You might think using magic to shape-shift in 1950s Jim Crow America is a real stretch of the imagination. And, for that matter, rescuing Purgatory from an infestation of demons in the Wild West might seem too far outside the realm of reality as well. But for Wunmi Mosaku and Melanie Scrofano—the stars of two of summer’s most spellbinding series, Lovecraft Country and Wynonna Earp—these unbelievable storylines give them the freedom to explore the real world more authentically than any other genre.
As Ruby Baptiste, Mosaku plays a character familiar to the many Black women struggling to prove ourselves in a white America still rigged against us: a dark-skinned songstress frustrated because she’s unable to find employment in the deeply segregated South. When Ruby gets an opportunity too tantalizing to refuse, she comes face to face with a merciless dose of dark magic.
“Lovecraft afforded me an opportunity to feel close as a Black person exploring and working through these huge issues and monsters, metaphorically and actually,” the Nigerian-born British actress tells ELLE.com. “I was finally able to be really honest and ask questions of myself and society. Without those metaphorical-actual [beasts], those conversations would not have necessarily come up for me.”
Lovecraft Country is a far-too-rare contribution to genre—that is, sci-fi, horror, and similar categories—in that it includes prominent Black characters and actors, giving them agency in a space that historically excluded them in favor of white male-centric favorites like Supernatural and Bates Motel. “I’ve never read anything like this, where Black protagonists are based in a true history, but [there’s] a sci-fi/horror/fantasy element,” Mosaku continues. “It’s opened up a world of genre that I always thought was for other people, not me.”
Scrofano, who also starred in last year’s horror hit Ready or Not, feels a similar liberation in portraying a complicated female heroine in a genre rife with male bravado. As the titular whiskey-guzzling law-woman in Wynonna Earp, now in its fourth season, Scrofano traverses her hometown of Purgatory and beyond—the Garden of Eden is a significant setting this year—to rid it of revenants and other supernatural villains that threaten her and her family.
At the same time, the actress gets to grapple with accessible themes like romance and a heartbreaking adoption, when Wynonna is forced to give up her baby daughter for her own safety (an excruciating scene shot just four days before Scrofano gave birth in real life!). “We can tackle the most human things in a more abstract way, so we’re not hitting people over the head with them,” she explains. “But the themes are heightened, so we can explore them more deeply.”
Credit for the audacious and humanistic storytelling in Wynonna Earp and Lovecraft Country should go to their female showrunners, Emily Andras and Misha Green, respectively, who adapted the series from books by male authors (Beau Smith for Wynonna and Matt Ruff for Lovecraft). For Scrofano, having a woman at the helm means she’s no longer contending with the constrictions often placed on female characters in more traditional genres like drama and comedy.
“I remember this one director, an older dude, was like, ‘Stop moving your face so much.’ And I’m like, ‘What, why?’” she says, overcome with emotion at the memory. “I felt like I was not good enough or acceptable as I am. It really affected me.”
Scrofano, who was encouraged by Andras and the rest of the Wynonna team to make her directorial debut this season, revels in the fact that as Wynonna, she can be inappropriate, hilarious, sexual, loving, and flawed all at once. “[It’s about] letting women have the freedom to express themselves in a way that might not appeal to everyone, that might fucking be unlikable to some people!” She adds, “It is freeing to work on a show like Wynonna where I can be ugly and make faces and be honest.”
Mosaku was floored by the layers of authenticity—just as unpretty and unapologetic as Wynonna—baked into Ruby and the female characters of Lovecraft Country, including Leti Lewis (Jurnee Smollett), Ruby’s fiercely independent half-sister. “The ovaries on these women are quite extraordinary,” she says. “They’re 3D, complicated, [and] go to all extremes of their emotional and physical capacity.”
Working with Green gave Mosaku the confidence to navigate and deconstruct the trope of the “angry Black woman” from a place of understanding. “I don’t think I could have been able to speak freely and openly about my character’s conflict with anyone other than a Black woman,” she reflects. “It’s not an easy thing to do.”
But she taps into Ruby’s humanity so brutally and humanly that she even stunned herself in the process. “I don’t feel like we get the freedom to explore rage ever,” she adds. “I really don’t know how people are going to respond to that. That’s what’s extraordinary about Misha: She’s bold.”
It’s also what makes both Mosaku and Scrofano’s portrayals so beautifully uninhibited, capturing what stories centering women can look like once you take away the overwhelming pressure to conform to a standard: freedom. Nothing does that more interestingly than genre. Judging by the countless tweets with the Lovecraft Country hashtag, and the legions of “Earpers” tuning in every week, even after Wynonna Earp’s two-year hiatus, there’s a built-in audience drawn to this kind of fearless storytelling.
“Women telling genre stories makes it more accessible to other women,” Scrofano says. “There’s an underserved community, which [allows] storytellers to explore even more. We don’t have to be constricted to the traditional stories of what a Western or genre should look like. There’s an appetite for this.”
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