In addition to being a major star-on-the-rise in Hollywood, Jurnee Smollett has been an activist for Black rights from a young age. As a child in 1992 (around the time she began appearing on ‘Full House’ as Michelle’s friend Denise), she was holding up signs after Rodney King’s infamous beating. At 12, she was volunteering at a social justice nonprofit and by 18, she was its youngest board member. She has been actively meeting with members of the Black Lives Matter organization in recent months. And as it happens, her new HBO series, ‘Lovecraft Country’, set in the American South in the 1950s– the time of Jim Crow– also addresses matters of racism with a healthy dash of the supernatural. While Smollett is excited about the new series, she is understandably furious, that the same issues facing her character 70 years ago are still problems that Black Americans face today.
In a cover story for The Hollywood Reporter, Smollett said:
“We’re telling the story of heroes that go on a quest to disrupt white supremacy, and it’s maddening that in the year 2020 it’s still relevant.”
In addition to racism, Smollett is not a fan of sexism, something she has faced often in the entertainment industry and something that has cost her jobs. Until ‘Lovecraft Country’, she has refused to do nudity on film unless she felt it was necessary to the plot and until now, it wasn’t.
“I’ve sat with directors and they’ll say, ‘This is what it is,’ and you try to listen and understand, but if I don’t trust that they truly believe it’s essential to the plot, if it’s like, ‘Dude, you actually don’t care for him to get naked too?’ then I know what this is, and it’s a no for me. I’m very aware of the over-sexualization of the Black female body — this perverted fascination that predates me — and so the notion that I would ever contribute to that weighs very heavily on me.”
But on the opposite end of the spectrum, as soon as she read the script for the ‘Lovecraft Country’ pilot, she was obsessed with playing the female lead, Leti, especially since Misha Green, who had been her showrunner on the two-season slave drama ‘Revolution’, was going to be the showrunner of ‘Lovecraft Country’ as well.
“I was so wildly convinced that there was no fucking person who could play Leti Lewis but me that I became obsessed. I was like, ‘What the fuck, does she not see that I am Leti Lewis? Does she not think I can stretch and do a different character?’ I mean, I was freaking out, literally losing sleep for months.”
“I just didn’t want to be one of those people who only works with [actors] they’ve worked with before.”
Fortunately, Smollet landed the role. As executive producer Jordan Peele explained:
“Jurnee brings versatility, depth, and nuance to every role.”
Viewers will get to check out that “versatility, depth, and nuance” when ‘Lovecraft Country’ debuts on HBO on August 16. The series will also be available to stream on HBO Max.