Lovecraft Country: The Immediate Value of Diversity in Genre Entertainment

Note: This isn’t a review of Lovecraft Country, the HBO television series based on the novel by Matt Huff. Nor is it a critical analysis of either. Rather it is merely the distillation of a thought that has rattled around inside me since I started watching the show, so take it as such.

To best avoid burying the lede, I’ll state my thesis outright: the immediate value of diversity in genre fiction is that it creates the opportunity to view otherwise tried — or tired — stories within new contexts, making them fresh an interesting again. Even if one chooses to ignore the important work of examining mainstream — read: straight, white, male — culpability in the marginalization of others — read: queer, brown, non-male — one can still see how authors that are not straight, white men bring something important to the table.

Of course we should be examining that culpability, and we should be doing so in spaces that are traditionally the domain of the mainstream. By doing so, we expose those people to events and ideas they had not been taught or considered. A good example of this is the opening minutes of the first episode of HBO’s Watchmen series which revealed for the first time to many white viewers the destruction of the affluent, successful Black community of Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921. That sequence did more to teach white American Gen-X and Millenial genre fans about the true nature of their country than most of their history education.

Lovecraft Country does not include so dramatic and shocking a singular event that would surprise white audiences. Instead it focuses on the every day kind of oppression African Americans in post-War, pre-Civil Rights America suffered. These cruelties are more well known to the average viewer: back of the bus, lunch counters, sundown towns and lynchings. This is partly because American education has done a better job of introducing the Civil Rights movement, and probably more due to the love that Academy Award hunters have for the era. In either case, Lovecraft Country certainly protrays these indiginities as the horrors they actually were and that itself is important.

But, that too veers wide of my thesis. The Lovecraftian tale of the young man who is drawn into a web of mystery, horror and eldritch powers by a letter from a lost relative is a thoroughly beaten trope. After all, it was already old when Lovecraft embraced it and his imitators have only further worn it down to a nub of its former narrative usefulness. By applying the trope to this new context, the trope becomes new again and we are engaged by an idea that would have otherwise had us yawning.

This is what diverse creators bring to genre entertainment, be it novels, comic books, video games, television shows and film, or tabletop games. These experiences, either personal or passed down through culture, do not invade or supplant or erase the foundational works, they enhance and update and reinvigorate them. Thankfully, they often also change them for the better by exposing their inherent biases, but at the core the immediate value is that they make otherwise rote stories into something worth exploring.

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