Courtney B. Vance and Aunjanue Ellis talk to FanSided about Lovecraft Country.
One of the most exciting yet underrated aspects of HBO’s Lovecraft Country is the full-on, sheer representation of Black nerd culture. Here’s the thing: the series, much like the original novel by Matt Ruff, doesn’t just give us one Black nerd character and calls it a day. Pretty much all of the main characters have their own nerdy passion one way or another.
Yes, the series is certainly horror, drama and sci-fi all rolled into one. In it, protagonist Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors), is set on a quest to find his missing father who’s somewhere out in Lovecraft Country. And along with his Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) and friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett), they encounter tons of creepy, unsettling occurrences that throw them for a loop. But at the same time, the series uses that genre to match the curiosities and the passions of its characters.
What if reading sci-fi and horror novels (like the ones from H.P. Lovecraft) was your passion, and you suddenly found yourself in the middle of your very own American horror story? That’s just one layer of what Lovecraft Country does: creating Black characters who are absolutely nerdy — book nerds, sci-fi nerds, etc. — and putting them in the middle of their own genre story.
That type of representation is huge. And to speak on the topic of Black nerdiness and fandoms, FanSided got the chance to speak to Lovecraft Country’s Courtney B. Vance and Aunjanue Ellis via Zoom roundtables. Vance and Ellis play married couple George and Hippolyta in the series — two loving characters who work together to publish their own version of the Green Book, and each of them has their own unique passion for reading, writing and (of course) traveling.
When asked about their own fandoms and passions, Ellis and Vance had so much to share — including a love for how Lovecraft Country depicts Black nerds, a.k.a., “Blerds.”
“I love the idea that every character in Lovecraft is a bit of a nerd,” Ellis says. “They’re all Blerds, all of them. All of them! And what I mean by that is that they are all sort of marginalized by their interests, you know? Everyone. Every one of them has that experience.”
Growing up, Ellis recalls that she used to carry around Flannery O’Connor’s book of short stories like a bible. She also says she’s read Stephen King books, and she even got into reading Edgar Ellan Poe. But at the same time, she’s realized when it comes to your favorite authors, especially in the case of H.P. Lovecraft, you can’t always separate their work from their problematic and racist history. So, as she concludes, Lovecraft Country is just one of the ways to reclaim the genre that Black people have been left out of for so long.
“What I love about this… is that we read these novels, we read these books, and we read sci-fi and we read horror, and we are sort of erased from them,” she explains. “But the presence or our lack of presence, sometimes, oftentimes — and particularly with H.P. Lovecraft — drives the artistry of genre.
“And for me, walking on that set every day, I felt that I was giving H.P. Lovecraft the finger every time I walked on set. Because he was someone who is lauded, appreciated, canonized. And if he knew that his name was being used in service of a story about Black liberation, he would die all over again!”
Vance continued Ellis’ appreciation of being a Black nerd and getting to work on something like Lovecraft Country. He pointed out he, Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett also fit into this category of Blerds, stating while on set: “You have the four of us in a room, and you will get some intensive and intellectual conversations about stuff. I think it has to do with: we all read.”
His nerdiness started back in the halls of his local library where he and his family spent plenty of time there finding books to read. And when he was in school, he was already well-versed in English and history. The only problem was, he wasn’t being taught his history. And just like how Black people had been left out of the stories that Ellis read, Black people in his lessons were being straight written out of history altogether.
“You know, the history is told by the winner, so we didn’t get a chance to know a lot about ourselves,” he mentions. To illustrate his point, he recalls a recent story he read where a Black man from Tulsa, Oklahoma, had no clue that the Tulsa race riots ever happened. “And that is us– we’ve all been harmed by the stories,” he says.
It seems, then, while series and books like Lovecraft Country can’t re-write history, they can do something now to empower the generations of people who were left out of the narrative so long ago. It can be as simple as including more Black nerd characters in a show to the ambitious heights of taking an author’s legacy and using it against them to give power back to the people they hurt. Either way you look at it, progress is being made, and there’s no going back now.
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