Inspired by the work of the early 20th-century horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, the new HBO series Lovecraft Country adds a racial dimension to its source material, conveying the message that the real horror stories can be found in the history of African Americans. The main characters are black, and most of the white characters are those who persecute them. But in its third episode, the show ventured into anti-Semitism, as Philissa Cramer writes:
Hiram Epstein, the episode reveals, was a University of Chicago scientist who conducted gruesome experiments on Black children and adults in the basement of the Winthrop House, a decrepit mansion in a white neighborhood that a main character, Leti Lewis, purchases and renovates. His spirit haunts the home, making it unsafe for Leti and her tenants and friends, until an exorcism summons the mutilated bodies of his victims and restores psychic order.
Epstein’s story calls to mind the way that Jews have been accused for centuries of stealing the blood of non-Jewish children to use in religious rituals, often to make matzah for Passover, in what is known as a “blood libel.”
The name Epstein isn’t present in original novel on which the series is based, Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff. There, the ghost that haunts the house Leti buys is named Hiram Winthrop—explaining the mansion’s name—and he isn’t a doctor. He also isn’t nearly as scary. The series adds a more recent owner who colluded with local police to facilitate abductions and experimentation.
On Twitter, I found a single reaction to Hiram Epstein’s name—one that matched my own. Beyond that, the normally voluble world of must-see-TV chatter was silent on Epstein’s name and possible Jewishness.
One wonders what the reaction might have been had the show played on bigoted stereotypes about other ethnic or religious groups.