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'Lovecraft Country' Creator Aims To Reclaim The Horror Genre For People Of Color

Jurnee Smollett, Jonathan Majors and Courtney B. Vance star in HBO's <em>Lovecraft Country.</em>
Jurnee Smollett, Jonathan Majors and Courtney B. Vance star in HBO's Lovecraft Country.

The HBO series Lovecraft Country takes the real horrors of the Black experience in the 1950s and adds to it the supernatural terrors of the horror genre.

Series creator Misha Green says she sees the show — and the novel by Matt Ruff upon which it is based — as a chance to reclaim "the genre space for people of color and for people who had usually been left out of it."

"Horror, which is my favorite genre, works best for me when there's a metaphor," Green says. "One of my themes I keep coming back to is: What are people willing to do for metaphorical and physical survival? And that's always the stuff that scares me."

One episode explores the theme of white privilege through the lens of Ruby, a Black woman who becomes white after taking a potion. After some discussion of what Ruby would do as a white woman, the writers decided that she would enjoy a mundane day at the park.

"That is really what part of the privilege of being white is: You get to live your life uninterrupted," Green says. "A person of color in America has so many moments daily where they're interrupted because of their skin color."

We don't know yet if there will be a second season of Lovecraft Country, but if there is, Green knows what she'd call it: "This would be the title of it — Lovecraft Country: Supremacy."

Interview highlights

On why she loves horror

I just like to be scared. I think it's also one of the reasons I feel like we go to drama in the first place, to live vicariously through something. So you get to live your fears on screen and then you go, "OK, I can tackle that, maybe." You get a little braver in life. ... When I was a kid, like watching It, watching Alien, watching those kinds of movies, I was like, "OK, I'm terrified. But now I feel a little braver." Afterwards, I feel like I can go and tackle the real horrors a little bit more.

On Black representation in genre fiction

That was exciting to me: to have this kind of show that could jump to all the places and be like, "Yeah, we can be here and we don't have to die first, guys."

I feel like one of my absolute favorites is the original Night of the Living Dead and then The People Under the Stairs [and] Candyman. So there [were] spaces for Black horror, they just weren't rampant. I feel like that's all of Black art right now. People are like, "We're in this huge renaissance!" and I'm like, "I remember in the '90s I could go on TV and see more all-Black casts than I can see now." So I feel like it's always been there, but you have to seek it out. And the mainstream — definitely when it comes to horror, sci-fi and all of these genre fantasy spaces — are all white in a way. And so that was exciting to me, to have this kind of show that could jump to all the places and be like, "Yeah, we can be here and we don't have to die first, guys."

On developing the sound for Lovecraft Country, which sources audio from different moments in culture, like a Nike Ad or the poem "Whitey on the Moon"

I wanted to do something different than I had done on Underground with sound. We used contemporary music on [the WGN America show] Underground [which Green co-created] and it was very successful in kind of bringing the past into the present and I wanted to build on that. I want to come in with an audio viewpoint on the show.

One of the things that we were talking a lot about with the show was this idea of it being out of time, that they're going and doing things, they're going to space, they're going back in the past, so how do we break that up? And then that idea of "scource" as we called it, which is source and score, came to me of using these pieces. I had been soaking in things like Beyoncé's Lemonadeand I Am Not Your Negro. And it was hearing those voices in those poems and [James] Baldwin's voice. And I was going, "Oh, can we do that in Lovecraft Country?" So that was kind of our big audio swing, was this idea of taking found footage audio and placing it wholesale over scenes and using it as [a] score.

On her priorities for developing her own writer's room

Diversity and younger writers, I think that it was important to me. It's one of the things that I said to HBO is that I don't want upper-level writers. They were really pushing upper-level writers, which was understandable, because it's a very big, ambitious show, an intricate show. But for me, I was like, I want new voices. Hollywood is the biggest storytelling machine there is and we all live our lives through stories, so it is giving us a story on how to live our lives, and right now it's a monolith of white men. And I think it's very important to change that. So when I had my own room, I knew that it was not going to look like the rooms I had been in before and that it was going to be a struggle, too, because I think in a lot of rooms, the minority voices are not there to actually be heard. So figuring out how to encourage everybody to be like, "You have a platform here, speak up! Speak up! Let's talk. Let's figure it out." [That] was also an interesting new turn for me.

Heidi Saman and Kayla Lattimore produced and edited the audio of this interview. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Meghan Sullivan adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2021 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Sam Briger