Sabrina Spellman and the Trope of the Frivolous White Girl
Sabrina’s privilege lets her get away with everything, turning her into your basic TV frivolous white girl.
by Negesti Kaudo
Note: light spoilers of ‘Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ ahead.
Sabrina Spellman, the teenage witch, has always been quirky, blonde, and charming. Whether you were first introduced to her through reading the comics, watching the 90s sitcom, or (my favorite) the animated series in the early 2000s, she has always remained the same: a blonde teenager struggling to balance her two identities while enduring the trials of American teenage life. With Netflix’s new TV adaptation of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s comic books Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, it’s possible that many of us expected to see the witty Sabrina we know and love, but instead we were met with a new, darker Sabrina, whose darkness was overshadowed by an archetype we’ve all seen before.
Being half-witch, Sabrina has been donned a privilege (maybe to other witches a blight) of living separate lives. Her father married a human, which was “controversial” to the Church of Night, but a point Sabrina refers to throughout the show to explain her defiance of religion and devotion to her human friends. Herein lies the problem (for me): Sabrina’s privilege lets her get away with everything, turning her into your basic TV frivolous white girl. She is Rachel on Friends or Serena in Gossip Girl—characters you start out loving, but as time goes on you become sick of watching them have everything spoon-fed to them by the people around them. By the sixth episode, Sabrina had not only become the least interesting character on the show, but also the most infuriating.
The entire plot revolves around Sabrina becoming a full witch on her sixteenth birthday (also Halloween and a blood moon) by signing her soul over to the devil in the Book of the Beast. In doing this, Sabrina would relinquish all her ties to the mortal world, including her boyfriend Harvey and friends Roz and Susie, and begin attending school at The Academy of Unseen Arts…like all the other young witches. But, of course, Sabrina doesn’t—wanting to have it all: free will, her relationships, and her powers.
In “Chapter Two: Dark Baptism,” Sabrina expresses her animosity to another witch, Prudence Night, who she’s summoned (literally, with a summoning spell) solely for the purpose of working together to torment human boys bullying her friend Susie. Prudence—a black witch played by Tati Gabrielle and leader of a trio of witches known as The Weird Sisters—let’s Sabrina know that as a woman, she’ll never have it all.
SABRINA: I WANT BOTH. I WANT FREEDOM AND POWER.
[LAUGHTER BY ALL THREE WEIRD SISTERS]
PRUDENCE: HE’LL NEVER GIVE YOU THAT. THE DARK LORD. THE THOUGHT OF YOU, ANY OF US, HAVING BOTH TERRIFIES HIM.
SABRINA: WHY IS THAT?
PRUDENCE: HE’S A MAN, ISN’T HE?
While the trio—Prudence, Agatha and Dorcas—despise Sabrina’s duality, referring to her as “half-breed” and taunting her throughout the show, they know more about Sabrina and her family than she knows herself. Here, Prudence establishes herself in the role of a sage, constantly filling in the gaps in Sabrina’s knowledge of witch history and religion.
It’s not rare for the media to show people of color mentoring or guiding white people through complicated situations. For instance, Maggie Pierce and Dr. Miranda Bailey on Grey’s Anatomy; Queenie and Marie LaVeau in American Horror Story: Coven; and even in Gossip Girl, Blair Waldorf’s minions are mainly women of color who are more intelligent and equally wealthy—these women’s character development is largely based on how they support their leading white women. Prudence and her crony Agatha (an Asian woman) follow narratives that focus on their interactions with Sabrina: how they “show” her witches should behave and how Sabrina maintains her “good witch” status in comparison to The Weird Sisters.
Personally, I love Prudence. Not only because I really appreciate marginalized representation in Sci-Fi/ Fantasy television, but because she exudes confidence and elegance. She runs her clique meticulously. Her hair and makeup are fierce. And her loyalty to The Church of Night and The Dark Lord is even fiercer. I feel very strongly that Prudence is a Leo (unless all witches are Scorpios, which nullifies that theory). But still, Prudence is labeled the bad witch and a bitch because she is juxtaposed against the blonde silhouette of an ignorant and privileged Sabrina.
The only people who dare to check Sabrina’s privilege throughout the show happen to all be people of color, mostly Prudence and Sabrina’s house-bound cousin, Ambrose (two of the three black witches on the show). It is Prudence who laughs at Sabrina’s questions of whether witches can perform exorcisms, which they can’t, but Sabrina does it anyways, once again to save her human friends while putting her family and coven in danger. It is Ambrose who tells Sabrina that she is selfish when she plots a way to resurrect Harvey’s brother by killing Agatha. Prudence questions Sabrina’s belief in The Church of Night.
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Sabrina Spellman would fail if it weren’t for the people of color surrounding her. While she receives most of her wisdom and advice from Prudence and Ambrose, there are also Agatha and Nick at The Academy of Unseen Arts. These characters end up supporting Sabrina, even with her selfishness and flaws, and try to show her how to navigate the witching community and The Church of Night. But they are all matched against her and Sabrina will become the better witch. Her actions have no consequences, she is the daughter of a former High Priest, and she defies authority at every turn if it affects the well-being of her human friends.
I predict that in Part Two of the series, Ambrose and Prudence will continue carrying Sabrina to her eventual place at the devil’s side. Even though, Ambrose and Prudence both have more dynamic character development and personality in Part One than Sabrina. Prudence’s blind faith in The Church of Night and superiority at The Academy of Unseen Arts makes her a character to pay attention to, one who is sure to have a larger role in Part Two paralleling Sabrina’s.
Sabrina eventually completes her dark baptism in the last episode, signing the Book of the Beast. In the final scene, there is Sabrina in her signature red dress, hair bleached white from her newfound darkness, leading The Weird Sisters with Prudence, Agatha, and Dorcas half a step behind. We’re no stranger to the plot twists and turns of the frivolous white girl archetype, and while there may be a few tears and obstacles in her path, she will always achieve what the others can’t.
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