Lovecraft Country, HBO's gripping new horror series that's based on a novel of the same name by Matt Ruff, is packed to the Innsmouthian fish-person gills with allusions to classic horror, sci-fi, and adventure stories, as well as important works of Black literature and pop culture. The series premiere alone contains references to H.P. Lovecraft's shoggoths, James Baldwin, Dracula, John Carter of Mars, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, among others, all woven together to make something new and exciting. The series is so intertextual that you might need some help untangling all the references and homages, so we asked showrunner Misha Green for a Lovecraft Country reading/watchlist, in both its Lovecraftian and Baldwinian threads, to accompany Episode 1.
"Any and all Baldwin"
An audio clip from the legendary writer's debate with conservative commentator William F. Buckley plays during a montage in Lovecraft Country, essentially replacing the score with a speech about how Black people have been excluded from the American dream. James Baldwin is as much an influence on Lovecraft Country as Lovecraft himself. For an introduction to Baldwin, you could watch the Oscar-winning documentary I Am Not Your Negro. [Watch on Amazon Prime Video]
Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism by James W. Loewen
In Episode 1, the characters travel through "sundown towns," all-white areas where Black people were not allowed to be after dark, a rule that would either be enforced by police, racist vigilantes, or both, since they were often one and the same. "When I read Matt Ruff's book, that was my first encounter with learning about sundown towns, and I was like 'What?' Like, you can't make this up," Green said. "If I wrote this horror movie talking about sundown towns where you can't be black after dark in America, people be like, 'OK, we get the metaphor,' and it's like, no, that's real. It's not a metaphor. It's actually what was happening."
Green said that Alfred Hitchcock's classic chase thriller wasn't one of the movies on the syllabus, but someone said that the tension in Lovecraft Country's car chase scene reminded them of North by Northwest, and she liked that comparison. "I was like, 'Oh, OK, yeah, compare me to Hitchcock, I'm Hitchcock, I'm for that,'" she said with a smile. [Watch on HBO Max]
The narration of Lovecraft Country's opening scene about "the story of a boy and his dream" is borrowed from the opening narration of this 1950 biopic of Jackie Robinson, the first Black baseball player to play in the major leagues. Robinson played himself in the movie, which was a huge hit in that era. Robinson appears in the opening scene, and his spirit carries through Lovecraft Country, in his bravery and in the way his greatness was so undeniable that even white people admired and respected him. That form of racism, where Black people have to work twice as hard and be twice as good at what they do in order to be accepted, is explored in the show. [Watch on Amazon Prime Video]
HBO has an official companion podcast to the show that essentially is a weekly reading/watchlist. It's hosted by Lovecraft Country writer Shannon Houston and journalist Ashley C. Ford, and it explores the connections between the horror genre and Black culture and contemporary social issues. "They added some really good stuff," Green said.
Lovecraft Country premieres Sunday at 9/8c on HBO. It's available to stream on HBO Max.