Tag Archives: Jonathan Majors

16Aug/20

Lovecraft Country: Is Racism Scarier Than Ghosts, Monsters, and Witches?

SYNOPSIS: HBO’s new drama series, LOVECRAFT COUNTRY, based on the 2016 novel by Matt Ruff of the same name, debuts this August. The series follows Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) as he joins up with his friend Letitia “Leti” (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and his Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) to embark on a road trip across 1950s Jim Crow America in search of his missing father (Michael Kenneth Williams). This begins a struggle to survive and overcome both the racist terrors of white America and the terrifying monsters that could be ripped from a Lovecraft paperback.

If you love 80’s movie nostalgia and horror-themed shows like Tales From the Crypt and Underground, this is the series for you. Showrunner and creator of Underground, Misha Green, brings all of these elements together in the new HBO MAX series Lovecraft Country. Me being a horror buff and a supporter of the various creatives involved (i.e. Jurnee Smollet-Bell, Jonathan Major, Jordan Peele, etc.), I had to check it out and satisfy my pallet for a Black horror series. Added bonus, the series showrunner is a Black woman, something not common in Hollywood. 

Courtney B. Vance, Jonathan Majors, Jurnee Smollet-Bell
Photo courtesy of Warner Media

The Horror of Lovecraft Country

While watching the characters interact with the world around them, I wondered if racism in the 1950s was scarier than the ghosts and monsters? I saw the terrifying look Black characters had when they were being questioned by white police officers and I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between those moments and the moments when they encountered a monster.

I asked actress, Jurnee Smollet-Bell, which was scarier, racism in the 1950s or monsters, ghosts, and witches? She replied, “With the Monsters, what you see is what you get. You kind of know what to expect? It’s pure danger. You do whatever you can to escape, otherwise you’re screwed. With systemic racism, which is what this country has been built upon and has yet to dismantle, it’s more horrifying because it’s more nuanced. You have to fight it at every single step of your life. In the pursuit of your happiness, whether it’s purchasing a home and fight against the redlining and housing discrimination in the 1950s, not being able to get a loan from a bank if you wanted to purchase in a certain neighborhood, driving while Black, trying to apply for a job at a local store. It’s actually more oppressive and terrifying to me because you don’t know what to expect, you don’t know when it’s coming.”   

I can definitely see the Jordan Peele influence – using racism as a horror element. Showrunner, Misha Green, mentions in her Warner Media interview how much influence Jordan Peele had stating, “When we were working on Lovecraft – he was doing the film Us at the time – we talked a lot about our shared belief regarding horror, which is: You need the metaphor. I’d played with that on ‘Underground’; that it was a heist movie but set in slavery times.” 

Actor Jonathan Majors also noted Jordan Peele’s influence. “This series shows we as Black people contain multitudes. We have all these things inside of us. We know that horror is a part of our life, we know Afrofuturism is just our imagination. It gives us permission to move into any genre we want. I was surprised that Jordan Peele took Black bodies and put them into a horror genre and expanded the scope.”

Jurnee Smollet-Bell
photo courtesy of Warner Media

Tic and Leti

The series lead protagonist, Atticus Aka Tic, is played by actor Jonathan Majors. The character has a love for books and a protector mentality – an extremely compelling character. Starting off as a nerdy kid with glasses who transformed into a courageous young man, I wanted to see more background of his transition into manhood. I discovered Majors had researched his role by reading various authors, some of whom are mentioned in the series. When Atticus is introduced, he’s seen reading a book and even mentions his love for books. I ask Majors if he had to survive in a mansion filled with ghosts and monsters what historical black figure would he choose to be with him? He responded, “Fredrick Douglas and Nat Turner because, in this type of scenario, we have to do a trio. Like Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman. It would be me, Frederick Douglas, because he has the brains and Nat Turner because he’s a fighter! Go homeboy Nat!”  

