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Lovecraft Country's Aunjanue Ellis on Hippolyta's vital voice and moment in the sun

Illustration for article titled iLovecraft Country/is Aunjanue Ellis on Hippolytas vital voice and moment in the sun
Image: Eli Joshua Ade/HBO

This post discusses plot points of the Lovecraft Country episode, “I Am.”

We don’t see too much of Hippolyta Freeman (Aunjanue Ellis) in the first six episodes of HBO’s Lovecraft Country, but what viewers can clearly glean from a number of emotionally fraught moments is her devotion to her dearly departed husband, George (Courtney B. Vance) and her growing tension towards her nephew, Atticus (Jonathan Majors). Hippolyta’s narrative is, at first, so thoroughly wrapped in her family that her own goals, desires, and dreams are heavily cloaked in the drama unfolding around her. In fact, the only real hints of her adventurous spirit lie in her desire to embark on trips for the Safe Negro Travel Guide—something that George promised to make a possibility before his demise.

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In episode seven of , titled “I Am,” Hippolyta is finally given her moment to not only shine, but spark. The A.V. Club spoke with actress Aunjanue Ellis about the plight of the shrinking Black woman, what it will take to forgive Tic, and what it means for Hippolyta to finally have her voice.


The A.V. Club: Lovecraft Country explores so many elements of horror and sci-fi, from body horror to monster lore. For “I Am,” Hippolyta gets to explore the multiverse. What was it like to see your character—someone who happens to be an astronomer—get such a sci fi-heavy storyline?

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Aunjanue Ellis: Well, I feel like it’s the first time that we hear her speak. Essentially, we’ve heard her use other folks’ language but now she gets to speak on her own, in her own language. And here’s the thing: She loves her husband. She loves her daughter. She loves her nephew. She loves the community that she inhabits in Chicago. She loves, cherishes, and adores it all. But it comes at the sacrifice of who she is and that can’t coexist. So now what we see in Hippolyta is her awareness: “Yes, I am these things—wife, mother, stalwart of the community—but I’m all these things at the sacrifice of my essential self.” We heard she was an astronomer. We saw her with the telescope. But we have never heard her speak her the knowledge of the stars and the universe. So that’s the biggest thing, that we hear Hippolyta speak for the first time.

AVC: What’s so satisfying about Lovecraft, based on what we’ve seen thus far, is that Hippolyta is presented as a fully-fledged human in the face of tragedy. In lesser hands, she would have been seen living in her grief “gracefully” and still very embracing of Tic. Here, we see this fraught relationship between her and Tic upon their return. She’s allowed to be angry about being lied to about George’s death. Do you see that relationship repairing at all in the future?

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AE: Perhaps, but I think it’s a repair that has to happen on Hippolyta’s terms, and I don’t think that she has been given, given that space. So now she has to take that space, to assume that space of her own. She resents being lied to, no matter the reason why. How can you live in truth when you don’t know how your husband died? So all of her relationships are sort of going to be tossed in the wind until she finds herself. So if there is that repair with Atticus, it has to come in a way that so Hippolyta can design that repair because now these relationships are sort of built on frequent preconception of what who she is or what they want her to be. Now, Hippolyta is taking her time and space to sort out herself and the world through her own eyes, lens, and gaze. So we’ll see.

AVC: There’s obviously a lot of adventure in this episode, but it was mainly an introspective journey for Hippolyta. She got to experience these powerful alternative lives before reuniting with George and digging into the source of her anger—specifically, realizing that she “shrank” her potential and spirit for him and their family. Thinking back to the first, tender scene between Hippolyta and George in episode one, did this script change your perception of Hippolyta and George all?

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AE: It didn’t change my perception of Hippolyta and George because I think that George is a good man. In terms of repressive husbands, you don’t get any better than George. He is what he knows, and I think that his intention is to keep his wife safe. He is a Black man in America in the 1950s and we are Black people in America in the 2020s. So I know what it’s like to wake up every morning and call my sister because I want to know that she is OK. I do believe that that is at the core of what he wants, so it didn’t change what I thought about him. What it made me do was think about how I think about this idea of shrinking, what that looks like, what that sounds like. And what’s interesting—and I wasn’t even aware of it—is how my voice sounded as an actor before I go on this journey and then how it sounded after. I sound completely different. My voice is different, and I did that without any sort of awareness of it. So I think it made me made me examine what shrinking looks like in a loving relationship.

AVC: What was particularly rousing about “I Am” was the speech that Hippolyta gives as the warrior, where she touches on the way that anger from Black women is constantly perceived as unladylike. When you consider how much time we spend trying to avoid the Angry Black Woman trope, it’s a pretty emotional moment. What was it like to have that say, both as Hippolyta and as Aunjanue?

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AE: First of all, it was a lot of words. [Laughs] Aunjanue The Actor had never talked that much in a whole series. So it was just like, “I’ve got to get these words right,” you know? I just kept going over and over it so I wouldn’t embarrass myself that day. And then there’s the other part of it, when I was immersing myself into the words of it and just trying to make it mean something to me. It sounds like this Sermon on the Mount, like this Black woman having this moment, or just me purging in. But it’s very specific, some of the things that she said. I’m glad that you talked about that the ladylike aspect, because it’s not just about being justified in having rage as Black women because of white supremacy in this country.

When you look at the movements that we have, when you look at civil rights, movements of freedom like march on Washington, Black women were involved in making that happen. We were we were the architects of that. When they show footage of it, though, you don’t see us. The Black church? We run that. It would not survive if it were not for the presence of Black women in the pews, with our offerings, our tithes. We run that. Who do you see in the pulpits most of the time? The men. All of these movements—the Black Panther Party, Black underground movements—had ostensibly great goals and were about Black liberation. But they were also very repressive and misogynistic.

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The idea behind that repression and misogyny could be, “We don’t want to see you mad. This is where you we need you—in the back, on the sidelines with your mouth shut. Because to do anything other than that means you are not being female. You are not being a woman.” And so we know that to be a lie. So I think that a lot of what Hippolyta is speaking to is not just as generalized rebuke of white supremacy, but it is also a rebuke of misogyny, [especially] misogyny that happens within the Black community.

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