How 'Lovecraft Country' Premiere Paid Homage to Gordon Parks' 'Segregation Story'

The nightmarish creatures lurking in the woods on HBO's newest horror series Lovecraft Country are certainly terrifying, but the biggest monster of the show resides in the rampant racism endured by its protagonist Atticus Freeman—played by Jonathan Majors—as well as his family and friends. Despite the unsettling gore of it all, the heart of the series, which touches on perseverance and survival, unravels quite beautifully scene after scene. And it does it with the help of a few striking Easter eggs devoted to the late photographer Gordon Parks.

Set during the Jim Crow era of the 1950s, Sunday's premiere episode, titled, "Sundown," follows Atticus as he sets forth to find his missing father with the help of his Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) and childhood friend Letitia Lewis. At its climax, the biggest threats in the first episode are the vampire-like creatures that bump about in the night of a small town, but through a montage scene of the trio's travels, a different kind of evil is captured through the segregation and racist taunting they face along the way.

'Lovecraft Country' Paid Homage to Gordon Parks
Jurnee Smollett appears in the HBO series, "Lovecraft Country," which premiered on August 16, 2020. Elizabeth Morris/HBO

Voiced over with an excerpt of a James Baldwin's 1965 debate against William F. Buckley Jr., viewers get a glimpse of the open road as it would have been experienced by three Black Americans forced to follow Jim Crow bylaws: cornfields stretch from town to town, Atticus is mocked by a white man during a gas station stop, a black father buys his kids ice cream from the "Colored" counter at the parlor while a black woman and a little girl, decked out in white dresses, stand below a "Colored Entrance" sign outside of a movie theater. Letitia snaps photos all along the way.

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If the imagery of the road trip montage looked familiar, that's probably because it is.

Some of the moments displayed were straight out of Park's critically acclaimed Segregation Story photo series, which captured the everyday experience of Black people living in the South during the 1950s. A number of viewers were quick to notice the connection.

"I want everyone to notice how @LovecraftCountry recreated powerful imagery from the segregated south. On the LEFT is Gordon Park's 1956 photograph outside a [theater] in Mobile, Alabama. On the RIGHT is a brief scene from #LovecraftCountry," one fan wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

"So amazing to see this reference in Lovecraft Country- captured as though it was just a second before Gordon Parks took the photo. The show is very well done. And dead-on with the systemic, omnipresent racism," wrote another.

Parks originally published a series of 26 pictures for the Life magazine photo-essay The Restraints: Open and Hidden, which examined the "everyday activities and rituals of one extended African American family living in the rural South under Jim Crow segregation," according to the Gordon Parks Foundation's website. One of the most memorable pictures from the collection was of Joanne Thornton Wilson and her niece, Shirley Anne Kirksey, who were photographed outside of an Alabama theater in their white dresses—an image that immediately resonated with fans when they spotted its recreation in Lovecraft Country.

The highly regarded Parks—who was a musician, writer and film director in addition to photographer—died in 2006, but five years after his death 70 more color transparencies were discovered in a bin labeled "Segregation Series." The collection in full was published by Park's foundation in 2014, once again thrusting his work back into the ethos.

How 'Lovecraft Country' Premiere Paid Homage to Gordon Parks' 'Segregation Story' | Culture