There are two kinds of horror at work in HBO’s new series Lovecraft Country. The most obvious is, of course, the absolutely terrifying literal monsters that will have you checking under your bed at night. The second is the insidious institutional racism at work in the show’s Jim Crow era setting. 

During the show’s Comic-Con@Home panel, star Jurnee Smollett-Bell discussed the exhausting, yet necessary, process of depicting the chilling kind of racism that faced Black Americans in the 1950s, and how echoes of it are still alive today.

In the pilot episode, Smollett-Bell’s character has a tense run-in with the police while trying to get out of a sundown town. Smollett-Bell says those kinds of scenes were challenging to film given how timely that situation still is today, over 60 years later.

“It is tough because — without going into any spoilers — there are so many themes that we explore in this show that resonate with us as being Black Americans in 2020,” Smollett-Bell said. “Unfortunately, as we’re seeing, sometimes our police departments are what Angela Davis calls one of the most dramatic examples of structural racism. And tapping into that energy is a very dark place to go to. Just in general, tapping into the systemic racism that our nation’s been built upon, it is, of course, a dark place to go to. But it’s necessary…It’s something that reverberates through our DNA, this visceral connection to the oppression of our people. That’s why these stories — we’re still telling them.”

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Courtney B. VanceJonathan Majors, and Michael K. Williams went on to discuss their personal experiences with that same kind of systemic racism in today’s world, be it with law enforcement or not. Some of their stories even brought their fellow cast member, Aunjanue Ellis to tears.

The conversation then segued into the literal, CGI monsters that populate the world of Lovecraft Country along with those all-too-human monsters. Based on what we’ve seen so far, you should definitely brace yourself for some nightmare-inducing beasts, complete with tentacles and teeth. 

“The monsters represent everything that’s dark and vile in society,” said Michael K. Williams. “That’s what the monsters represented to me in the first reading of the pilot.” 

Lovecraft Country debuts Sunday, Aug. 16 at 9/8c on HBO.

Jurnee Smollett-Bell,<em> Lovecraft Country</em>Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Lovecraft Country

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