Leti is a very amiable character. Her confidence, charisma, and charm had my attention every time she was on screen. She embodies the strength of strong female Black lead actresses from that time period. Smollet-Bell explained the inspiration for the character came from her grandmother, whom she never got to meet. “My grandmother’s nickname was Showtime! I grew up hearing the stories about her being a single mother, raising four kids, and being so mistreated by white folks whom she cleaned the house for. Yet they could not rob her of her dignity!” Smollet-Bell also read prominent writers like James Baldwin and Gwendalyn Brooks to research for the role. She mentioned her search to find the fire inside Eartha Kitt to bring life to her character Letitia and it shows. 

Misha and the Music

One of the elements that set the tone of each scene was the amazing soundtrack. I found myself lured in the various songs and speeches that really give the series life. In my head, I thought, “Yeah we needed to have a Black showrunner in charge of this show because this soundtrack is dope and engaging.” Being a music, tv, and film lover, I was definitely satisfied having all those boxes checked off in one project. Especially when artists like Moses Sumney, Leon Bridges, and Black opera singer, Marian Anderson, play throughout the course of the series. 

When asked about the soundtrack selection, Misha Green explained, “Joe Pokaski and I used to talk about how do we pull the slavery portrait off the museum wall and evolve the story beyond, ‘Look at how bad slavery was’? One way was by using more vibrant camera movements; the other was through using modern music. I wanted to build on that in Lovecraft and also integrate ‘found audio’ into the score. For example, in the opening, we use voiceover from [the 1950 film] ‘The Jackie Robinson Story.’ Later we have [Ntozake Shange’s 1975 poem] For Colored Girls and [poet, Gil Scott-Heron’s] Whitey on the Moon. I love the idea of taking our show ‘out of time.’ It’s the past, present, and future. How do we wrap all of that into a unique soundscape? We want the show to be full-sensory, engaging, and have people learn from it without having to learn from it. My favorite learning experiences are immersive; those that make me re-think what I know as opposed to ‘here’s some bad history.’ How can we immerse the viewer even further? I love when I have revelations two weeks after the fact where I’m like, ‘Oh wow, ok.’”

The horror-themed time period piece, Lovecraft Country, it is in a league of its own – providing a world where fear is a theme defined in many ways and in some cases relatable. Is racism scarier than monsters, witches, and ghosts? Check out the series Lovecraft Country August 16th on HBO Max at 9pm and you can decide…

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY is executive produced by Misha Green, who also serves as showrunner, Jordan Peele, and J.J. Abrams.

11Jun/20
da 5 bloods

Spike Lee’s, Da 5 Bloods, is Reflective of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement

DA 5 BLOODS (L to R) Director SPIKE LEE, ISIAH WHITLOCK JR. as MELVIN, DELROY LINDO as PAUL, JONATHAN MAJORS as DAVID, CLARKE PETERS as OTIS and NORM LEWIS as EDDIE of DA 5 BLOODS. Cr. DAVID LEE/NETFLIX © 2020

SYNOPSIS: From Academy Award® Winner Spike Lee comes a New Joint: the story of four African-American Vets — Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) — who return to Vietnam. Searching for the remains of their fallen Squad Leader (Chadwick Boseman) and the promise of buried treasure, our heroes, joined by Paul’s concerned son (Jonathan Majors), battle forces of Man and Nature — while confronted by the lasting ravages of The Immorality of The Vietnam War.

From the very start of the film Da 5 Bloods, the tone is set with a clip of Muhammad Ali’s disagreement with the Vietnam war. Issues of racism, selective patriotism, poverty, discrimination, greed, and mental health awareness were covered throughout this film – and are pretty much a sign of the times. The film even had its moments making fun of Donald Trump and how the world mocks his leadership. There were times I felt reflective, upset, and disappointed, but overall the film was one of the better high profile films I’ve seen.

