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LOVECRAFT COUNTRY’s Leti Lewis Is a Formidable Horror Heroine

Lovecraft Country focuses the crux of its story on Atticus Freeman’s unraveling family secrets. He’s the “chosen one” with controversial magic blood running through his veins and a litany of sci-fi and horror knowledge to guide him along the way. However, fans have fallen for this show’s formidable leading lady Letitia “Leti” Lewis. And its obvious why she resonates so deeply with viewers. Leti is tour de force of bravery, passion, style, and intelligence as a complex hero in her own right.

The show could have easily made her a one-dimensional eye candy sidekick to Tic’s adventures. However, Leti has her own distinct purpose, goals, and motivations outside of her connection to Tic. This is because of Black women creatives like Lovecraft Country‘s showrunner Misha Green and writers Shannon M. Houston and Sonya Winton-Odamtten. And the inimitable actress Jurnee Smollett pours her soul and body into Leti’s charm, wit, heartbreak, and fear.

Leti’s brilliant, layered, and empowering characterization speaks to the necessity of having Black women formulate and tell our own stories. It’s both the big things like Leti’s keen perception and boldness as well as intricate details like her wearing a scarf to bed that make her a realistic Black woman deuteragonist.

Jurnee Smollett as Leti Lewis leans on a table in a library

Eli Joshua Ade/HBO

She’s an artistic free spirit with a spark of wanderlust in her eyes who loves photography. Her camera not only serves as a diary of her life and a barrier of protection against monsters but also a documentary of Black joy and humanity at the time. Leti dances and sings effortlessly as she soaks in the moment. She’s secure and confident in being sexy even though she knows that society will affix certain labels, lies, and assumptions to her sexual history.

Leti is just as much of a bibliophile and sci-fi/horror fan as the Freeman family. She did hold it down as the only girl in the South Side Science Futuristic Science Fiction Club, after all. And, like everyone else, that knowledge braces her for a new, dangerous world. She is adept at knowing when to lean into her anger and when to play it cool. She is aware that pushing back against a sheriff holding a gun can lead to certain death for all so she goes along with his request. But, when Leti’s had enough, she will take action. She will clock a white woman in the back of her head, whip a getaway car with precision, or bust the windows out of a racist’s car to prove a point. No matter what, Leti will make things happen.

But Leti also knows when its time to “get the f**k out of here” and run for your life. And oh could Leti could teach a masterclass to all the horror girls about how to properly run from danger. She plows full sprint ahead, eyes forward, and definitely not tripping over thin air. A true track star and professional survivor.

Leti Lewis holds a camera in front of patterned yellow wallpaper

Eli Joshua Ade/HBO

Honestly, Leti is clutch in every situation. She retrieves Woody and the flares to save the group in the cabin. The first steps onto a rickety plank leading into darkness? Leti Lewis did that. She dives back into the quickly flooding tunnels, risking her life to save the pages from Titus’ vault. She brings in a priestess to put a protection sigil over her home, thereby blocking Christina from coming in. And she pieces together the truth about her newfound funds as well as Tic being a key to unlock a vault. In fact, Leti is an investigative whiz, making all the necessary connections and pulling together extensive research (in pre-internet days!) to find out the truth about her house’s dark history.

And, if it isn’t already clear, she’s nobody’s “girl” or incapable woman. She is Letitia F*cking Lewis. We have no choice but to put some respect on her name. Leti will not do what you tell her to do unless it’s what she wants to do. She will quickly assert herself and put people, particularly Tic, in their place. In “A History of Violence,” Leti has finally had enough of Tic’s abrasive attitude. He keeps trying to dismiss her and Montrose’s input; he acts like he’s the “leader” who calls all of the shots. She confronts him after he tries to send her and Montrose home because things are “getting dangerous.”And Tic quickly learns to never test a boss.

“It didn’t just get dangerous! He was kidnapped! I died! Can you stop acting like this is only happening to you?! You’re not the center of the f**king universe!”
A woman wearing a white blouse looks out the window of a 1950s car

Elizabeth Morris/HBO

Her determination to push back against the social system is unwavering as she sets her sights on pioneering into a more affluent (and white) neighborhood as a home owner during Chicago’s redlining era. It is a goal she details in her first conversation with Ruby and immediately follows through with when she has the financial resources. It’s difficult enough to contend with racist neighbors, but most people would have tapped out after finding spirits in their new home.

However, Leti doesn’t hesitate to defend her home and exonerate those Black souls at all costs. She summons and calls them by their names one at a time, encouraging them to fight with her from the other side for freedom. It’s a powerful moment that propels her to iconic horror heroine status. Leti not only saves herself but also helps a few ancestors finally get to the other side. And she saves Tic’s life. Again. 

At times Leti does seem larger-than-life. But, she also exhibits a lot of vulnerability and flaws. She readily admits when she’s afraid or overwhelmed by everything going on around her. Leti exudes confidence and a carefree attitude but, like many people, she is dealing with her own internal issues of trauma, abandonment, and uncertainties about her future.

If you ask her sister Ruby or brother Marvin, she’s a selfish beggar who is constantly into some sort of trouble. And, well, it’s easy to see why they would feel that way. Leti rarely reaches out unless she needs money or a place to stay. She even skipped her mom’s funeral. She’s the proverbial outcast who can’t “get it together.” But Leti’s seemingly selfish persona is the result of a life with lots of instability and confusion. Her broken family relationships and disconnection from the church are both sources of great pain, which she details to Tic at the Ardham house.

Jurnee Smollett as Leti Lewis stands in crowd wearing burgundy blouse and navy blue dress

Elizabeth Morris/HBO

“My mom would leave me by myself all the time. Say she was going to church. But even then, I knew that was a lie. She always came home, usually with some new man hanging on her arm. Til one day, she didn’t. And a week went by. I was so scared that she wasn’t gonna come back. And, I was little, I didn’t know how to take care of myself. I sat in the window of that boarding house every day. And said that verse (Psalm 23:4) like a prayer for her to come back…the one I could remember from Sunday school.”

Leti’s attempt to mend her relationship with her sister falls apart in dramatic fashion. This all happens while trying to comprehend her home’s history and reconcile what happened in Ardham.

“And I died too. And honestly, since I’ve been back, I’ve felt like a ghost. Like something’s missing. And I keep grasping at everything, trying to avoid it. Pioneering, the church, my sister…you. Hell, I thought the world was one way and I found out it isn’t. And it terrifies me. But I can’t live in fear. I won’t. I gotta face this new world head on and stake my claim in it.”

It’s incredibly refreshing and affirming to see someone like her in a heroic capacity for many reasons. First, vulnerability is often denied to Black women in real life and fiction. We are always supposed to be pillars of strength and sacrifice our own happiness or lives for the sake of those around us. But Leti is like many women. She wants love, stability, and healing for herself. She wants to make a mark on this world, fix what she feels is broken, and be taken for who she is in this very moment. Leti wears this armor of impeccably stylish clothing to show that she refuses to look like what she has endured in life. It gives her that self-confidence and energy to get through a world that’s determined to stifle her dreams.

She knows she can face hard things but she wants a safe space to cry, vent, and admit her fears. Leti admits to floating in the world and grasping for something to hold onto because she, in fact, does not have it all together. She’s a tangible, relatable protagonist caught up in an extraordinary narrative. You want her to win against the racists and monsters, but you also want her win in everyday life.

Featured Image: Eli Joshua Ade/HBO