in school, I heard the story of the brave men and women that boycotted buses and protested at lunch counters, and the white government eventually learning the error of its ways and making racism illegal. It’s amazing to learn just how inaccurate that narrative is. Lovecraft Country will parallel the happenings of today, and show people that we haven’t come as far as we think we have.
Maybe through this wonderful story, being told by wonderful storytellers, we can expand upon the giant strides that Black horror has been making, and also move towards a greater understanding Black culture through the lens of what makes us afraid.
Sure, Lovecraft Country has all of its supernatural horror boxes checked, but the real tension – the moments where you feel the most uncomfortable and the least at ease – comes from real people. Regular people who do regular, horrible people things.
When I was a child, I was scared of monsters in the closet, especially if the door was slightly ajar. No matter how scared I was at the time, that fear was nothing compared to the fear I feel in my heart when I see flashing lights behind me on the road, and that fear is a prevalent one in our country. Hell, those lights were the scariest part of Get Out.
Horror takes the things that we are already scared of and amplifys them, and rarely is that done with a purpose. This is how HP Lovecraft was able to ascend to the plateau that he did; by feeding white people’s fears of immigrants and people of color back to them in thinly veiled allegory.
Diversity was Lovecraft’s nightmare, and it was a nightmare that was shared by the white ruling class. Now Lovecraft is dead, and horror is something for everyone. It’s time to show what scares us for a change.
Andrew Keahey is a horror enthusiast and writer currently based in Austin, Texas. He’s been watching horror movies since he was far too young, and primarily writes essays, short fiction, and poetry