Da History

I always love when Spike Lee puts history into his films, some things I have to google to make sure there is accuracy, and sometimes it’s just comforting knowing he gives a damn about our history and Black culture. I was highly impressed with the story of Milton J. Olive III, the young soldier who was awarded the medal of honor after sacrificing himself covering a bomb to save his fellow soldiers. Spike will later pay homage to this in the film. He also mentions the story of Crispus Attacks and his sacrifice for injustice, which also serves as motivation for them to get gold years later.

“My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. … Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people?” – Muhammad Al

The appearance Hanoi Hannah, a Vietnamese radio personality who was most known for her broadcasting during the Vietnam war, was an interesting segment. The five soldiers listened to her speak via radio about the assassination of Martin Luther King and racially driven crimes that really had me connect with the characters. It was as if she was saying while you are over here killing people of color, the rights you claim to fight for are being stripped and Black people are being killed in the very same country you are fighting for.

DA 5 BLOODS (L to R) ISIAH WHITLOCK JR. as MELVIN, NORM LEWIS as EDDIE, CLARKE PETERS as OTIS, DELROY LINDO as PAUL, JONATHAN MAJORS as DAVID in DA 5 BLOODS. Cr. DAVID LEE/NETFLIX © 2020

I was intrigued by the French character’s interaction with the lead characters and the discussion of the French involvement with America during the war. It just made me think of how Americans perceive war and our reasons for war. 

Da Cause *Spoiler Alert*

The MacGuffin of the film, the gold, was definitely a reward the soldiers deserved. Just like many Black people feel today after the blood spilled, lives lost, ideas stolen, land stolen, etc. They don’t get to enjoy the riches of a thriving economy? Damn right they made a smart call to return for that fortune. To me, it was a way they were fighting to receive their overdue reparations. 

By the end of the film, it was compelling to see how it compares to what we are all experiencing right now – the importance of family and other people. I am not going to lie, during the parts where Chadwick Boseman’s character was talking about giving the money back to the people I thought, “Look at Black Panther over here taking some of the Killmonger beliefs!”

It was even cool seeing how the #BlackLivesMatter organization received some the money to help their cause…much like they are doing now after the lost lives of innocent Black people. 

DA 5 BLOODS (L to R) ISIAH WHITLOCK JR. as MELVIN, NORM LEWIS as EDDIE, DELROY LINDO as PAUL, CLARKE PETERS as OTIS and JONATHAN MAJORS as DAVID in DA 5 BLOODS Cr. COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2020

Da Relationships

The relationship between Paul (Delroy Lino) and David (Jonathan Majors) I found intriguing because of the exploration of mental health and display of masculinity. Although I did want a slightly better ending to the characters, it was still good. Paul suffered severely from mental issues and internal struggles, which is later discovered. I still think it’s funny they had him supporting Trump. 

Eddie (Clark Peters) and Tien was another interesting relationship, having an interracial relationship and child during the 1960s in Vietnam. Talk about a challenging time and tough situation? It was a twist I did not expect. 

Da Blackness

Spike Lee always represents Blackness in his films, it’s the little things that other executives, writers, and directors don’t show. Take for instance the Moorehouse paraphernalia the character David wears or the mention of Black Lives Matter, these are things Black people need to see. How things are organic, not token, not stereotypical but the effortless display of Black culture. Hollywood should do a better job with all representations, otherwise, it diminishes the integrity of the film.

I found the use of video clips from historical events and people to be satisfying. It really gave me a reason to have a connection to the characters and to feel their pain.

Da 5 Bloods will be released June 12th on Netflix and is definitely worth watching. It does have a lot of gore during the gunfights but that is all overshadowed by the storytelling, character relationships, and conflicts within the film. Spike Lee has definitely provided the viewers with a film we will be talking about for the upcoming months.

da 5 bloods

Directed by Spike Lee

Starring Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock, Jr., Chadwick Boseman

DA 5 BLOODS releases globally on Netflix JUNE 12