(Image Courtesy of Netflix)
Dropped on the first day of Black History Month, Netflix’s most recent show about witches leaves me confused. While originally marketed under its original title in Spanish, Siempe Bruja, but listed under its English translation, Always a Witch centers around the adventures of Carmen, an Afro-Latina witch from the late 1600s who time travels into the present day. What the ad campaign did not bother to mention is that this adventure is driven by Carmen’s desire to save the life of her love, who also happens to be the son of her master.
While the show, in and of itself, is enjoyable as it conjures feelings of other witch based TV dramas like Charmed, this premise and the timing of its release leaves me wondering about it’s intent. We see scenes of Carmen being sold, her as a child using her powers to heal the wounds from lashings, and her being burned at the stake by the Inquisition, but when she arrives in the future, she never comments on how black people, or women for that matter, can walk in modern-day Colombia with an ease that she herself would have never known.
When she arrives, she finds the house where she resides and convinces the woman who now owns it, a distant relative of the original owners, which is to say her owners and convinces her to let her live there in return for household chores, allowing her to stay in the room, we find out not that much later, was the room where she slept as a slave. It’s only mentioned in passing in Carmen’s inner monologue, so we never have the time for the horror of that to sink in.
Right before the burning at the stake, Cristobal proclaims that if the Church wants to burn Carmen at the stake, they should burn him too, and apparently believing that Carmen has tempted him with magic, his father shoots him. Carmen speaks with another magic user, an old wizard imprisoned in the cell next to hers, go to the future to complete a task for him, and he will bring her back to before Cristobal was killed so that they may live out their lives together. Not only is that plot confusing to follow, but the show also seems more interested in, once she gets to the future, how much of a fish out of water Carmen is. She’s never had alcohol before, doesn’t know what hashtag is, or that no one uses gold for money anymore. The only mentions of her time as a slave is laughed off, people saying that either she’s connected to human trafficking or that slavery ended in Colombia hundreds of years previously.
Beyond that, how the show is presented in odd. I haven’t watched many of the international shows that Netflix produced or procured, but in the case of Siempre Bruja, the English dub was the setting it opened with. I, personally, always prefer to hear the voices of the original cast when watching media in other languages, especially live action, so that I can get the whole performance as intended. Having the show listed in English with the English dub as the default option is another slap in the face of someone who wanted to see more representation of Latinx people in pop culture.
Which leaves me where I am, not sure how to feel about this show. On itself face, all of the implications of its plot and complicated story aside, I have enjoyed the episodes of it that I’ve seen. The acting is great, the music is amazing, and the effects are pretty good. If you aren’t looking that close at it, it appears as a fun Colombian romp with a cast of beautiful and talented Latinx people. But looking at it for any time longer than the show wants you too, you’ll notice quickly that the emperor has no clothes. Its marketing campaign lies to us, telling us it’s about an Afro-Caribbean woman who uses her innate power to escape bondage to modernity, doing nothing with that lead and making it that the white male wizard is the one with the knowledge and power to aid her escape. It never examines that she’s a slave, in love with her master’s son, or how gross that power imbalance is, as often as we see it in romances between black women and white men in media. All I know for certain is that Siempre Bruja/Always a Witch is not what I was hoping it was going to be.
David Castro is a Puerto Rican writer from New York City. He has worked on the upcoming Undead supplement for Chill Third Edition and is working on launching a Patreon. You can find him on Twitter (@theinkedknight), on Tumblr (thedevilsyouknew), on Facebook (facebook.com/inkstainedstudios), and at davidrcastro.com.