Wednesday, October 17, 2018

How The Charmed Reboot Misses The Mark, Culturally and Otherwise [Contributor: Araceli Aviles]

Let’s face it: we live in an age of reboots, and almost all of them fail to capture the essence of the original content. It’s the risk you take trying to revitalize something that made such a significant impact in its heyday. The television fandom has expanded so exponentially through blogging and Twitter, but these vehicles are driven by one enduring factor: human memory. Human memory clings to the emotional attachment you felt the first time you watched your favorite series, not fancy CGI, or even the original characters. To truly hook people with a reboot, you must recapture the original essence. This is particularly difficult to do, as it has the original premise (or at least a variation of it), not the original cast.

I will preface my critique of The CW’s remake of Charmed by saying that I was a huge fan of the original series. To this day, I could probably recite the original pilot word-for-word, and point out more than a few guest stars who got their big breaks playing baddies/heartthrobs/demons. That’s how deep my fandom goes, so I’ll admit bias toward the original. The truth is most fans dedicated to their favorite series are biased — especially as they appreciate the rich balance between the sci-fi/magical rules of a show, and the intensity of human emotion it uses to make those impossibilities seem so real. When you get that balance right, you’re golden. The original Charmed pilot did just that, and only built from there. Sorry to say, this reboot doesn’t have that same spark.

We’re going into SPOILER ALERT territory from here on, so turn back if you don’t want details on the latest pilot.

I could be nitpicky, and harp on the fact that in the pilot: 1) The whitelighter doesn’t orb, 2) The whitelighter is a pompous Brit who is teased to be evil, and 3) Melinda Warren has no place in this lineage. To this last point, I will actually not give any leeway, for a few reasons. It is understandable that the team behind the latest incarnation of a beloved would want to honor the original in as many ways as they can.

However, sticking Melinda Warren in the middle of the story as if she is a bookmark in the Book of Shadows is not the way to do it. No matter how the writers explain it, there are just too many complications involved with bringing up the matriarch of the Halliwell line. It would imply that the new sisters are related to the Halliwells. Add to the fact that it has only been a decade since the original Charmed series went off the air (not necessarily giving the lineage enough time to progress to the power of another full-fledged "Charmed Ones"), and there seems to be more harm than good done with this decision. Having not seen the full series, I could concede that perhaps the writers have a plan in place to answer this very question. However, it seems difficult to do so, given the corner they’ve written themselves into. All the kudos in the world will be given if this can be finessed.

Which brings me to the one point that pains me most about this new Charmed series: the representation itself. Following an early screening of the pilot at San Diego Comic-Con 2018, it was important for me to take the time to hear the writers out on their vision for the series. They've made their points on what they want it to be, specifically how to honor the original series while focusing on women of color. Specifically, bringing in the practice of brujeria — the Spanish form of witchcraft — is daring, and a welcome introduction to the entertainment medium.

But there is a time when good ideas are better in conception than in practice. The idea for the current sisters to explore their ancestors’ roots in brujeria only further confuses the need for Melinda Warren’s presence in the story. The geography alone seems difficult to finesse, given that you’re talking about melding the traditions of witchcraft from two separate continents. More than that, this sends a deeper, more conflicting message to viewers — particularly viewers of color — about the way our stories should be profiled in the entertainment industry.

Why does a new show have to piggyback on a legacy of a former show that was already great and stood on its own merit and mythologies? Why can't there be a show that talks about witches for people of color without borrowing off specific tropes in the Charmed legacy? It makes no sense chronologically, since the original Charmed Ones had a clear, specific history that made a point of tracing their lineage back to the American witch trials. Likewise, Latinos have their own dense, deep history in brujeria that not only goes back centuries, but blends with a deeper discussion about mestizo culture. It would be amazing to be able to use an entertaining show to showcase the journey of brujeria from the Spanish bruixes, to the combination and eventual evolution of European and Native traditions which produced many cultures and traditions in Latin America. Make no mistake, the material is there. (Netflix’s upcoming take on the subject matter, entitled Siempre Bruja, proves just that). But with the material comes the Charmed title card.

In my opinion, it is a disservice to Latinos to borrow on the fame and legacy of the original Charmed — to not trust that a Latino sisterhood is strong enough to stand on its own, separate and away from the early American mythologies. Which is also a great shame for the original series, and the things it had to say about feminism pre-#TimesUp.

So many things about this Charmed reboot could have been great; but as I said, sometimes the blending of ideas is just better in concept than practice. In the practice of properly representing women of color, all we can do is our best to tell our truths in the medium which we are given. But sometimes, the push for a more expanded narrative can have a more significant impact in the long run.


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