Changing the Narrative: Rewriting Black Girlhood in HBO's Lovecraft Country

Curator's Note

The selected sequence is from “Jig-a-Bobo,” the eighth episode of Lovecraft Country (2020—), the HBO horror series developed from Matt Ruff’s novel about the terrors of Jim Crow segregation in 1950s America. In this episode, the racist police officer, Captain Lancaster (Mac Brandt) accosts grieving preteen Diana Freeman (Jada Harris) after she leaves the memorial of her murdered friend Emmett “Bobo” Till. Lancaster is a member of a secret occult society and he’s in search of a sacred object that he believes is in the possession of Diana’s mother Hippolyta (Aunjanue Ellis). Angered by Diana’s inability to disclose her mother and the object’s locations, Lancaster casts a spell that unleashes two evil spirits, Topsy (Kaelynn Harris) and Bopsy (Bianca Brewton), and prevents Diana from revealing she’s cursed.

By visualizing these spirits as sinister instantiations of Topsy, the mischievous Black girl slave from Uncle Tom’s Cabin and blackface minstrelsy, Lovecraft Country interrogates the distorted representational logic of Black American girlhood through a phenomenology of disordered time. The anachronistic appearances of these Ghosts of Black Girl Pasts create a temporal rupture that invites reflection on the ways these stereotypes have constrained how we see and imagine Black girls’ lives. Moreover, as Topsy and Bopsy materialize in different locations to terrorize Diana, their hauntings alienate her from herself and her environment, and convey the experience of encountering anti-Blackness across a range of sociocultural contexts.

When Diana is unable to convince her family to help her or Lancaster to reverse the spell, she rejects the figures’ spectral tyranny and takes charge of her Black girl narrative. In the featured sequence, Diana finds herself cornered by the menacing choreography of Topsy and Bopsy’s minstrelsy, while an audio excerpt from Naomi Wadler’s 2018 March for Our Lives speech urges a cheering audience to value Black girls and envision their occupation of a subject position that has long been denied. As a result, Diana’s complex positioning within the three temporalities critically engages the historical and ongoing pathologization of Black girlhood, while also gesturing toward possible Black girl futures.

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