“This is a story of a boy and his dream…”
I’ll be honest, when they said that Jordan Peele was associated with Lovecraft Country, I was automatically interested. Since Get Out, I’ve loved this comedian-turned-visionary’s foray into the sci-fi and fantasy genre. A genre, I might add, that has rarely had any Black leads or Black characters of note. I always found it interesting that for a genre filled with so many variations of aliens, elves, etc. it was hard to spot any Black people. But now we don’t have to worry about that as Black speculative fiction, written and visual, is finally getting its due. And the opening shot of the first episode did just that!
I’ll try not to spoil the debut. I promise, but it may be a tad bit impossible.
The opening sequence is a visual feast; a smorgasbord of cinematic gold, throwbacks to the early days of sci-fi, and a homage to Black heroes without capes. I literally had to catch my breath when they panned out so we could see just what was going on. Trust me there was a lot! I was reminded of War of the Worlds and even Avengers: Endgame. And then for us to see him again, half-way between the dreaming and waking world, I found myself looking at a character that was sooo familiar. He was a blerd! Bespectacled and black. Passionate about storytelling. That’s me, y’all. That’s you.
But seeing him in the back of the bus for “coloreds only” rudely brought me back to his reality. A reality that makes up a great deal of this nation’s history. “Good riddance to old Jim Crow” indeed. Sobering still when the bus breaks down and he and another passenger had to walk to the next town. The visual coupled with hearing my elders saying “we have a long road ahead of us” was not lost on me.
But let’s discuss this enchanting cast:
Atticus Freeman played by Jonathan Majors: Okay, I knew Majors was talented when I first saw him in The Last Black Man in San Francisco. I don’t know if it’s because he is a method actor (I’m just assuming) or what, but he brings this magnetic energy to Atticus. The nerdy “boy next door” who is back home, a soldier, but still very much a dreamer. He said “stories are like people. Loving them doesn’t make them perfect. You just try and cherish ‘em, overlook their flaws.” There is a profoundness to that quote. One might think it could be applied to America… I loved that he was fearless in time when fear was used to control African Americans.
Letitia Dandridge played by Jurnee Smollett-Bell: Like Jonathan, Jurnee always brings this light to whomever she portrays. There is this infectious quality she possesses. Her take on Letitia is spunky, free-spirited, and just what this heavy show needs. Whether it’s her dancing on the stage or looking over her shades at the gawking white woman, Letitia steals every scene.
George Freeman played by Courtney Vance: I’ve always loved Courtney. He always seems so poised and educated that it is impossible not to be taken in by it. That and the cadence of his voice. I love love love how he loves on his wife Hippolyta! #BlackLoveGoals! Their relationship is full, full of good, wholesome things, and you see just how protective he is of her. He seems protective of as his family as a whole. It’s also clear that he loves his nephew, but skeletons in the family closet caused for an unexpected, emotional scene. And in that split second before the scene ended, you saw the look on George’s face that made you feel for him. HE BETTER NOT DIE IN THIS SHOW.
Hippolyta Freeman played by Aunjanue L. Ellis: I liked her. Another great actress. You can tell she is a dedicated and loyal wife and a loving mother to her daughter Diana. Wait…Hippolyta AND Diana? Surely that is no coincidence. If so, that would be…wonderful. I definitely want to see more of her. Especially since we see that she is interested in astrology.
Diana Freeman by Jada Harris: I really enjoyed this character and her artistic ability! I love how she was drawing comics and seemed a tad bit tomboyish. I’m sure that set her apart from what was socially acceptable back then even in the black community. But seriously though we can I find the first issue of her comic?
Another thing I found intriguing was the importance of the “Green Book” or “The Negro Motorist Green Book”. For those who do not know it was a travel guide for African Americans to travel safely during the Jim Crow era. It was considered a bible for black travelers. This, of course, is an integral theme during the course of the pilot episode because Atticus is searching for his father in Lovecraft Country. And when you watch Atticus, Uncle George, and Letitia on those winding, lazy roads weaving through America’s heartland, you also see signs proudly announcing unapologetically racism and bigotry. One such sign presented as a billboard said for black people not to let the sun set on them in that particular town.
It also made me think about just how pervasive, far reaching, and, well, traumatizing that was for the black community as a whole. Especially in the Midwest and South. Fear is a weapon. Fear is a net. Fear is a poison. I remember as a child my mom telling us to come home at sunset. I never understood why the urgency. I’m having fun so why should I be home when it starts to get dark? I think she was just saying because she heard it from her parents. Then I remembered: my grandparents are both from the Deep South. They were young adults during this horrible era. I even recall my grandfather telling me he saw a man lynched when he was a just a kid. Sundown towns are no joke. And they STILL exist!
The cinematography was breathtaking. The juxtaposition between a line of black people on what I assume was a bread line against the mural showing a happy white family traveling on the road was stark and unsettling. I did love when Atticus bought the flower from the struggling mother. Support Black-owned businesses!
But let’s get to the fun stuff, right? Or at least the part where sh*t really got real! The slow car chase in Devon County hit differently especially with Letitia’s almost foreboding “we can outrun blob” comment fresh in your mind. I think that in all my years watching car chases on the big and little screen, this was arguably one of the most intense but definitely the most original ones whether seen on movies or tv shows! You could almost taste the fear and desperation as they tried to leave the sundown town with literally minutes to spare with the racist sheriff behind them. And then that was amplified when the monsters came….and, man, were they terrifying! In truth, I don’t know who terrifying—the corrupt police or the ravenous sharp teethed creatures was more. I can assure you there was a difference.
In closing, I think this show has such tremendous potential. I’m a sucker for a period piece so seeing a sci fi story set in the racist 1950’s was a visual and occasionally disturbing treat. The unseen monsters are a perfect metaphor for America’s own dark history. Trust me, they are still there in today’s age, emboldened by their orange king, but now they are out in the open. Brazen. Strong and wrong. And that’s fine. We are out in the open too. And we will fight this by any means necessary.
Oh, and one last thing: whatever happens in Denmark Vesey’s Bar stays in Denmark Vesey’s Bar! Cheers!