Lovecraft Country’s Orinthyia Blue: The Safe Negro Travel Guide We Always Needed
Legacy Issue No 1
There is something obscure lurking between each scene of HBOs newest hit series, Lovecraft Country. It is a guided thing that changes the way the series operates through careful creeping, so as not to be seen by any eye not meant to see it. It is unlike horror, unlike science-fiction in the way that it works. While offering a hybrid mix of both genres is no new feat, using America’s very real history of racism as a backdrop endows the show with a special property to hold its black audience in an isolated space, removing us from the cinematic razzmatazz, and positioning us firmly in our own bitter, black-ass history in this country. As black viewers, we were all Ruby Baptiste playing dress up as Hillary Davenport, sitting on our couches, easy and entitled to that ease. But just like Ruby, this role was not ours to play or ours keep.
As a storyteller, I am able to stay firmly planted in a world of fictional people, places, things, and scenarios. Misha Green’s, creator and executive producer of AMC’s Underground, use of the most stagnant acts of violence and hatred in African American history made it almost impossible to stay put in the story. We were not meant to see this series in the same way non-black viewers saw it. While this series may provide nothing more than entertainment for the unmelanated masses, it lures its black viewers through the smoke and mirrors of monsters and magic so that we might come face to face with the horrific reality of the crimes and mistreatment our ancestors navigated in this country…crimes and mistreatment that we fight to this day. When I realized that this show was for us, but not our entertainment, I began to worry. I feared that the show might leverage its fictional elements to venture off in some fantastical direction where the racism just outside my door might cease to exist in a show that seeks to draw my attention directly to it. Guiding me through the Jim Crow south, through the Tulsa Massacre, through the margin where black minds sit on the outs with their own identities seemed like an awful burden to bear only to deliver me into a world where magic provides us the tols, we need to disassemble the system of racism. It seemed disingenuous and irresponsible. Where is this show going, and what do we do once we get there?
As my fear progressed, I expended a great deal of energy into working my way out of that isolated space. From the outside, the razzmatazz seemed like a safer place to exist. Frustrated, I settled into the idea that perhaps Green was just trying to tell a worthwhile story…that the show might still be a success if I could just get out of my head and back to my spot on the couch. Fortunately for me, Lovecraft Country was precisely the show black people needed, at precisely the time black people needed it.
[Enters Orinthyia Blue, stage right]
It was the wormhole for me…the very moment Hippolyta Freeman, a widowed mother piecing together the trifles that remained of her life after Arkham, was pulled out of the dark margins and thrust into the galaxy to be granted three wishes by one of the Crystal Gems. This was the moment I found my way out of isolation and back into the razzmatazz, back into the body of Ruby Baptiste escaping herself in the body of Hillary Davenport. How could this be anything more than an act of pure science fiction? It was more. This was also the very moment that Green would take the remnants of the Safe Negro Travel Guide, a paper-back travel companion published by Hippolyta and George, and extend to it a birth, a face, a body, a name, Orinthyia Blue. Just as soon as I was out of isolation, I was immediately pulled back into it… but this time I was isolated into myself, and with a blue-haired woman toting centuries of advanced knowledge and capability to serve as my guide.
In truth, I am a black man navigating a profound resurgence of American hatred and racism. I am watching a sci-fi/horror series about racism that I cannot fully enjoy because this fiction is built on top of my history.
It is through Hippolyta’s evolution into Orinthyia Blue that we unlock the vehicle to our own legacies and discover the power hidden in the truths that isolate us...“old and familiar dead feelings.” Hippolyta found a place where she “…could name [herself] anything and [she] did” – a sexually liberated dancer, a warrior, an engineer, a mother, and finally Orinthyia. Hippolyta was not just Dee’s mother, but ourselves, even black men, reflected in the journeys of black women across space and time. A character created by Green to guide us through legacy, laying us open to ourselves and all the fury, fear, and self-hatred attached to pretending to find solace in the smallness we settle ourselves into…the smallness that has always fallen short of our dreams.
It wasn't until we finally met her, the blue-haired heroine brilliantly portrayed by Aunjanue Ellis, that I felt a strange sensation of familiarity. This was not our first time seeing this character. In trying to determine how our hero's fate, how Green would safely land this series, I managed to miss the fact that Orinthyia Blue was present in almost every episode. How did we miss this? It is actually quite easy to miss when you assume that each character portrayed by a black woman exists independently. No, this is not my way saying that all black women are the same. Lovecraft Country is not just about racism, but also about lineage and legacy through which we discover that we have never existed independently. Orinthyia Blue is the guide drawing us further and further out of the isolation of independent existence, through legacy, and into alignment with ourselves.
She was Leti swinging a Louisville Slugger through car windows in an all-white neighborhood. She was Hannah bending fire into Atticus so that he might save the world. She was Hattie being incinerated as she prayed with Leti over the Book of Names. She was Ruby shoving a stiletto up the ass of a racist store manager. She was Dora pressing Tic’s head into her lap, ushering him forward through his own fears. As the fire was Hannah’s rage, made manifest, Orinthyia Blue is “intention, location, the body combined with an incantation.” She is the elements of magic made manifest.
Even more striking, was the realization that I have met this character in real life. She was my mother acknowledging my boyish fears and forcing me to press forward anyway. She was my grandfather teaching me to engineer my own solutions when the tools I needed were not at my disposal. She was my grandmother deciding to name herself Survivor when the cancer came. She was the friend that believed in me when I lacked the bravery to believe in myself.
So, what can we do with this perspective? We can seek her out in our own lives, our own lineage, and our own legacies. We can find ourselves somewhere in a story that repeats itself again and again, as many times as is required. We can learn to see her and all that she has done through our mothers, and their mothers…through our fathers and their fathers. We are the children of Orinthyia Blue, of mothers that birth children into a world that would use the horror of their own history to lame them. Like Dee, we may find ourselves damaged – hopelessly bound from our own magic. But it is through legacy, through the countless sacrifices of the many Orinthyias that we may reimagine, rename, and reclaim ourselves. It is through Orinthyia Blue’s guidance that we be restored to who we were always meant to be, who Hattie told us we were–a generation of faith under fire turned to flesh…magical people who don’t require science fiction to manifest… a firm people empowered to crush the throat of anyone who dare to oppress us a second time around.