On Feb. 1, Netflix released a new original series called “Siempre Bruja,” or Always A Witch. The show is based off the novel “Yo, Bruja” by Isidora Chacón and revolves around an Afro-Colombian, time-traveling witch named Carmen (Angely Gaviria). Many people expressed their anticipation for the premiere via social media, excited for a new platform for Afro-Colombian representation at the start of Black History Month. There is a severe lack of stories centering around Afro-Latina witches in popular entertainment, the casts of shows like “Charmed” or “Sabrina The Teenage Witch” being predominantly white. Viewers eager to watch what originally seemed like an inclusive show were quickly surprised and rightfully outraged by larger details of the show’s plot.
Carmen is a slave from the 1600s and is sentenced to burn at the stake for being a witch and for falling in love with Cristóbal (Lenard Vanderaa), the son of Carmen’s owner. The reason for Carmen’s time-traveling is wholly because of Cristóbal, as he is shot by his father. She journeys into the future in an attempt to save his life, granted the time-traveling ability by a wizard called Aldemar (Luis Fernando Hoyos) who wants Carmen’s help freeing him in return. The story depicts Cristóbal heroically in the scene where they meet when he helps Carmen to her feet and asks his father to buy her. The relationship between Carmen and Cristóbal is problematic because it portrays a relationship between slave and master — what historically was sexual assault — as a romantic bond. Some have pointed out the fact that the creator and writer of the show, Ana María Parra, as well as the producer, Dago García, are white Latin Americans, which can explain why such inaccurate portrayals were included in the show. Having accurate representation is important both on- and off-screen in order to ensure that valid narratives are being told.
The show features another romantic plotline involving Carmen that is problematic for other reasons. In the 1600s, Carmen is 18 years old, and she is still that age when she lands in our time. She starts taking classes at a university, and as the story progresses, there are suggestive moments between her and a professor. The suggestive moments lead into a full-on confession from the professor that he loves Carmen. Not only is the age difference between the two concerning since Carmen would be just out of high school, but entertaining a relationship between a professor and a student is extremely inappropriate.
The show also inappropriately deals with how Carmen reacts and adjusts to the 21st century. She is shocked by television, cars and electric lighting, all understandably so, but she hardly has any reaction to the social changes that have taken place since her time. Some of the first people she encounters are a black female doctor and an interracial gay couple, yet the show mostly focuses on her navigating Instagram and Tinder. No doubt Carmen would have marveled at the sight of free women and people of color, and would want to know about the history of their fight for equal rights, but enough attention is not given to this aspect of the storyline.
The lack of emphasis on the crucial points of race and gender is not the only thing poorly done in “Siempre Bruja.” Without revealing the plot twist for readers who may still want to see the show, I will say that it was quite predictable. I am not one to usually guess the surprise ending, but the show makes it fairly obvious for viewers with a watchful eye. Compared to the buildup across the episodes, the ending is anticlimactic and underwhelming. For all the tension and drama that the plot twist creates, the ending wraps up in a matter of moments. Minor plot inconsistencies also add to the disappointment.
Overall, the concept of a time-traveling witch is interesting, but in my opinion, the show was poorly executed. While I join the side of others who were let down by the troubling inclusions to the story, I encourage readers to look into “Siempre Bruja” themselves and develop an opinion through their own observations. Watching “Siempre Bruja” was an exciting experience because of its representation, but it took some steps in the wrong direction. We need to work harder in the future to have more accurate and representative stories told.