The Disappointing Queerness in Lovecraft Country (So Far)
Lovecraft Country is an exceptionally good show that I expect (along with fellow HBO show I May Destroy You) to sweep the Emmys next year. I love the cast, and showrunner Misha Green is wonderfully talented. Yet the one thing that bothers me about the show is how it has chosen to depict the few queer characters of color we have been given.
SPOILERS FOR LOVECRAFT COUNTRY//TW: Discussions of sexual violence.
In the first episode, we see a Black man, Sammy, receiving a blow job from another Black man, but the giver runs off when Tic interrupts them. The scene, in juxtaposition to the loving sex scene we saw between Hippolyta and George Freeman, sets a tone that while unintentional is very frustrating to the way we will see queer sex and heterosexual sex in the show thus far.
Episode four, “A History of Violence,” shows an Arawak Two-Spirit person named Yahima who is revealed for the first time naked, exposing their penis, and is subsequently killed after sharing pivotal information by Montrose Freeman (Michael K. Williams) to protect his son, Tic. It is in this same episode that another character implies to Tic that his father might be gay.
Note, while the term “Two-Spirit” has become a pan-Indian term, it should be understood that not every Native group uses that term or has it in their culture. Also while in this case it is being used to depict a person with intersex traits, “two-spirit” does not necessarily equal intersex and vice versa.
On the podcast “Lovecraft Country Radio” hosted by writer Ashely C. Ford and writer for the show Shannon Houston, they discuss what the response to this scene might be and how it can be viewed as queerphobic. Both Ford and Houston say that while they understand how the scene fits into the story and the character journey for Montrose, it may not be enough for audiences.
While I love this show and I think it is doing a lot right, I fall into the camp where I think it is not necessarily a good enough reason. Everything about the way that Yahima was depicted felt like it fell under multiple tropes. Their nudity, the way they become silent once their exposition dump was over, and their death once their “purpose” was done.
It is troubling for the sole depiction of an Indigenous person and for queer representation.
In the next episode, “Strange Case,” we see Montrose go to Sammy, his lover. When Montrose enters the room they don’t exchange words, they just have rough sex with spit for lube, over a Frank Ocean song. It is violent and while there are intense scenes of hand-holding, and filled with emotion, there is just something about the way it is depicted so soon after Tic and Letti’s lovemaking scene.
There is no one way to handle these moments, and I certainly understand the emotional complexity they are going for with Montrose. Being a Black gay man, especially at that time, was no picnic, but I think it is limiting to only show the roughness and none of the tenderness. We so rarely get to see images of Black gay community in the past, which I think was nice to see later on with the drag queens.
All of this isn’t to say that I think Lovecraft Country is queerphobic. I think they are certainly trying, and “Strange Case” was directed by Cheryl Dunye, a Black lesbian. The nuance is there and I think the intent is good, but I also feel like by trying to dismantle a lot of these horror tropes, it is easy to lean into some of the troubling subtexts.
At the end of “Strange Case,” with Sammy and Montrose dancing and kissing, I have hope that the future of this story when it comes to Black queerness, and I’m looking forward to it proving me right.
Although that same episode has a scene of a man being anally raped with a shoe and even if it was as part of a race revenge fantasy was something that made me just groan with the trope of it.
I think the murder of Yahima and the way it was depicted was a notch against Lovecraft Country, and felt in many ways like a betrayal from a show that understands how the brutality against people of color can be deeply traumatic, especially with no cultural joy to balance it.
Lovecraft Country is overall an exceptional series thus far, and critiquing it comes not out a desire to see it maligned, but out of a desire to see it not lean into the very things it is trying to subvert.
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