Entertainment

Canceled by HBO, ‘Lovecraft Country’ Emmy nods leave its Black fans vindicated

“Lovecraft Country” is dead. Long live “Lovecraft Country” — at least on Facebook.

The HBO series, recently canceled after just one season and then nominated for 18 Emmys, will surely continue on in one online group it inspired. And while founder Taylor Moten can’t explain how the group gathered and became family so fast, she’s glad they are here, especially with this new wrinkle.

It only took one episode of “Lovecraft Country,” which premiered last summer, for Moten to know she wanted, needed, to talk to someone else about the eye-popping spectacle. She normally keeps to herself, she says, but knew this was bigger than her. She sensed she was not alone, that she was not the only Black woman longing to discuss the genre-hopping show.

But when she searched Facebook, home of groups dedicated to topics big and small, all she could find were those dedicated to H.P. Lovecraft, an unrepentant racist.

Erica Tazel and Jonathan Majors in “Lovecraft Country.”

(Eli Joshua Ade / HBO)

“They wanted a nice, sanitized version of this show and they want to be able to discuss the show without the burden of the racism,” she said. “And I’m like, well, if you take the racism out of this, what is left? This might as well be ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ you know what I mean? It might as well be any other show.”

So Moten created Lovecraft Country Discussion Group, albeit with few expectations.

“If it’s only the three people joining, I’d have three people to talk to about this whole thing,” she said. “And I was fine with that, you know, but after maybe a couple of hours there were 30 and then there were 60. And then I went to sleep. I woke up, there were 100, and I don’t even know, 1,500. I don’t know that many people in my actual life.”

The membership eventually soared past 10,000 members. As the saying goes, “If you build it, they will come.”

“I was like the fifth or the ninth person to join,” says Pamela Wood, who became a group moderator and also a co-host on the group’s podcast. “I didn’t know I had been starving in that way. … A lot of people didn’t know they needed a tribe until a tribe showed up.”

“Lovecraft Country,” based on Matt Ruff’s book of the same name, stars Jonathan Majors as Atticus “Tic” Freeman, who sets out on a grand adventure with his Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) and local gadfly Leti (Jurnee Smollett) in search of his missing father — and swiftly encounters both supernatural monsters and the all-too-real ones.

Though the series is set in the 1950s, its themes — including racism, redlining, transphobia and homophobia — struck a chord with a modern Black audience. Even the name Lovecraft was a trigger.

“What [showrunner] Misha Green and the creatives did was a reclamation,” says moderator and podcast host Mike Richardson. “What they did was say to Black people, ‘We’re here, you see this, we exist.’ And this is how we engaged with the material. Like, this is what we see from our side.”

To this group, “Lovecraft Country” snatched history and retold it in a rich, nuanced way. But when cancellation came, “we exist” seemed to turn into “existence is futile.”

Though there are notable exceptions, such as “Star Trek,” “Lucifer” and “Grimm,” the genres that “Lovecraft Country” inhabits have traditionally been white spaces, lukewarm or unwelcoming to fans or actors of color. (See John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran of “Star Wars,” or Nicole Beharie of “Sleepy Hollow.”) Even Black cosplayers are routinely harassed online.

Moten does her part by not allowing bullying of any sort in her group, which serves multiple purposes. She’s created a safe space for “blerds,” or Black nerds; she shows that representation matters — that Black fans notice and appreciate a narrative crafted especially for them; and she allows those fans to show up in a meaningful way.

Hollywood executives might do well to notice. “Lovecraft’s” cancellation has sparked an outcry from fans online, fueled by the feeling that series from white male showrunners or featuring predominantly white casts might well be given more time to find an audience — or linger on after their sell-by date — than one from a Black woman.

Part of the fans’ disappointment, then, is their sense of ownership of the series. Their pride is in it: They’ve held a digital funeral repast for Tic, created a history lesson about Emmett Till, and had discussions about the appropriateness of Halloween costumes modeled after a harrowing episode.

“It gave so much dignity and respect to the movement, you know? Yes, they’re fighting against monsters. So were our grandparents. So were our great-grandparents. They were literally fighting against monsters,” says Moten. “It just breathed so much light and life into the stories that we always hear about, you know? And it felt good to see us not being just battered with water hoses. It’s like, no, there is plenty of triumph in that moment.”

