Netflix has been attempting to expand its foreign language content, especially within the last year. The most recent addition is “Siempre Bruja”, otherwise known as “Always a Witch” to American audiences. The show made its debut on Netflix on the first day of Black History Month, February 1, 2019. It is about a young woman, Carmen Eguiluz, a slave and a witch, who falls in love with the son of her slave owner, Cristobal.
The show opens with Carmen being forced to trial and burned at the stake for her crimes until she is shown mercy by a wizard who transports her to the future to complete a mission that would allow her to save her lover. In modern-day Cartagena, Colombia, she meets new friends and attends college, all while trying to better understand herself and her powers.
A show that was widely anticipated by many since the trailer was released looks great on the outside: A young Afro-Latina lead playing a powerful witch in modern-day Cartagena. This in and of itself is a step forward for Latin American TV which has been known for its lack of black actors.
Historically, the Afro-descendant population in the Americas has been overlooked for centuries due to racism, which has led to a preference for white or lighter skin and an erasure of Black identity and culture. The fact that Netflix has produced a show in which the main character is a dark-skinned Afro-Colombian with thick curly hair shows society that there should not just be one standard of strength and beauty.
After watching the first episode, viewers can immediately begin to unpack why the show’s storyline is very problematic. Carmen begins as a slave living in the 17th century who immediately falls in love with the son of a slave owner. The show automatically focuses on this instantaneous “romantic connection” Carmen and Cristobal have while they are at a slave auction, which is historically inaccurate.
Being a female slave had its own challenges on top of the physical, psychological and emotional pain slaves suffered. Black women experienced extreme sexism and were often subjected to exploitation by white men through sexual abuse. Because “Siempre Bruja” concentrates deeply on the slave romance storyline and glamorizing on this idea, it erases the pain and history slaves had to endure.
After being transported to the 21st century, Carmen never questioned the substantial differences in the modern world compared to the one she grew up in. The only thing she was concerned about is how Instagram works, and how phones work, but not the obvious. Carmen never addresses changes to gender roles and racial and ethnic relations in Colombia and South America.
Another aspect of the storyline is the lack of celebration of Carmen’s lineage, even though her family and culture are the reasons she is so powerful in the first place. Halfway through the season, viewers then get a glimpse of her family when flashbacks show pictures of her mother who was burned at the stake and her uncle who helped raise her.
These scenes indicate that they had a huge influence on her upbringing, but the show seems to only want to connect everything back to her romantic relationship with Cristobal. Many stories about blacks have been rewritten or condensed to focus solely on their connections to white people.
“Siempre Bruja” lacks in many areas, including accentuating on Carmen’s healing powers, telling the history of slavery without watering it down and introducing more of Carmen’s Afro-Colombian culture and lineage. All of the things that are lacking makes the show lose its magic.