Here’s How Netflix’s ‘Siempre Bruja’ Is Getting it Right And Wrong
In the world of brujería, Hollywood has been a major disappointment. For one, white girls are always witches, when we all know that every source of witchery boils down to our indigenous and Black roots. America’s initial obsession with witchcraft started with 17th century Puritan Americans and their absolute terror of the religious practices of colonizer’s African slaves.
Hollywood has capitalized on stolen culture en masse with its installments of witchy films and series, ranging from “Practical Magic” to “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” to “Charmed.” This genre is so inherently white, that when The CW’s reboot of “Charmed” was advertised as a trio of Latina witches, the Internet exploded with excitement. That was quickly followed by disappointment once we saw that, once again, the Latina characters were not all played by Latinas.
Prepare yourself for a similar journey with “Siempre Bruja,” which while it might be the best ever depiction of brujería, it is also another instance of Hollywood’s obsession with racial reconciliation fantasy.
The best part of the whole show is Angely Gaviria performance of Carmen.
“Siempre Bruja” is a breakout role for Gaviria, who was born in Cartagena, Colombia. This Afro-Latina beauty is an actual beauty queen, holding the Señorita Afrodescendiente crown when she was just 16 years old. This show marks her third on-screen performance, and she slayed.
The show is based in Cartagena, Colombia.
Major props to the production. We get to see the beauty of the coast, strong colors, and cultura all throughout. At least we’re getting our brujería en español.
Pro tip: the English dubs are terrible, but the English subtitles are key for Spanish-challenged Latinos.
Like The CW, Netflix failed to promote the problematic plot of the entire show.
We started out seeing an Afro-Latina bruja being burned at the stake only to escape to the year 2019 in her hometown of Cartagena. Sounds compelling, right?
We get to see an Afro-Colombian play an Afro-Colombian and create more visibility.
It seems outrageous that any production would get points for hiring an Afro-Latina but this is 2019 and seeing an Afro-Latina get a starring role is a huge deal. Hopefully, not for long, thanks to Angely.
Prepare yourself for this major flaw.
Carmen’s entire motivation is to save her lover, who happens to be her slave master.
We meet Cristobal as Carmen’s real-life white savior who purchases her as his own, after having pity for the way she was being treated. No points are given, sir.
Carmen narrates her journey via lovesick letters to her Cristobal, who is stuck in the past.
So, a powerful bruja who was enslaved in the past finds herself in the present, where she suddenly is treated like a human and she wants to go back to her slave master?
Written for white audiences, by white writers, or nah?
Such a trope. So bad. Carmen is head over heels in love with Cristobal, who plays the ultimate white savior.
There were so many missed opportunities for black characters to be their own advocates.
Hilda is Carmen’s best friend, who ends up getting caught up in this strange power dynamic. After Carmen disappears, it’s Cristobal who is corroborating her magic, not her BFF.
Al fin, Carmen and Hilda are
saved purchased again by the descendent of their previous owners.
This time, it’s the great-grandson of their old owners. He comes in the nick of time to trade spooky futuristic gadgets (compass, watch, etc.) in exchange for their bodies.
A white man teaches Carmen about her magic. ????
People are growing tired. They always promise that they’ll do some things right in this show. To be fair, we do get some flashbacks of Carmen’s family teaching her about her magic before they were separated by the horrors of slavery.
Oh, and then there’s a whole other love triangle with another white guy.
Why can’t these roles be given to more POC? Put black men in hero roles. Stop making white men saviors for black women.
All that said, let’s point out what “Siempre Bruja” did right.
The base plot is truly terrible, but the actress herself is captivating. Plus, we get to see beachside Colombia in ways that we rarely see streaming on Netflix. It’s a binge-worthy show.
La Fiesta de la Candelaria scenes are breathtaking.
Instead of The CW’s “Charmed” sorority party scenes, we get to see Cartagena’s most celebrated holiday, an obvious nod to how slavery would ultimately impact ‘the future.’ African people celebrated their own religion under the pretense of Roman Catholic saints and holidays forced on them. La Fiesta de la Candelaria is a major celebration of African spirituality and black culture in the Caribbean.
Central to La Fiesta is The Black Madonna.
Unfortunately, we have to hear Carmen belittling herself and judging her powers based on how they affect Cristobal, but hey, representation, right? This is the problematic double-sided coin of the entire show in a nutshell.
There are some indigenous people cast in the show támbien.
He shows up during a university class and is introduced as a source of knowledge. I thought we’d see much more of him, and that he’d help Carmen in some way, pero, no.
Then there was the scene reminiscent of the magic realism of “Agua de Chocolate.”
Carmen is crying tears over Cristobal while she’s cooking, and suddenly, her patrons start grieving as well. It, of course, must be pointed out that future Carmen is still serving white people without pay in the same exact home, now run as a hostel. She’s working for a free place to stay.
The Santera in all of us got excited to see this ritual.
You’re not Latino if your tía didn’t wear all white for at least one decade in your life. This ritual, of course, was centered around Carmen trying to forget Cristobal so she could function.
Ok, so some white magic came through with the ouija board.
We all know they’re meant to invoke dead spirits, and luckily, Carmen was surprised to learn of it existing in the future. That’s because white people made that up, but Carmen’s powers were able to create contact.
“When you see a light flash across the sky, it’s a soul leaving this plane.”
All of us heard our mamis say this at one point or another, and it was cool to see it happen in “Siempre Bruja.” Carmen helped release a spirit and watched his soul streak across the sky.
Bottom line: “Siempre Bruja” isn’t perfect, but perfect is the enemy of the good. We have representation you won’t see anywhere else on television and that needs to be celebrated.
Have you watched “Siempre Bruja”? What do you think about the show and it’s representation of Afro-Latinos in Afro-Latino roles?
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