Lovecraft Country episode one spoilers follow.
Jackie Robinson, of the Brooklyn Dodgers, was the first Black athlete to play Major League Baseball. An important milestone for the sporting world, and a piece of Black history that - as recent conversations have further highlighted – seldom gets recognition. He was, as leading actor Jonathan Majors noted in an exclusive interview with Digital Spy, "the manifestation of Black heroism at the time".
In the chaos of Lovecraft Country's opening scene, we saw this presented in the clearest of terms as he used his monumental bat to destroy a Cthulhu (a tentacled creation of HP Lovecraft, a notorious white supremacist). This marked one of the first in a string of powerful metaphors, setting the tone for the HBO series.
Episode one was packed full of callbacks, references and hidden meanings – and another particularly poignant one could also be found within the first four minutes of the show, in the form of the mysterious red woman.
As Atticus Freeman, an American soldier, waded through the trenches, the sky was pierced by the neon green lights of flying sauces as they descended on the smoke and fire below. One opened up to reveal an ethereal figure, who was beamed down to meet his gaze.
This is said to be a reference to 'A Princess of Mars', a sci-fi novel by American writer Edgar Rice Burroughs, first published in 1912. This was the first piece of work that would later form part of the Barsoom series, and aside from its obvious genre affinity (much of Lovecraft Country's opening sequence was littered with sci-fi references) it is particularly relevant when it comes to discourse around race.
The woman seen in the first few moments of Lovecraft Country is no doubt a depiction of Dejah Thoris; a central character in Burroughs' collection of stories, which imagined what life might be like on Mars. She was a princess with red skin and the love interest of Confederate soldier John Carter (later the focus of his own action and science fiction movie, also based on the very same source material).
Believe it or not, the author chose to create a hierarchy of skin colour among his alien creatures, with the red hue being the most highly regarded and therefore the dominant culture on the fictional planet of Barsoom. He imagined it as a place divided, very much along racial lines, with each group possessing distinct qualities. What makes this even more problematic is the simple fact that Burroughs was a white man, making a fascination with race and ethnicity particularly uncomfortable to digest.
Later in Lovecraft Country's opening episode, Atticus can be seen with a copy of 'A Princess of Mars' in his hands. It's hard not to draw parallels between the made-up world of Barsoom and the real-life social structures that propped up the horrors of Jim Crow's America, against which Lovecraft Country is set.
Both Edgar Rice Burroughs and HP Lovecraft have been regarded as shaping the genre in their own ways, and are still credited with influencing creatives to this day.
As with any firmly held belief, Lovecraft's racism spilled out within his written words. The show – based on the 2016 novel of the same name by Matt Ruff – aims to reclaim his brand of sci-fi horror, subverting it entirely. With Misha Green and Jordan Peele at the helm, authentic voices are finally at the heart of the storytelling.
With the attention to detail that's already shone through in its very first outing, we have absolutely no doubt that there'll be a lot more to unpack as the show goes on. And we can't wait.
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