‘Lovecraft Country’ star Courtney B. Vance: Cast and crew of color made a grand-scale ‘show in chocolate’
Actor says the series, based in sci-fi and horror, takes on “the difficult things to discuss.”
History is often told from the perspective of institutions that possess the power and influence to disseminate information to the masses.
In the aftermath of the New York Times Magazine’s “1619 Project” and HBO’s “The Watchmen,” which showed audiences the horrors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, “Lovecraft Country,” also an HBO series, premieres Sunday aiming to educate viewers in a similar way.
“It’s not only ‘a show in chocolate,’ but it’s also a huge action flick,” said actor Courtney B. Vance, whose character (George Freeman) is the publisher of the show’s “Safe Negro Travel Guide,” akin to “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” used to grant Black drivers safe passage through racist areas. “Actually shooting this for real for real was very, very interesting to watch us all navigate and find our way to shoot something this big. And so it wasn’t about so much about that, it was a Black film or Black project, a big project, and how it’s going to come together.
“It was nice to see the color behind and in front of the camera. That’s usually not the case. Usually, you see some color in front of the camera but not behind the cameras. It’s pretty much a ‘whiteout.’ But that wasn’t gonna happen with Miss Misha [Green, the series creator], so that was beautiful to see the diaspora, and we all benefited from it.
Based on author Matt Ruff’s 2016 novel of the same name and filmed largely in Chicago and surrounding areas, the series follows Atticus “Tic” Black (Jonathan Majors) and his friend Letitia “Leti” Lewis (Jurnee Smollett) through 1950s Jim Crow America. The show’s namesake, H.P. Lovecraft, is a controversial, legendary sci-fi/horror author whose racism looms large in his books.
“This is a great opportunity to continue the dialogue because it’s the difficult things to discuss,” Vance said. “I know Jewish folks make sure they still remember the Holocaust. That’s part of their mantra to remember. Unfortunately, we don’t want to remember [slavery and its aftermath].”
Even though “Lovecraft Country” has its base in science fiction and horror, the series is filled with themes such as racism, police brutality, privilege, Freemasonry, racial profiling, segregation and traveling through “sundown” towns where Black people weren’t allowed after dark.
Sundown towns weren’t exclusive to Southern states. Illinois had 507 of them, according to James W. Loewen’s book “Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism.”
Actress Aunjanue Ellis, who plays Freeman’s wife, Hippolyta, echoes Vance’s sentiments on how the people telling the stories have a personal connection to the subject matter.
“I think that should be the ‘North Star’ for us,” Ellis said. “I don’t think that it should be a rarity. Someone asked me this question on what does it feel like to work with someone like Misha [Green], and I said, ‘You know what, it feels like home to me.’ Because when I was growing up, I was raised and made by Black people, particularly Black women. All of them were makers. All of them were creators.
“Misha is an unapologetic, bold visionary. And I want to do this kind of work all the time and with someone like that all the time. It’s what I want to continue to do.”
Vance says he enjoys Chicago when work brings him to the city, but the importance of what “Lovecraft Country” means to audiences is particularly paramount for him.
“Favorite town in America — I love me some Chicago,” he said. “We stayed there, but we shot in and around. 70, 80, sometimes 90 miles out.
“This is Misha’s moment, and HBO knows how to make these big projects. It was exciting to see HBO get behind her. When the tough times came, they stood behind her and continue to stand behind her, so that’s why we see that gorgeous pilot. I’ve never seen a pilot that gorgeous, and to let you know that’s a Black woman they are supporting. She has not been marginalized because of her gender. So exciting.”