Lovecraft Country & Racism: HBO Series Everything "The Help" Wasn't

Before I get into the meat behind this headline and talk about HBO's Lovecraft Country, I feel the need to offer this disclaimer: I am white. I'm also from the deep South, which may not sound like a bastion of modern racial relations, but suffice it to say the region's history with the subject is totally and completely abysmal… and we know it. Hollywood won't let us forget it… Like, ever.

Now, it may have taken some of the caucasian south a while to get with the program, and things are still getting there, but overall, our local history of the slave era and segregated south is a little less gap-filled than that of elsewhere in the states, by which I mean we actually study it. But we know we're complicit in our historical atrocities and because of that, we spent years in school learning about how awful it was and reading books with graphic descriptions of lynchings that still terrify me to think about years later. All that said, I have to ask: what the f*ck, Hollywood?

Lovecraft Country (Image: HBO)
A look at Lovecraft Country (Image: HBO)

Why have stories about 1950s Black and segregated America been allowed to be written and created by white people for this long? Is that because y'all think of yourselves as the winners and therefore get to be the ones who write the history books and control the narrative? Because none of that is right. At all. John Oliver has a lot to say on this topic and it's well worth the watch.

For starters, racism should make your blood boil. If it doesn't, you need to take a serious look at yourself and all of your life choices that led you to this point, because as someone who benefits from white privilege, you have personally gained from the systematic and continuous racial oppression in the United States of America. No, you may not have had a direct hand in it, but it's past time to reconcile the sins of our past.

How does this factor into Hollywood? Easy: white Hollywood (aka, just Hollywood) has been suppressing the voices of Black creators for generations and forcing them into telling the same narratives that make white people feel good, all while basically saying "know your place, Black Hollywood". F*ck that. Clearly, we haven't moved past police harassment and discrimination, though it's just taken on an evolved twist. The works of Gil Scott Heron and Nina Simone and every single word Spike Lee wrote in Do The Right Thing still ring just as true now as they did then. Are you finally listening? With the recent boom of mainstream Black stories told and created by Black creatives, it spotlights exactly how terrible past representation has been.

Look at The Help – a white woman solves racial inequality in rural Mississippi. Oh no, Emma Stone, whatever would Viola Davis do without a scrappy young white girl to stick up for her? "But Eden, it's based on a book!" Do you really want to go there? Okay, the original author was sued for stealing the story of real life maid Ablene, who worked for the author's brother back in the day. The suit was dismissed by a Mississippi judge on grounds of exceeding the "statute of limitations". I personally feel like this was because "Mississippi is still kinda racist" wouldn't look quite as good on official documents. Great, so NYT bestsellers can be racist too. So it looks like Hollywood still chose to adapt not only a stolen story but a racist one.)

Lovecraft Country (Image: HBO)
A look at Lovecraft Country (Image: HBO)

And yet, until very recently, people liked to think that movies like The Help were an example of "telling Black stories". Same with Hidden Figures – yes, allies are important, but a white man swooping in and making everyone accept Katherine Johnson as the mathematical genius she was is both revisionist bullshit in the worst way and as much of a superhero fantasy as the original 1960s Batman series. And no, don't even get me started on the travesty that is Green Book or we'll be here all damn night.

Now, enough with what got it wrong – here's a show that got it right. Lovecraft Country does something interesting by taking super racist lore set in a super racist time and making the racist white people scarier than the monsters (which they absolutely are). And by interesting, I mean "stories should have been like this all along because this was an incredibly f*cked up time in our history". Showing events in this way forces the audience to look in the mirror and say, "yes, this is uncomfortable and no, there's no rationalizing this away – this was reality as it was" and then the show holds your nose in it and forces you to stare at it. No, Lovecraft Country is hardly the first nor is it even the first mainstream media to do this, but it's one of the best recent examples and honestly, one of the most realistic portrayals of Jim Crow America I've seen.

Is it uncomfortable to watch? Abso-f*cking-lutely. And that's good because it damn well should be. Watching racism happen, even in fiction, shouldn't be easy or make you squirm just a little – it should fill you with rage. It should make you look at the other "Disney fairy tale" treatments of racism and be ashamed that we've been rewriting history to make it more palatable and appease out white guilt. It should make you angry enough to stay up way late ranting about it on the internet. It should make you angry enough to never let it happen again – which brings me to my final point.

It is our responsibility – as modern white people who have benefited from this system of oppression – to not only step aside and let creators tell the stories of their own history but to fight for real equality. We are all humans, and though we can't help our history, we sure as hell have a say in our future. And now it's our responsibility and time to hold open the same doors that were already propped open for us, and that starts with demanding better representation by stepping aside and realizing it is not about us. This is not the time for white people (for once).

Yes, Hollywood is so white, yes, it always has been, and no, we have not ever and are not currently doing enough to amend that. Dear Hollywood, do better. Though it's painful, that starts with white people stepping aside and letting other stories be told from the perspective they should be told from. You keep claiming you're not racist and committed to doing better – prove it. Stop whitewashing racism to ease your ancestral guilt and for the love of all that is holy, stop throttling Black creators and let them tell their stories, because honestly? Your take on it is bland, just like your food.

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About Eden Arnold

Having spent far too much time in front of the television growing up, Eden has lots of opinions about television (as well as movies and everything else). She puts this to good use along with her journalism degree and writing experience with by-lines over the years in many print publications, books, and online media outlets. You can find her on Twitter at @Edenhasopinions
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