The ‘Charmed’ Reboot Still Has A Lot To Learn About Portraying Black Characters
The treatment of Black characters on “Charmed” is still lacking in nuance, but I believe it still has the potential to be headed in the right direction.
This essay contains spoilers for “Charmed”
By Cosima Smith
I grew up watching “Charmed”—the original, slightly dated, and very white version—and dreaming about witchcraft, magic, and the “Power of Three” that the show is so well known for. Now, a newer version has been released and it has been updated with (very basic and oftentimes lacking) understandings of Santeria, Yoruba traditions, and race in modern-day America. The updates are a welcomed shift from the “Charmed” I grew up watching, but the newfound representational aspects aren’t nearly as thought out, nuanced, or up to date as they could be.
The “Charmed Ones,” the dais of the three most powerful witch sisters, has been revamped from the original all-white casting to a new set of actors with a range of cultural backgrounds. Madeleine Mantock, who is Afro-Carribean, is cast as eldest sister Macy. Melonie Diaz, of Puerto Rican descent, is the middle sister (and keeps her name!). Sarah Jeffery, who identifies as African American, is the youngest sister, Margerita “Maggie” Vera. This casting in itself is somewhat problematic, as the sisters are canonically known to be Latinx, while only one of the actors actually identifies as such. Rather unfortunately, this is of little consequence within the actual storyline, as there is very little mention of race or ethnicity in terms of Latinx representation.
From the first episode, Macy is coded as Black. She acknowledges this fact herself as she navigates the world in a very different manner than her two sisters—who are sometimes codified as Latinas, but more often are able to disregard their racial and ethnic identities and move through the series being read as white. She is further codified as Black in her role as a telekinetic—someone with the ability to move physical objects through space with her mind—and thus as a “doer” whose control of her power is rooted in not relying on emotional intelligence, but to instead empty her mind of thoughts and work on instinct. This elaboration and expectation of her powers is incredibly heartbreaking, as she is literally asked to keep her emotions and thoughts at bay in order to alter the physical realm. And suppressing emotions is something we ask far too often of Black women in our everyday lives.
There are some, albeit misguided, attempts to rectify or counter this explanation of her powers by pushing back against common characterizations of Black people, and Black women specifically. Macy is a scientist. Of the three sisters, she is the “intelligent” one, the one who always has a scientific answer—like how sugar can be used to vanquish the Harbinger of Hell (a powerful demon) because it has sulfuric acid as a key ingredient its physiological manifestation. Her powerful mind makes her a great choice for being the manager at the lab she works at, but it’s unclear whether or not the Director of the laboratory just wishes to use Macy’s power to help make her half-demon son fully human. The audience is left to decide, once again, Macy’s intelligence, humanity, and worth, which is extremely dangerous when the series consistently and constantly brings these very things into question.
A strange choice on the part of the creators is to posit 28-year-old Macy as a “virgin,” which could be a nice change from the over-sexualization of Black women we are used to seeing, but more often than not, this serves to portray her as an emotionally stunted and, therefore, “frigid” adult. She is not asexual, she simply feels she missed the window for “devirginizing,” which creates yet another barrier to her having emotional connections with romantic interests, her sisters, and others in the series. This is changed by the only Black man in the series, Galvin, a fellow scientist at Macy’s lab. Unfortunately, it happens just before Galvin’s untimely demise after digging into his Haitian roots in an attempt to save Macy’s life and humanity. Her sisters don’t suffer nearly as much emotional distress for the sake of the storyline.
The show treats also Yoruba traditions, specifically as they have developed in Haiti and Haitian-Americans, as lesser than. They are shown in rough, wild, and notably dark scenes in comparison to the rest of the “magic” in the series. Mama Roz, the local psychic who also happens to run a nail salon out of her home studio where she performs readings and communicates with the dead, is Macy’s go-to source whenever something can’t be explained by the Anglo-Saxon Elders’ council. She is the first one to see the darkness—the “Ibi”—in Macy, and together with Galvin, is the only one that serves to give Macy an actual way to let go of the darkness within her.
The Haitian characters are looked down on by all the Western witches but seem to be the only ones that have the answers to some of the most deep-seated problems presented in the first season. A nice, albeit small, step in the right direction comes after Galvin performs a powerful ritual in a beautiful and painful moment of self-sacrifice in order to save Hilltowne from being destroyed by the Harbinger of Hell. The lines of the circle he has drawn to perform the ritual cannot even be crossed by others because the magic is too powerful, too ancient, and too directly connected to the ancestors.
The treatment of Black characters on the show is still lacking in nuance and realness, but I believe this reboot still has the potential to be headed in the right direction and it is obvious they are at least trying to do some justice in their portrayals of different races and ethnicities. The question lies in how much trying matters in situations such as these. With the power of the internet, and the growing open-mindedness surrounding witchcraft of different traditions (beginning to push past fetishization), there is no real excuse for the treatment of the Black (and other visibly non-white) characters in this first season of the “Charmed” reboot. Still, I am excited and hopeful to see the way these identities are expanded upon, especially seeing as how many of the characters that most viewers would’ve expected to be fleshed out in the second season are now dead. Hopefully, I say with no intention of holding my breath, the symbolic culling of the crop allows the creators and creative talent to deepen our relationship with the less white European side of magic.
Cosima Smith is a freelance writer, yoga teacher, and photographer (and polyglot!) from Keysville, Virginia. The degree they received in Gender and Sexuality Studies from the University of Virginia has pushed them to further explore notions of the body, sex and sex work, and cultural/religious/linguistic representations of the gender and sexual spectrums.
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