Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Lovecraft Country showrunner Misha Green on Indiana Jones and the dark truth of museums

In this week’s episode of Lovecraft Country, “A History Of Violence,” Tic, Leti, and Montrose—and some hangers-on—pack up the car and voyage to Boston to dig deeper into the racist, symbol-filled world of the Sons Of Adam. What follows is a full on Indiana Jones-style adventure that starts inside a museum and ends up with the trio mysteriously back in Chicago. The whole thing is part National Treasure, part Goonies, and 100% creepy as hell. We sat down with Lovecraft showrunner Misha Green to get more insight into “A History Of Violence,” as well as the show as a whole. Part of that interview is in the video above, but for a full transcript, keep on reading.

The A.V. Club: Lovecraft Country is a genre series, but it’s not just one genre: It’s Goonies. It’s sci-fi. It’s National Treasure. It’s ghosts. It’s monsters. How did you walk the tightrope of weaving so many types of stories together?

Misha Green: When I pitched the show, I said I wanted to go big. I want to reclaim the thing from Matt [Ruff]’s novel that I really loved. I wanted to make a TV show to reclaim the genre space for people who have been typically left out of it. I wanted to go big to all the genre spaces, and that was the mandate. That’s what we started out doing, and then we just figured out how to do it.

I feel like, for every episode we had our syllabus with our movies and our genre literary canon. We just tackled it and went after it to say, “Okay, this is our Goonies episode. This is our Indiana Jones episode. This is our ghost story,” also knowing that at the end of the day, these characters had to be grounded so that this family that we’re following on this rollercoaster, we’d be on the ride with them if we cared about them.

AVC: The pacing of the show is also fairly feverish. There were points during the first or second episodes where I’d stop and think, “Did I just watch four episodes without realizing it?” How did you work out how fast you wanted the show to move along, and how you wanted to spread out the story?

MG: I just like things to move when I watch TV. I like stuff to happen. I don’t like that feeling where you think, “They’ve stretched this thing out over 10 episodes, and it’s really people having the same conversations over and over when it’s like, ‘No, let’s go forward. Let’s not be afraid to know that there’s always more story to be had. You don’t have to wait for it.’”

I think that for me, especially with this idea of doing this anthology and having the idea that each episode would have its own theme, we just also had to go, “Okay, this is our Indiana Jones story. We have to go from start to finish with Indiana Jones, and then we’re moving into Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, then a mystery story, and then a crime thriller.” So what are the things we want to hit in each episode, in each genre?

AVC: For “A History Of Violence,” we’re talking about the Indiana Jones story. It’s interesting to have this piece initially set in a museum, because museums are oftentimes inherently racist. There’s a lot of, “Here’s this great explorer and here’s what he brought back from these far away worlds,” but we’re not talking about the people who were already there, or why that explorer maybe went there in the first place—whether it was to exploit the people, get rich through trade, or exploit resources.

MG: That’s one of the reasons we named the episode “A History Of Violence.” It’s like how we grade “the other.” It was really interesting to me to talk about that and how we pretend that’s not the case, but then also to not just talk about how white people rate the other, but also how people of color who are the other rate other cultures. It’s a history that’s repeating itself. Even when you’re aware of that history, you can still be a perpetrator of it in a way. That’s what was exciting about this episode for me, going a little deeper into that thought process.

With the adventure story, the idea is that we look at Indiana Jones, but we’re also realizing that he’s raiding a temple, which is the culture of someone else. But all we see is the planning and Jones’ part of it, you know? So that was the unpacking and the layering. It was interesting to us to think about adventure stories in a different way.

AVC: I was watching a “classic” Jeopardy! episode the other night, and the question was like, “This explorer made an amazing discovery in Egypt,” and having watched this episode, I remember thinking, “I know the answer they’re looking for is Howard Carter, but there’s a lot we’re not talking about below the surface of this question.”

MG: I think when we look at the adventure genre as a whole, we don’t talk about those things.

We don’t talk about how we say Columbus “discovered” America even though there were people here. “There are lots of people here on this thing you discovered. It didn’t just start existing when you arrived here.” The history of a lot of the stuff we get taught is the history of white men, and it’s not necessarily the real history of the world.

AVC: Speaking of white history: Lovecraft Country makes passing mention of the Tulsa massacre, which a lot of people only just learned about recently from watching Watchmen. Now that people have learned about it, though, they’re acting on that knowledge, learning more, and spreading that awareness. Is there a piece of history that you hope someone will see on your show and think, “I’ve got to know more about that.”

MG: All of it. I’m a huge history buff, and I think that there’s so much history that has been untold because it’s been kept a secret by purpose. With [Green’s previous show] Underground, it was the same thing. We’ve only looked at this time in America being like, “Let’s make sure we’re clear that the racists were bad,” but this was the whole of America at the time. So what can we say? The whole of America was bad, but we’re sidestepping that conversation. I think that if there are any gems that they find from the show, I hope that people hit that wall and find out more.

I’m always finding out more. Before I read Matt Ruff’s book, I had never heard of a sundown town. I didn’t know that there were towns all over America that you couldn’t be Black in after dark and they literally had signs everywhere. I was just like, “What?” [If] I made that up in a horror story, people would be like, “Okay, that’s a little far-fetched.” And it was true.

AVC: I was reading an interview where you said that in horror films, there’s a level of anxiety about the fact that your life can be taken at any moment, and that’s just like the Black experience. It seems like a lot of viewers and reviewers are connecting with that sentiment and with that idea. How did you work to make the writers room a place where people felt like they could share very deep feelings and traumas?

MG: For every writer that came in to be interviewed, I said, “Be prepared for therapy. We’re going to be excavating here. You’re going to feel uncomfortable a lot. We’re going to go there.”

I feel like there’s no point to telling the story if you’re not going to challenge yourself to tell the story. That was the baseline understanding of what we were going to do. And you know, people are like, “Yeah, sure, sure.” And then they get in there and are like, “Hey, this is really what we’re doing. Oh, my gosh.”

You just have to create a space where you say, “This is a safe space. You can say anything in here and you won’t be judged for it until you’re judged for it, because we all judge people, but, here, speak.” I think it starts with me being willing to speak and showing that I am willing to be vulnerable in this space. If we are vulnerable together, what we can create together will be so much more powerful than what I could if I was being vulnerable alone.

So it’s just creating, and taking those same thought processes into production with the actors and saying, “You’re good. We’re going to go there. It’s going to be intense, but know there’s always a safety net here. There’s always care. There’s always this space for you to feel this feeling and talk about it.”

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