The conversation it ignited has spread beyond the group proper: Even cast members of “Lovecraft Country” are aware of the group. Andrea Bowman, the show’s key hairstylist, was featured on the group’s podcast and is a member. She shared it with Wunmi Mosaku, who plays Ruby, and she in turn shared it with other cast members, as well as sending the group thanks for “all the love and support.” The comments went wild.

“One of the cool things about this group is that the experience is so varied but everyone is equally engaged in the material,” Richardson said. “So you have people who work retail jobs and then you have PhDs in the group, and everyone’s engaging at the same level, and it’s a beautiful thing to see. Because we all find ourselves in different areas of life in terms of career and things like that, but that does not negate how we extend the show like this.”

Moten: “Underneath it all, like kind of the vibranium of this, is I wanted it to be a protected space. And I wanted it to be a space for awkward Black girls, because that’s what I identify with.” (“How did they put on screen whole feelings like this? How did they just give us that, that many times?” she added of Jurnee Smollett’s Leti, who could be the patron saint of awkward Black girls, going ham on racists’ cars.)

A woman in sunglasses sits in a window

Wunmi Mosaku thanked the “Lovecraft Country” group for all its support, and comments went wild.

(HBO)

No subject seems to be off limits, and the conversations began to stretch the boundaries set by the group’s name. So, in a prescient move and perhaps because there was no definitive word on whether there would be a Season 2, there was a name change: Black Brilliance in Arts and Entertainment.

“That was an interesting moment,” says Iyelli Icheli, another moderator. “When the show was coming to an end, it was almost like a panic, like an anxiety in the group about losing the closeness, the bond, the relationship we had formed with each other — even though it’s a huge group — losing the vibe, losing the high energy, losing the momentum.”

Members were asking “How do we keep this going?” and through polls and discussion, the collective discovered there was more programming to discuss.

Says Icheli, who is director of African American studies at Prince Georges County Community College in her offline life: “The point was that we are analyzing it from that Black standpoint.

“And so for the first time I saw the value of really being in a group to try to unpack a show.”

Moten’s populace met the rebrand with a collective shrug. It seemed as if it was a natural progression; the various discussion topics and the question of whether “Lovecraft Country” would even return almost necessitated it. Lovecraft Country Discussion Group had opened a torrent of typing and nothing would stop it; there’s now even an offshoot group focused on wildlife.

Still, members watched and waited, posting screenshots of Smollett’s Instagram, parsing Green’s words in interviews and on social media for clues, even keeping an eye on casting news for other shows: Our Ruby (Mosaku) was going to be in “Loki.” What did that mean?

Moten and her crew of 14,000 and rising honored Black culture every day by posting and meme-ing until the news came that the show would not return. There was dismay and a palpable sense of resignation. But there was also light.

“We built something greater than the show,” says Wood.

A woman in a printed fabric dress leans on a refrigerator

Jurnee Smollett in “Lovecraft Country.”

(Eli Joshua Ade / HBO)

A nice something at that: Unlike many groups devoted to a single subject, acrimony is missing. There is no gatekeeping here.

“We just don’t tolerate it. There’s no reason to be that way,” Wood says. “Listen, as Black people, we get discouragement the moment we wake up and it could come from any angle. We don’t know when it’s going to happen, but it’s going to invariably happen. … So [in the group] you should be able to be like, ‘I got a question.’ Weird s— should be answerable without the attitude.”

This is collegial discourse ranging from the mundane to spiritual, sartorial to professorial. Moten, a special effects costumer and native of Los Angeles who now lives in New Hampshire, has found what she and others call “cousins” of varied experience.

Moten would like the group to become a place where people can share their interests and talents with others through classes and talks. Maybe they make more of their own media, do their own thing, something Moten has already done by opening the floodgates and letting Black people have their say. A cruise? She laughs.

For now, she has created her own virtual table for the cool kids.

“I essentially made it a big Black breakfast club,” she says. “Not to say we don’t have friends and family obviously, but like, we don’t quite fit. … you know that you have a seat and we’ve been waiting for you to bring this hot tea.”

It leaves her humbled, happy and nerdy.

“I basically just created what I didn’t have and I wasn’t sure if anybody else didn’t have it, but if they didn’t, they were welcome, you know?” she said. “It just took off and it’s been the most shocking thing. I feel so honored by all of these people every day.”

Maybe one day, Hollywood will feel the same way.




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