Lovecraft and his racism
As the organizers of the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival and Portland Horror Film Festival, we support the Black Lives Matter movement, viewing it not as a political issue but a human rights issue. The slogan itself is not trademarked by any organization and is used by anyone who protests police brutality and racially motivated violence, a very real and ongoing issue in our country today.
If you're reading this and dismissing us on the basis that (according to you) this means we support an organization (we don't) that you believe to be Marxist, firstly, we support a movement that is decentralized and supported by many many many organizations, as well as a large compassionate public. The conflation of this far-reaching public movement with only one particular organization, is an artificial and obvious way to sidestep a discussion you're not comfortable having about racial violence in America. We see you and we understand this is your way of dismissing us without addressing the three simple words we used: Black Lives Matter.
Lest you think this means we hate H. P. Lovecraft or are throwing him under the bus, we simply acknowledge that H. P. Lovecraft is a problematic literary figure. We embrace his contributions to the genre, the bleakness of his horror, the coolness of his monsters, but we firmly reject his racist ideologies. We believe the best way to honor his legacy is to discuss and confront the whole person openly. We showcase his literary legacy through film, particularly the genres of Cosmic Horror and the Weird Tale that he helped create, and we believe it is also important to study his vast body of correspondence to better understand the kind of racism prevalent in America in the 1920s and 30s. The kind of casual racism which allowed Jim Crow laws to continue for several more decades, as well as the ingrained and systemic racism that is still part of the US today. As much as his fiction, that window into the real beliefs of an American in the 20s and 30s is also an important contribution made by Lovecraft that sheds light on the real attitudes of what we think of as an enlightened country, during a time that it believed it had conquered these problems. Just like today.
Along with many notable figures in American history, like Thomas Jefferson or Woodrow Wilson, Lovecraft made many worthwhile contributions during his life, but also held beliefs about black people, Jewish people, homosexuals, women, and even European migrants, that were decidedly repugnant. While many people try to avoid discussing these topics by claiming that he was "just a man of his time" because ostensibly everyone was racist in ye olden days. It's important to dispel this notion by recognizing that facets of the civil rights movement were already underway with attempts at major legislation including anti-lynching laws. Several of Lovecraft's peers were even critical of his beliefs, characterizing him as a kind of "racist uncle", and he himself may have regretted some of his notions later in life. His views were likely the product of his upbringing and a relatively insular life, not the product of a uniformly racist culture, and we believe that this kind of thinking not only lets HPL off the hook, but also lets an entire generation of Americans off the hook for re-enforcing some of the systemic injustices still in place today. His views were (and still are) shared by a lot of Americans, and we're interested in examining how that impacts the history of literary horror.
The H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival frequently features guests and speakers who are men, women, queer, transgender, non-binary, and people of color to discuss both the fandom in general and the complexities of being a fan of the works of a man with reprehensible views. People of all skin colors, faiths, genders, and beliefs are welcome at the HPLFF and encouraged to be part of the ongoing discussion.
Our primary mission is to encourage new voices that expand on the cosmic horror genre in new and interesting ways, such as Matt Ruff’s novel Lovecraft Country and Victor LaValle’s Ballad of Black Tom, and an integral part of our programming is highlighting the works of cosmic horror by modern BIPOC creators (BIPOC is defined as Black, Indigenous Americans, including Native Americans and Pacific islanders, and People Of Color). At the festival, we regularly discuss Lovecraft's xenophobia, the times he lived in that embraced the pseudo-science of eugenics, and even the geography of his life, including the state of Rhode Island, which hosted the largest KKK rally on the East Coast in the '20s, as a way to understand both why he held these views and the difficulties in separating art we love from the artist who created it. We also hope to reckon his views, and the views of a generation of Americans, with the ongoing racial injustice and economic disparity in our country today.
Now more than ever it’s important for us to examine our fandom with eyes wide open, and we intend to keep this dialogue open.
If you'd like to know more, or get another point of view, these are articles are worth taking the time to consider. We'll add to this list as we see fit.
Nnedi Okorafor's thoughtful piece on her internal conflict of being a black author who is both a Lovecraft fan and the recipient of a World Fantasy Award, which at the time was a bust of Lovecraft's face, is required reading to understand how it's not okay to dismiss his racism because he's long-gone. Read it here: http://nnedi.blogspot.com/2011/12/lovecrafts-racism-world-fantasy-award.html
You could also read the latest LA Times article by Meredith Blake, who references several authors and takes the time for a detailed discussion of both Lovecraft's importance and his failings: https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2020-08-13/lovecraft-country-hbo-hp-lovecraft-racism-explained
Knowing about the systemic and overt racism prevalent in Rhode Island during the age of Lovecraft helps to highlight why he may have harbored some of his beliefs: https://upriseri.com/2020-06-24-phil-eil/
We believe it is okay to be a fan of Lovecraft's works and his literary legacy while rejecting his personal beliefs, but if you'd like to help fight the kind of systemic racism that is still an integral part of the US today, as the result of generations of Americans who held views similar to his, consider donating to one of the following organizations: