The Witch Hunt for Controversy
by Gabriela Vasquez-Rondon
February 1st marks the start of a busy month for the black community since it is Black History Month. It is a remembrance of important historic figures like Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King Jr., who helped the community obtain the rights they deserved, a time to celebrate the culture and being proud of being black. Black History Month also celebrates the importance of representation for black people in media and voices why it is important.
The second month of the year is not only full of action because of Black History Month but also because of Netflix’s busy release schedule, which is packed every month of the year. The company released a show called Simpre Bruja or Always a Witch in English, which, coincidently, was released on February 1st, the first day of Black History Month.
Always a Witch is a Colombian production about a young Afro-Colombian girl, Carmen, who falls in love in the 17th century. The story seems like a classic historical romance, except the young girl is a slave who happens to be a witch and falls in love with a white man, the son of her owners and then has to travel to the future in order to save her lover, who has been killed.
The story quickly became controversial in various social media platforms like Twitter and Tumblr because of the slave / slave owner romantic narrative of the show. People are outraged that Netflix could encourage such a problematic relationship based on inequality, even more so on Black History Month, made to celebrate black people’s liberation from slavery.
Although understandably problematic, the show is more than what it first appears to be. By travelling in the future, the protagonist comes to the realization that black people will be respected and will have a place in modern times; she understands the insanity of slavery and learns that interracial relationships are not a sin. More than that, the young girl is not only faced with the reality of her position as a slave but also as a woman, experiencing for the first time how powerful it feels to be a woman.
When asked what he thought about the romantic setting of the show, Karim Fall, a proud member of the black community explained “I like the idea, it’s not going backwards, it’s progressive in my opinion. I get why people are triggered that she’s saving a white dude during black month history but it does have somewhat of a positive message”. Fall’s words are a remembrance of the main character’s journey from a slave to the self-aware young lady she becomes at the end of the series.
Fall adds, “I think the fact that it takes it back to slavery is good because some people still kind of have that mentality. Seeing the contrast between slavery and where we are at now has changed people’s perspective and that’s good”. The way black people were treated and what they were subjected to when slavery was still legal can sometimes slip off of people’s mind and shows like Always a Witch clearly sets a line between the times of slavery and our modern-day society. The contrast of two societies that seem from different worlds, yet are only a couple of hundred of years apart from each other can really open someone’s eyes to the tragedies of the past.
Even if it was to help the show seem more realistic in its casting of a slave, it is to be acknowledge that ‘Carmen’ is played by an Afro-Colombian woman, she is the leading role of the show, which is still pretty rare in television. The actress playing ‘Carmen’ presents to the viewer a strong black woman who is not overshadowed by her whiter looking co-star and who is ultimately a symbol of freedom. As Fall expresses, “there’s a black women leading the show so that’s good and if the white dude is not a racist bitch than I don’t think it’s that big of a deal”. Carmen’s boyfriend actively fights for equal rights and that makes him an ally in the battle for equality.
Although it is understandable why some people may have already blacklisted the show because of the romantic interest of the main character, the duality of the show is set on how Carmen is a slave that learns of the possibility to be free without having her owner sign a piece of paper that states and approves her freedom. Despite the questionable choice of romantic partner, the main character does become mature enough to understand the problematic nature of her relationship and that is something that should be considered.