The new Netflix series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is the intersectional woo woo girl rally we all need but don't deserve. Everyone’s a witch these days if you think of the fever pitch alternative health methods have reached. From sage or palo Santo smudging to cleanse the air of negative energy to yoni eggs that “bless” your sacred vaginal walls beyond kegel exercises, women seem to be channeling their inner witch. Admit it, you feel like you’re setting a spell every time you recharge your crystals on the window sill. There are usually tons of spooky viewing options on Netflix around Halloween but this great witch reboot had me reminiscing more about the Women’s March than Hallow’s Eve.
The series stars Kiernan Shipka as Sabrina, a teenage witch trying to be as good as she can be while preparing for her dark baptismal, a rite of passage for her 16th birthday. Half-witch half-mortal Sabrina was raised by two aunties, one a dry-wit English goob played by Lucy Wit and the other a sexy, stylish red-headed minx wonderfully played by Miranda Otto. Popular witch movies can be silly like Hocus Pocus, sexy like The Witches of Eastwick or scary like Rosemary’s Baby. In every witch movie you usually have one witch more devilish than the other a la Wizard of Oz and Sabrina is no different. Good thing Sabrina has the always optimistic and nurturing Hilda to balance out the manipulative, tough love of elegant Zelda. I think as women, we can all remember having a sweet Hilda or a stylish Zelda in our lives advising us at precisely the right times. As a black woman I loved watching these fantastical worlds where women had powers and solved problems with herbs and cauldrons.
For years, the casting in these movies were white women and while I celebrated the feminine part of the stories, the lack of color left me disappointed. My ancestry is a melting pot of indigenous Americans and tribal Africans with some European blood to boot. My aunt was an alternative doctor in the 70s before it was cool and she was often labeled a “witch” herself for using herbs, acupuncture or homeopathy to heal. Let’s remember that more than 100,000 women over several centuries lost their lives in witch hunts. Some of these ladies practiced Wicca but many were also midwives or part of indigenous groups that performed rituals colonizers did not understand. And we could argue that the suppression of female healers contributed to the patriarchal medical industry we participate in today. Representation in movies and media overall is more powerful than we all realize so the idea of powerful women as witches defined as entirely evil, virtuous or white stays in our conscious and subconscious. I mean witch does rhyme with bitch right?
But all that changed for me when real life witch Rachel True was cast in The Craft and yes Rachel is a black woman. This was the first time I saw an intersectional witch movie that gave the black girl more relevance than being the stereotypical jester to the white main lead. The Craft even had a real life-Wiccan woman as adviser on set and she even wrote the movie’s incantations. Whether you believe in magic or not, women were taking more control of the witch narrative on and off-screen and Sabrina carries this torch. Right away we witness a “Bring it On” dynamic between Sabrina and Prudence, a powerful black witch who is Wiccan royalty since she is the daughter of Father Blackwood, the head warlock. Sharply played by Tati Gabrielle, Prudence seems as important as Sabrina and looks unapologetically black, finger waves in her hair and all. Prudence reigns supreme over her two white sisters and commands power in every scene, willing to sacrifice anyone who challenges her. Sabrina while attending witch high school on weekends finds herself aligning with Prudence, the more experienced witch, despite their rivalry, a dynamic that speaks to the real life division between white and black women in America.
While white women seem to be united at the Women’s March, locking arms with women of color in the name of feminism, the alliance dwindles when it’s time to cast a ballot. White women overwhelmingly vote to maintain their white supremacy in lieu of women’s issues. This past midterm white women tipped the ballot box to re-elect Republican Ted Cruz in Texas and Republican Brian Kemp in Georgia. The journey that Sabrina and Prudence take from being absolute rivals to sisters in magic by the end of season 1 should be a lesson for all women in this political climate. Sabrina overall is a tale of womanhood in many ways whether it’s addressing Sabrina’s refusal of her rite of passage, old guard versus new, the patriarchy such as Father Blackwood, and even the conundrum of having to be virtuous and wicked at the same time to secure the future of all witches. We have all had to come up with creative ways or spells to deal with the “witch” at work. It’s difficult and complicated to be a woman whether you are witch or not. I love how the always strong Zelda succumbs to an affair with Father Blackwood, a serial adulterer but remembers to award herself by stealing one of his newborn twins.
The casting of Sabrina was intentional and in subtle ways political. Gone are the days of throwing in any brown, or black token to fill a quota. It’s worthwhile to mention that in addition to Prudence we are also gifted with Sabrina’s gay black cousin Ambrose, a clever warlock, Lady Blackwood, Rosalind a black friend with clairvoyant powers passed down from her black nana Ruth, and Susie another friend bullied for being a lesbian. Sabrina is told from the feminine gaze indeed with characters we can all relate to that are layered, complex and neither good or bad so when will women of every race and class join hands to set a mutually beneficial spell?