“This is not a witch hunt. It’s a reckoning.” The key phrase in the pilot episode of the CW reboot of the beloved witch series Charmed could very well serve as a commentary on the political climate in 2018. That’s by design. “I think the world is pretty crazy right now,” star Melonie Diaz shared with New York City Comic Con fans. “I think it’s important to have a point of view. And ours is one of consciousness and we want to talk about issues that reflect the current time. For me, it’s a responsibility.” The Raising Victor Vargas actress was the first name attached to this updated version of a show about three sisters who find out they’re witches, the Charmed Ones, destined to fend off the forces of evil.
The pilot finds Mel and Maggie Vera (Vancouver-born Sarah Jeffery) distraught after their mother’s death. Outspoken Mel, who rallies against the patriarchy in a way that makes her Women’s Studies-teaching mother proud, suspects foul play whereas carefree, sorority-rushing Maggie may be wracked by guilt but hopes to move on. And move out. That all changes when Macy (Afro-Caribbean actress Madeleine Mantock) shows up at their door claiming to be their half-sister. As in the original series, once the three are together under the same roof, their powers begin manifesting. Mel finds herself freezing time while talking with her ex-girlfriend Nico (Ellen Tamaki); Maggie can hear the thoughts of her would-be sorority sisters; and Macy’s telekinetic powers have her accidentally flinging a beer at the wall while at a bar.
Firmly rooted in 2018, the show hopes to channel and speak to the anger of the current political climate. “One of the reasons why I chose this part (or it chose me, I should say),” Díaz told Remezcla after the panel, “is that when I met with the creators, we had a big conversation about the 2016 election. And how I’m never gonna recover from it. I feel like I’m still hungover from it.”
Tackling a storyline about sexual assault on campus and clearly opting for a “woke” feminist sensibility, the show feels like a perfect blend of the darky-and-foggy look of Riverdale and the socially-conscious narratives of queer Latinx web-series Brujos. Mantock knows that such a description can sound like mere buzzword mad-libs, which is why she was keen to point to the inclusivity and diversity that populates the show’s writers’ room. Developed by Jane the Virgin‘s Jennie Snyder Urman alongside Jessica O’Toole and Amy Rardin, Mantock and Jeffrey praised the fact that they even had a brujo in the room: Marcos Luevanos, who wrote the fourth episode of the show’s first season and aired this week.
Luevanos’ background, Snyder Urman’s work on Jane, and Díaz’s involvement signal a show committed to broadening on-screen representation for the Latinx community. Mel, after all, has a Puerto Rican flag in her room (visible in the third episode) while the witches’ mom is played by Cuban-American actress Valerie Cruz. Yet as more details have emerged, it seems the CW show may well be replicating the kind of Latinx erasure they’ve set out to course-correct.
Despite initial confusion as to the ethnicity and cultural background of this new trio of witches (at TCA Snyder Urman herself pointed out that the family was multiracial with each sister having a different father), Jeffrey and Mantock made it clear at Comic Con that they’re both playing Latina characters. Playing Maggie, Jeffrey knows, comes with responsibility. She may not be Puerto Rican, but her own family background, she hopes, will inform her character. “I know what the biracial experience is,” she explained. “I know what it means to be a young woman of color.”
Like her character, Díaz knows that the way to demand change is to be vocal about it. “They wanted Mel to be angry about [the current political situation] and frustrated. I really liked that. Because me and a lot of my friends feel the same way. This idea that I get to play somebody who feels the weight of that and embracing her anger is really cool. Because there’s a lot to be angry about right now.”
But now that the show has premiered and audiences see that the story features three characters of Latino descent – but only one lead actress who is actually Latina – the cast may find that there is more anger to contend with.
Sunday’s episode, titled “Exercise Your Demons,” serves as a prime example. Penned by Latino writer Marcos Luevanos, it provided the show’s most overt signaling of the sisters’ Latina heritage. In the Book of Shadows, they find a secret spell left for them by their mother. It’s the only one in the book written in Spanish and is referred to by Harry as Santería-based (an Afro-Cuban religion also practiced in Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and other Latin American countries). Mel, Maggie, and Macy recite the spell in not-so-perfect Spanish and the audience noticed. Reactions posted to Twitter were mixed but mostly positive:
Charmed airs Sundays on the CW at 9 p.m.