“I love the idea that this woman was someone who defied expectations and surprised everyone, including herself and that we are really on a journey of self-discovery with her,” says Aunjanue Ellis about her character arc as Hippolyta Freeman on “Lovecraft Country.” Watch our exclusive video interview above.
Hippolyta is a brilliant woman with a passion for astronomy, but her husband George (Courtney B. Vance) doesn’t want her to risk embarking on trips to research their Black travel guides. And after George mysteriously dies at the beginning of the season, their nephew Atticus (Jonathan Majors) keeps her in the dark about the circumstances to protect her.
But she doesn’t need their protection as much as they think. In the episode “I Am,” Hippolyta embarks on an adventure of her own — traveling through time, dancing with Josephine Baker, becoming a Dahomey Amazon warrior, and exploring distant planets as she comes to more fully reckon with the opportunities she’s been denied as a Black woman in 1950s America.
She didn’t fully appreciate the impact of that episode as she was filming it because while you’re working on an ambitious, fast-moving TV series, “you don’t have time to sit on your laurels.” But eventually “I started getting these requests from different women’s organizations and conferences that catered to Black women, and a couple of them had panels that were dedicated specifically to that episode … Feeling the effect that it had on these women who saw it, that’s been tremendous for me.”
Part of taking Hippolyta on that journey of self-discovery meant expressing the “rage that is a result of generational trauma for Black women.” Getting to chop off the head of Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan grand wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest was especially satisfying: “I’m from Mississippi and at the time my state still used the Confederate symbol as a part of its official state flag … My sister lives in a county named after Nathan Bedford Forrest.”
It was Ellis’s idea to name the Confederate solider that she dispatches as an Amazon in “I Am.” “The joy that I had to be able to put a sword to his neck, I cannot say it any other way. I live to do something like that on screen because it’s the marriage of how I feel and the kind of stuff that’s fun to do in my profession.”
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