Netflix's Siempre Bruja is a Racist Mess

A few months ago when the trailer for Siempre Bruja (Always A Witch in English) came out, I was legitimately intrigued and excited for its release. The trailer showed an Afro-Colombiana witch escaping Spanish slavery to rejoin a new time and world in Cartagena 2019. The title Siempre Bruja gave us hope that this bruja would live on despite the racism and atrocity that plagued her era. Maybe she will by the end of the series, but I couldn’t get past episode three. The actual premise of the show is so unbelievable that I can’t bring myself to watch more.

The premise is that Carmen, the bruja, time travels to 2019 after escaping the literal fires of Spanish hatred, only to fight tooth and nail to get back to her original timeline. The original timeline where she was a slave. The original timeline where she was a slave “in love” with her slave-owner named Cristóbal.

The show begins when Carmen and Cristóbal are discovered kissing by Cristóbal’s mother. Cristóbal's mother accuses Carmen of bewitching her son and brings her to "trial." Cristóbal defends Carmen’s honor and, because of his heretic ways (ie. because he fell in love with a black woman), he is killed by his father. While Carmen is in jail awaiting her certain death, she meets Aldemar. Aldemar is a white dude who is apparently immortal and a powerful witch. Carmen is sobbing in the jail cell and Aldemar begins to talk with her from the cell over. Aldemar asks Carmen, "What do you want most in this world?" Carmen replies that she wants to save Cristóbal from his untimely death.

Here. We need to take a break. We cannot perpetuate the demented trope of slave masters falling in love with their slaves. The history of slavery is not romantic. The true history is rape, pillaging, colonization as well as the erasure of identity, culture and language. Slave masters do not love, they rape.

Slave masters are not complicated and dynamic characters with humanity and we should not paint them as such.

OK, let’s get back to our main plot. Aldemar promises Carmen that he can help her save Cristóbal. Aldemar hands Carmen a jeweled necklace. He makes a deal with her that if she can return the necklace to a woman named Ninibe in the future, he will time travel her back to the time period before Cristóbal’s death. Carmen is skeptical but happily accepts the deal. As a viewer, I’m watching this like, "Oh, the show is going to be about her NOT taking the deal and staying in 2019!" That was not the case. Rather, Carmen does everything in her power to try to get back to the 1600s to be with Cristóbal.

Back to the 1600s where she is a slave.

A slave to his family.

A family who hates her and literally burned her at the stake.

Is this not the most ridiculous shit you have ever heard?

I have only watched until episode three and I refuse to watch more. The lack of dynamism in Carmen’s character despite her new surroundings is astounding. To me, Siempre Bruja is yet another example of poachers capitalizing on the magic and traditions of both African and Afro-Latinx culture to create a story that operates according to colonialism's rules. It is not radical or revolutionary, but sad and horrifying to watch.

No stars, none at all.


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