Lovecraft Country is HBO's newest foray into science fiction and horror. But the new series brings a modern twist to these now standardized genres. Like Jordan Peele's Get Out, Lovecraft Country explores the horror of humankind's inhumanity, in which the monsters out of novels compete with the monsters out of real life. Lovecraft Country's message that racial discrimination and the horror of white supremacy rival anything a fantasy can dream up is brought home by the show's use of the soundtrack, which has fans asking whether the speech in Lovecraft Country Episode 1 is real. For many, that road trip montage struck a chord.
Warning: Spoilers for Lovecraft Country Episode 1 follow. The Lovecraft Country soundtrack, in general, is a striking mix of modern-day music and period piece material. The series is set in the late 1950s, with Atticus recently home from his stint in the Korean War. The music selections include staples of the era like "A Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On," which Lita performs with her sister Ruby's band. But there's just as much modern music, like Tierra Whack's "Clones," which plays as Atticus walks down the hot summer street in Chicago.
But the most impressive selection comes around the first episode's halfway mark, as Atticus, Lita, and Atticus' Uncle George hit the road to search for Atticus' missing father. The scene that plays is the standard "on the road" montage of cornfields, gas stations, stretch breaks, etc. But instead of a jaunty 1950s tune or some modern-day hip hop song about traveling, what sounds like a speech meditating on race in America begins to play.
At first, it seems like it might be what the show's travelers are listening to on the radio, but it quickly becomes apparent that no, this is not something they are hearing. For one thing, it's not a speech that would have played on any radio in the 1950s. It's actually an excerpt from a debate that happened a decade later, in 1965.
This debate pitted writer James Baldwin against the man who is considered the founder of American conservatism, William F. Buckley Jr. In it, Baldwin gamely allows himself to debate his own humanity for the good of the white folks listening, as Buckley spouts the kind of race theory that today would be dismissed as the ugly bigotry, and shows how little he prepared himself, convincing himself his sparring partner would be easily defeated.
The full debate was uploaded to YouTube in recent years, where it has become a reminder in these times how long these arguments have been playing out for the American public. For those who are familiar with it, the excerpt the show uses will come with the shocking recognition of how deeply it speaks to the series' themes. For those who have never heard it before, let's hope this show opens up Baldwin's poetic defense to a new audience.
Lovecraft Country airs on HBO on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET.