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Why Letitia From Lovecraft Country Looks So Familiar

In case you hadn't heard, there's a frightful new delight headed to HBO: Lovecraft Country. And while the new series (produced by Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams) is already promising some serious chills in the horror vein, its stark depiction of the racially-divided Jim Crow-era United States is likely to unnerve you more than any genre tropes might.

Based on Matt Ruff's 2016 novel of the same name, Lovecraft Country follows the journey of Atticus Black (Jonathan Majors), an African American man who sets off on a cross-country journey to find his missing father. Along the way, the man encounters horrifying beasts sprung from the pages of the titular horror scribe, and beasts all too real in the guise of cruel white citizens populating 1950s America. If you've already watched the trailer for Lovecraft Country, you know the series has no intention of glossing over the harsh realities of American racism, and that the fantastical elements of the show will only seek to bolster the horrors of the real world.

You probably also saw a couple of familiar faces in the Lovecraft Country trailer, the most prominent of which would be that of Atticus' traveling companion, Letitia. Odds are you've actually seen that face far more than you realize. That's Jurnee Smollett, and she's been a regular presence on screens big and small for a couple of decades now. Here's why Letitia from Lovecraft Country looks so familiar.

Jurnee Smollett partied with Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey

As it happens, fans of superhero cinema might even have seen Jurnee Smollett's face via the big screen or VOD very recently. That's because the actor turned up to fight the good-ish fight on the streets of Gotham alongside Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn in the 2020 release Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn. The film was one of the few big 2020 flicks that managed to sneak its release in ahead of the unexpected global shutdown, splashing into theaters in February. And while Birds of Prey didn't exactly set the box office ablaze, it remains a fun and fascinating team-up with some of DC Comics' toughest femmes. 

Smollett appeared in the film as Dinah Lance — better known to the super set as the tough-as-nails sonic screamer Black Canary. And if you're wondering exactly how Black Canary fit into the Birds of Prey narrative, she was a key player in the team-up flick, suiting up alongside Harley Quinn, Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), and Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay basco to bring down the narcissistic villains Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) and Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina).

As we mentioned, Birds of Prey sadly didn't make as big a box office statement as hoped. But the film has continued to build its fanbase via the home video market in recent months. Hopefully that means folks are finally starting to see just how weird and wonderful a movie it is — and just how great Jurnee Smollett is in it. 

Jurnee Smollett fought for vampire rights on True Blood

Lovecraft Country will not be Jurnee Smollett's first foray into a socially-skewed world of supernatural creatures — nor will it be her first appearance in a genre project from HBO. Fans of the cable behemoth's long-running vampire drama True Blood will no doubt recognize Smollett from her two-season arc on the mostly memorable saga. And they'll no doubt tell you Smollett was indeed a most welcome addition to the series when she turned up in its sixth season.  

By no means do we assume you were still as obsessed with True Blood by season six as you were in its sultry early days, so we're also assuming casual viewers out there might actually have missed out on Jurnee Smollett's arc. If that's the case, we can tell you she joined the cast of True Blood early in its sixth season when her character, Nicole Wright, turned up in Bon Temps as an advocate for the rights of the area's not-entirely-human citizens. Nicole's desire to do good almost immediately found her at odds with a certain pack of werewolves, of course, but also found her entwined in the life of the series' shape-shifting heartthrob Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell).

As the season progressed, so too did the relationship between Sam and Nicole, who ultimately went on to become his wife, have his children, and sort of live happily ever... at least in the True Blood sense of the phrase.  

Jurnee Smollett showed serious spirit on Friday Night Lights

Though it's still widely regarded as one of the best TV shows of the 2000s, it can be hard to remember the time when NBC's high school football drama Friday Night Lights was one of the hottest shows on the small screen. Set in a small Texas town, the series was loosely based on the 2004 movie of the same name (which was itself based on an award-winning work of non-fiction), and followed the travails of the nationally recognized football powerhouse from the fictional Dillon High School.

At the center of the fray are Dillon's mild-mannered head coach (Kyle Chandler) and a slew of fresh young faces portraying his players. Many of those faces have gone on to become stars in the years since, with the likes of Michael B. Jordan (CreedBlack Panther), Jesse Plemmons (Breaking BadFargoThe Irishman), Taylor Kitsch (John CarterTrue DetectiveWaco), Caleb Landry Jones (X-Men: First ClassGet Out) and more getting their start on the series.

If we didn't mention Jurnee Smollett's name on that list, it's because she'd already made a bit of a name for herself prior to appearing in Friday Night Lights. That didn't make her work on the show any less impressive, however. The actor made her first appearance on the series as football fanatic Jess Merriweather in its fourth season. Initially Jess led the Dillon High Spirit Squad, but unexpectedly joined the football team's coaching staff in season 5. Along the way, she also steamed up the screen alongside both Plemmons and Jordan, which obviously complicated matters in some pretty intriguing ways.

Jurnee Smollett stole our hearts in Eve's Bayou

We mentioned Jurnee Smollett had already made a name for herself before joining the cast of Friday Night Lights. The truth is that by the time she appeared on that show in 2009, she'd already been a player in the acting game for nearly 20 years. She actually booked her first acting gig at the ripe old age of six. By the time she was ten, Smollett had made rounds on the TV circuit, appearing in popular series like Hangin' With Mr. CooperFull House, and NYPD Blue. She'd also shared the screen with the one and only Robin Williams in Francis Ford Coppola's 1996 dramedy Jack

The young actor's burgeoning career got a serious bump in 1997, when she claimed the lead role in a heart-rending coming-of-age indie opposite Samuel L. Jackson. That movie was Kasi Lemmons' Eve's Bayou. And it remains not just one of the best movies of 1997 (as proclaimed by the late, great Roger Ebert in his year-end list), but one of the best of the decade. 

If you've never caught up with Eve's Bayou, the film is set in Louisiana's bayou-Creole country, and follows the Batiste family through a steamy summer — a summer that finds Smollett's titular character inadvertently bearing witness to her dad's infidelity. That sets in motion a chain of events that will forever change the lives of her entire family.

More than just a cookie cutter coming-of-age tale, Eve's Bayou paints a vividly detailed portrait of a young woman struggling to balance her youthful innocence with her rapidly-approaching adulthood, and learning hard lessons about fragile truths, heinous lies, and the unreliable nature of memory. It also finds Jurnee Smollett delivering one of the strongest child performances of the era, and proving that stardom was purely a matter of when for the young actor, not if.