Everything that the devil stole, God’s giv’n it back to me
Can't have my joy
Can't have my peace
Can't have my faith
I want everything
(Take It Back by Dorinda Clark-Cole)
Since its inception last summer, HBO’s Lovecraft Country has touched many aspects of Black identity and representation through Black history, critical nostalgia, and public memory. With every episode decorated in the “authentic,” the possible and the imagined, which are central to Afro-futurism, it is not surprising that two of my favorite Black women gospel artists were soundtracks to two of the most powerful scenes led by Leti in the episode entitled "Holy Ghost." The gospel music was the foundation for the moments of resistance, power, and agency by this Black woman who was seeking her own spiritual awakening while also reclaiming her life, time, and space from the ghosts of the past.
Prelude: In the previous episode, Leti is killed and then resurrected in Ardham, never forgetting her unique experience with life and death. The next time we see her in episode 3, she is in church watching everyone be moved by the spirit while her own expression is more or less lifeless. The congregation is one that is culturally familiar in the Black pentacostal church experience: the dancing, shouting, praising, and the aesthetic. We know this place. We’ve been here before. This scene opens us up to the spiritual nature of Leti’s journey as she deals with Uncle George’s death, her own death, and soon the deaths of the Black people who were murdered in her home. An article by Vulture stated, “'Holy Ghost' deals a lot with death and “everyone is confronting ghosts” (Collider.com). What is more haunting than racism and white supremacy? While the music here is more muted, Leti’s loud journey has just begun. It begins with her own Black feminist thought, one that moves her from dying to existing to living beyond the frames and stories she captures.
Track 1: Ruby and Leti have thrown a “housewarming party” despite feeling very unwelcomed by their white neighbors. In the middle of the festivities, Ruby opens the door to see their neighbors have placed a burning cross in their front yard -- the audience knows this visual threat all too well. And then we hear it . . . almost out of place, but so familiar it's comical. “Take It Back” by Dorinda Clark Cole begins playing and as the lyrics suggest, everything that was taken from Leti, Leti is taking it back. Leti rushes outside with purpose in hand and begins smashing car windows with all of her strength and removing the bricks from the steering wheels whose horns sang the steady tune that had disrupted her peace and rest since her arrival. This Black woman handled her own and literally took the power into her own hands [with a bat] as the Black men stood at attention, prepared for whatever consequences came next. But this gospel celebration was not over yet.
Track 2: Throughout the episode, Leti is convinced there are ghosts trapped in her home, and as she is trying to untether herself to the death she experienced, she must call on the spiritual reinforcements and guidance of a priestess. There’s an exorcism in the basement. Leti's freedom is tied to the freedom of the spirits left behind in her home; both murdered by racism, both anguished by the same hate and power. When the exorcism goes wrong, Leti must rely on what’s familiar to her -- her voice, power, and experience. Growing up in the Black church, the scene brought me back to the saints praying for the evil spirits to loose their hold on the tormented earthly bodies at the altar and in spite of my fear and intrigue I could not turn away from the scene; I am was not alone in this audience reception and tension. Joined together now in a circle, hand in hand with the ghosts, Leti uses her voice to confront the evil in order to free herself and the other lost souls as Shirley Caesar’s "Satan We’re Gonna Tear Your Kingdom Down" orchestrates the moment. In a powerful and horrific scene, Lovecraft Country makes space for magic, spirtuality, and music. By seeing multiple sides of Black spirituality, audiences are welcomed into another familiar space, one that is a nostalgic tune reminiscent of the Black freedom movements. Those same movements that were soundtracked by the African American tradition found in gospel songs.
The Benediction: Music and spirituality play integral roles in Black identity and representation. To utilize them together places audience members inside of the authentic spaces of identity-making and the multiplicity or pluralism of our experiences. The episode, "Holy Ghost," gives audiences the opportunity to grapple with their own spirituality, fights for freedom, and resistance against other racial horrors as we all attempt to understand what it means to mourn, remember, and remain.