HBO’s hit genre series Lovecraft Country is facing backlash following a series of TikToks in which Kelli Amirah, an extra on the first season, describes how her skin was visibly darkened by the makeup team so Amirah would look more like the darker-skinned character she was portraying. The revelation is particularly surprising given that the series, which examines Black history and experiences through the lens of horror and science fiction, boasts a production team made up mostly of Black creatives, including showrunner Misha Green and co-executive producers Jonathan Kidd and Sonya Winton-Odamtten—a pair of writers with PhDs in African American studies. HBO has responded to Amirah’s video in a statement obtained by THR that reads, in part, “This should not have happened.” And, well, yeah.
Amirah initially detailed her experience on set in a trio of TikTok videos in which she explained how she was cast to play a younger version of an elderly character in an old wedding photo. Upon arriving, Amirah realized some of the lead actors (she names Jurnee Smollett and Courtney B. Vance, specifically) were also on set that day and, she says, remained present for the subsequent incident. While sitting in makeup, Amirah says one of the makeup artists noted that she was a “little lighter” than the character she was meant to portray, while another commented that her features were a “dead match” for the other actress. As her foundation was applied, Amirah realized her skin tone was “getting darker and darker”—the resulting photo, which Amirah shared, confirms that her skin was significantly darkened. She also said that the makeup team went as far to darken her hands, as well.
After showing the photo, Amirah continued: “I had no idea they were going to do this to me beforehand. And if I knew beforehand, I would not have accepted this job. Who thought this was a good idea?” Amirah herself was subsequently criticized by some who felt as though she was a passive participant in the experience, inspiring her to elaborate further in a Twitter thread in which she explains her complicated feelings during the incident:
For its part, HBO says it is “very disappointed” to learn of Amirah’s experience, adding, “This should not have happened, and we are taking steps to ensure this doesn’t occur again in the future.”