One of the best ways to describe Lovecraft Country is by using the quote by William Faulkner: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” That description becomes even more apt as Aunjanue Ellis recounts the lessons Lovecraft Country teaches about the circular notion of time, especially in the upcoming episode featuring her character Hippolyta, “I Am.”
“Hippolyta, up until this point, she’s been presented as this woman who’s a wonderful, supportive wife, loving aunt and mother, so she’s felt trapped in these roles that she plays in her house and in her community,” Ellis said to Shadow and Act. “I think Hippolyta is one of those women who’s was one of these pillars of the block. She’s making cakes…and pies for the block party, people come to her for support and solace, a laugh…but she’s an astronomer in repressive 1950s America. So she wants to break out of that trap and Episode Seven we see her search…for her husband, but really what she’s in search of is herself.”
Hippolyta’s search for answers about her deceased husband George (Courtney B. Vance) has been percolating all season, and in “I Am,” she finds much more than possible closure. On a macro level, the viewers of Lovecraft Country are also on a similar journey: even though we started the season wanting to know the truth behind the Sons of Adam and Atticus’ (Jonathan Majors) role in ending their magical conspiracy, we are also learning much more about how the racial issues in America repeat itself, and will repeat itself until America decides to reckon with its original sin.
“I think that it’s important, especially now, for us to know that time is cyclical and the great thing about Lovecraft is that it says that,” said Ellis. “It speaks to, and especially my episode, it evokes that. It evokes futurism, what we thought the future would look like, and what it actually does look like, our perceptions of the past. So there’s this idea that time is really absurd and the past is something that we will always live. That’s something we’re experiencing right now.”
As Ellis explained, the racist actions of the past, as well as the fight to stop them, continued even when there were no mainstream records of them, unlike today with social media.
“After the ’60s and early ’70s, we just didn’t have the level of information that we have [now], and I think there was a great amount of fatigue on the part of folks who were involved in the civil rights movement, folks who were involved in the freedom rights movement,” she said. “There was still a lot of work being done, but what happened was is there was…this silence, in a way…But the thing is that it didn’t mean those things weren’t still happening. There wasn’t an immediate record for it. Now, there is an immediate record of it. Lynchings didn’t stop because white people got tired of lynching people…lynchings, church bombings and church burnings were things that continued to happen in the ’70s, in the ’80s. But now because of technology, we just have an immediate witness to it, and that’s the difference.”
That cyclical nature is probably the most poignant in Lovecraft Country character Bobo (Rhyan Hill), which fans have theorized as being Emmett Till. After the decision to not charge any of the officers responsible for Breonna Taylor’s murder went public, social media users including actress Viola Davis began sharing a post detailing how Taylor’s killers and Till’s killers were both acquitted on the same day. For Ellis, Emmett Till’s death and legacy are personal matters.
“I’m from Mississippi, so the legacy of Emmett is…significant to everybody, but it’s particularly significant to Mississippians,” she said. “People are still trying to kill him. I don’t think people are really aware that last year, if not the year before last, there were kids–not old white men, but kids from the University of Mississippi who shot up the sign that memorialized Emmett Till. So they’re still trying to kill Emmett now. And these are young men; they’re not old relics [of segregation]. These are young men, students at a school in 2019 who are making their way from Oxford, Mississippi to where that memorial sign is and shoot it up. What does that say?”
“I think Christina Sharpe has a book for such a time as this and it’s called In the Wake…What she says is that anti-Black racism in America is not something we should look at in terms of rupture…as a sort of thing that happens and we’re surprised by it. We should look at it like it is, and it is like the weather,” she continued. “It must be looked at it for what it is, and anti-Black racism has to exist for this country to flourish. It is as common as when we breathe the air, that’s why she describes it as the weather. It is as common as the sun, it is as common as the wind, it is as inevitable as all of these things.”
“But here’s the good news of that,” she said. “If we know that to be the case, then when these moments [such as] no one being held accountable for Breonna Taylor’s death, we know how to handle that. Because right now, we say things like ‘This is not who we are.’ Politicians say things like ‘This is not who we are.’ But because we are aware that anti-Black racism ensures the success of capitalism and the policies of this country, so when they say that, we know that it’s not true. Then, it frees us to use all of this energy that we expend being surprised and upset…somewhere else. I think [Sharpe’s statement] is a sermon for the ages, the idea that anti-Black racism is something that this nation required in order to be what it is. So we have to have a response to that.”
Lovecraft Country, Ellis said, is giving people a chance to see issues of police brutality, segregation and other societal issues in an “unexpected way” as well as “a way that’s unique and fresh.” She said people have had a positive response to the show’s insistence on tackling these topics, which should make viewers a little hopeful that perhaps America is getting closer to reckoning with its horrid past of slavery, one of the practices that set America and its issues with race in motion.
“We were kidnapped and brought here. So, the original crime of kidnapping millions of people here and binging them here for forced labor, it has to manifest itself in other ways,” said Ellis. “It built the country, so it has to manifest itself in other ways…It manifests in Breonna Taylor not getting justice, it manifests in the knee on the neck of George Floyd. It manifests in other ways to survive. So what we have to do in this moment, bring it back to Lovecraft, I think the message and sermon of Lovecraft is…we are living our past and our past is the future. So if you know that, then how do you respond to it?”
Lovecraft Country airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT on HBO.
Photo credit: HBO