Netflix's Siempre Bruja (Always a Witch): Who Authorized This?

The highly anticipated teen Netflix series out of Columbia attempts to tell an exciting story of romance between a beautiful slave girl and her wealthy Spanish-American slave-owner. We’re going to need a glass of wine for this.

I was excited to see a dark-skinned Afro-Latina woman in the lead role of a Spanish television show. It’s something we just do not see. For that reason, I wanted to love Netflix’s Siempre Bruja. Sadly, I found it to be another “slave-master” romance that spits in the face of Black History Month, the month in which it debuted.

Siempre Bruja is supposed to be based on the novel "Yo, Bruja" by Isidora Chacón about a girl who descends from a long line of witches and discovers her powers at a very young age. She rejects witchcraft and tries to lead a normal life, but her destiny catches up with her (doesn’t it always?) when she begins to study “petroglyphs” in the National Museum of Costa Rica.

From Netflix

From Netflix

The Netflix adaptation, however, decided to make things a bit more exciting by placing the beautiful bruja, Carmen Eguiluz (played by Angely Gaviria ) in 1646 as a slave who is madly in love with her master, for whom it was love at first auction (he just had to buy her). The show begins with Carmen being burned at the stake as she casts a time-travel spell to transport her to modern times where she must deliver a pendant to a modern witch as a favor to the warlock who was in the adjoining cell back in 1646 just before she was to be burned.

Carmen escaped slavery and entered a time where Africans in the Americas lived freely—free to get an education, free to come and go as she pleased, free to practice magic,with the exception of having to be careful not to use it too much or she’ll draw the attention of Lucien, a powerful warlock who was surely looking for her. But forever on her mind was returning to 1646, as a slave, so that she could save her lover, Cristobál, whose own father shot him and are the ones who had her burned at the stake because, well, she’s a witch and she dared to love their son.

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Carmen, having suddenly dropped into the middle of the 21st century, is unbelievably nonchalant about the racial dynamics that were abundantly different from the world she had just come from. She adjusts rather quickly, spending her time getting an education, being free and making friends, and growing her powers all the while not questioning the tech around her or anything at all. Her only interest is to make it back to slavery to be with her boyfriend.

The cast, though delightful, couldn’t really make the lifeless script work for them. The show avoided the complexities of slavery and racial discrimination like the plague. There was no depth. No intrigue. No passion, except to return to slavery.

Romanticizing the master/slave romance outside of BDSM is grossly dangerous. While it may not be intended, it continues the tradition of painting Black women as constantly having to be strong and fight. It trivializes slavery, ignoring the detriment that slavery has had on an entire people.

Latinx critics talked to Remezcla and Kristen Lopez hit the nail right on the head with her assessment:

The inability (or unwillingness) to confront anything of actual importance to its characters leave Siempre Bruja as little more than a generic diversion…if the series’ existence is predicated on her being a black female witch, why not use it? Carmen’s blackness becomes nothing more than a gimmick to further uncomfortable master-slave narratives. Cute only goes so far, and Siempre Bruja wears out its welcome fast.

When Carmen returned to 1646 and told her friend and fellow slave “that in the future slaves only work eight hours a day, get paid, and have Sundays off!” I threw my hands in the air in disappointment at how badly the writers were ill-equipped to tackle such a topic. This is a prime example of why representation is very important. Like Kayla Sutton said in her critique of Siempre Bruja for AVTV Club, this was “a potent reminder that when your writers room doesn’t reflect the story you’re trying to tell, there are going to be some glaring mistakes.” And boy were these mistakes egregious.

I really did want to love this show. I was looking forward to finally seeing a Black femme witch as a lead, not a support. But…sigh

Have you watched Siempre Bruja (Always a Witch)? Will you tune in for season two? I’m praying that the season 2 will have writers who understand the historical, social and cultural impact of slavery and can turn that into the story we should have had with this first season.