On Wednesday night after watching American Horror Story: Freak Show, I tuned in to watch the latest of TV One’s Hollywood Divas episode, “Five Black Witches.” One of the opening scenes is the de facto leader of the group, Paula Jai Parker, presenting to producer Carl Craig the idea agreed upon in previous episode for a supernatural film about five black sisters who are witches who each would have their own special powers.
Parker acknowledged that there is no film she was familiar with that deals with the supernatural through the experience of the black community, although it can be argued that several exist (Beloved? Sankofa? Several independent films?), but Craig’s immediate reaction was an obvious aversion to the concept. He looked as if he was wondering what the hell Parker just give him. Although he did say this was cutting edge material, he felt that black audiences would have a difficult time embracing this type of story, that they will look at it as “demonic” (here we go).
Parker tried to suggest watering it down to make it palatable, but then later in the episode she decides to change the entire story to one that is more typical black story (one of the character is basically a crack head sister) despite protest from the other actresses. She agrees with Craig, explaining it away as Black people are very religious, that we don’t want to see films like that, that we have a hard time processing those types of films when we are doing it ourselves and with the limited means for production that they would have it would be difficult. But the four other black women in the room were some proof otherwise; they were fine with making audiences uncomfortable because it that is what makes interesting art as Golden Brooks said.
Once again, we have this situation where speculative stories featuring people of color are in a state of arrested development because of a number of viewers and gatekeepers who see our works as as outside the realm of black culture. For example, I remember I was one of the few teenagers who did not read Harry Potter books because I was told by my church and my parents that the books was associated with devil work because of its use of witchcraft. I have come a long way since then.
So, I understand where Craig and Parker are coming from, but religious biases against witchcraft is not only from black people, there is a growing black audience for it thanks to afrofuturism and afrosurrealism circles, and we never advanced to the next level by just settling for ideas of what we think audiences will expect and want. It is imaginatively lazy and it allows people to continue to remain stagnant in their biases. The issue with having five black witches is two-fold in that it would show black women as leads in a speculative film, but also that it would be a film about witches — race, gender and religionism play into it. Stereotypes and ignorance about blackness, about black women, about witches as doing devil’s work all play into this (Read Black Witch‘s blog where she dispels myths about witches and tells her experience as a black witch). We need to show the other possible narratives, such as how doing magick was a subversive tool for black people, especially black women, throughout the diaspora to combat slavery and racism. But that doesn’t get mentioned often.
Why is it that we can watch superhero movies and other speculative films with majority white characters on a daily basis, but picturing ourselves in those same roles would be wrong? Why do we rely on films or shows like Pirates of the Caribbean, American Horror Story: The Coven, The Vampire Diaries or Salem to show black people and black women in these roles in a multidimensional way and to reflect our communities and cultures (here is a post about racial politics of black witches and white vampires in media). I know that I and other black people would love to see a film with five black witches, especially older black witches because these types of stories tend to be geared towards younger audiences. When Craig asked, is Black America ready for a story like this. or when Parker asked, is the world ready for it, my thought was not to wait for when people are ready for things, make them ready.
By the way, one series that features a black women, Lindsey McDowell, who is the writer and is one of witches is MisSpelled if you want to support women of color in roles like this: