To be fair, some of this disconnect isn’t necessarily the fault of the series. The dystopian dynamics of the current national reckoning on racism can make any supernatural depiction of bigotry feel underwhelming. Though white supremacy was certainly a danger at the time of the book’s release, daily life without a deadly pandemic and a virulently racist president felt altogether less eerie. When Ruff, who is white, published Lovecraft Country in February 2016, the country was in the twilight of the Obama years, only 18 months removed from the start of protests against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri.
The book also preceded a series of what one might call “racial-justice entertainment.” In the time since Lovecraft Country’s publication, an entire cottage industry of Black Lives Matter–adjacent books and productions have captured audiences’ attention by wrestling with the threats that institutional racism poses to Black life in America. These works have spanned genres and media—there are young-adult novels such as The Hate U Give and Dear Martin, police dramas such as Blindspotting and BlacKkKlansman, and period pieces such as Green’s TV series Underground.
The recent resurgence of Black horror and speculative fiction offers perhaps the most useful lessons for Lovecraft Country and future productions like it. Most obvious, Get Out, which was written and directed by the Lovecraft Country producer Jordan Peele, was an effective and entertaining film not just because of the brutality its protagonist faced, or even because of its allusions to contemporary and historical racism. The “monsters” hunting the film’s hero, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), weren’t pure evil. Unlike Lovecraft Country’s Braithwaite family, who are styled to look so Aryan that they nearly resemble demonic elves, the Armitages concealed their dark predilections under the veneer of NPR-loving, Obama-voting liberal niceness.
Chris, for his part, didn’t relate to other Black people only when targeted by white violence, nor was he sympathetic only when faced with the threat of a bodily takeover. When police lights flash on Chris at the end of the film—as when the Black hero of George Romero’s 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead is killed by the white mob in that film’s final scene—the intractability and weight of racism are communicated without relying on horror conceits. Even Atlanta, Donald Glover’s Twin Peaks–esque FX series, toys with the supernatural and the surreal to underscore points about race made in its quieter moments. The mystical elements heighten and complicate existing dread; they alone don’t create it.
Racial horror is most effective when the central characters feel rich and fleshed-out, when audiences are invested in them not just out of implied moral obligation. For Lovecraft Country to simply flip the usual script with new creatures, then, isn’t enough. The series needs to double down on its most spirited scenes, such as when it navigates a beautifully staged 1950s Chicago, where a broad range of Black characters populate the screen and make the story feel most alive. Spending time with Atticus, George, and Leti in more earthly realms—where the relatable challenges they face add as much to the story as the ravenous aliens do—would make the dangers lurking in Lovecraft Country feel more real, monsters and all.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.
is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers culture.