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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Siempre Bruja, which also goes by the English title Always a Witch, is a supernatural-themed series from Colombia about a 17th-century witch who escapes being burned at the stake thanks to a mysterious wizard and his time-travel skills. Carmen (Angely Gaviria) isn't only a witch, she's a slave -- and the show depicts her being sold to a light-skinned Latinx family, and quickly becoming romantically involved with the son (they are literally shown flirting with one another as she's on the auction block). The special effects are pretty low-rent, which makes any potentially scary or violent scenes less so. There are some mild kissing and make-out scenes, and language includes "damn," "hell," and "f--k." Characters smoke and drink, and witchy potions are brewed that act almost like roofies when slipped into someone's drink. The show is available to watch in a dubbed English version or in the original Spanish with English subtitles.
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What's the story?
SIEMPRE BRUJA (in English, ALWAYS A WITCH) is the tale of Carmen Eguiluz, an Afro-Latina witch living in 1600s Colombia. Carmen is sold as a slave to a wealthy family in Cartagena and soon begins a love affair with their son, Cristobal (Lenard Vanderra). Carmen finds her life in danger when Cristobal's mother accuses her of using witchcraft to seduce her son, and she's nearly burned at the stake -- except for the intervention of enigmatic wizard Aldemar (Luis Fernando Hoyos), who uses a time-travel spell to save Carmen. The series follows Carmen as she adjusts to her new life in 2019 Cartagena, where she tries to carry out the task Aldemar assigned to her in exchange for her life (while also dodging a witch hunter, Lucien) and counts the minutes until she can be reunited with her lost love, Cristobal.
Is it any good?
While it's exciting to see an Afro-Latina woman in the lead role of a series set and filmed in Colombia, the exploitative "slave romance" storyline undercuts the progressiveness of this choice. Siempre Bruja simply lacks the depth to adequately explore the sticky issues of consent and exploitation inherent in this type of story, even going so far as to show Carmen making goo-goo eyes at her prospective new owner's son while she's on the auction block. Cristobal, meanwhile, is portrayed as "one of the good ones" -- not like the other members of his light-skinned family who own Carmen -- and he does heroic things on her behalf. This cheap treatment of a complicated subject is nothing we haven't seen before, and is especially disappointing to see in 2019.
The series is much more successful when it focuses on Carmen's adventures in modern-day Cartagena, finding her way as a magical fish-out-of-water who must adjust her 17th-century sensibilities while learning basic skills like how to use a smartphone -- along with more advanced subjects like interacting with the opposite sex as a free woman. She's a fun character, and definitely strong, if underdeveloped. It's an imperfect show overall, but hopefully, future seasons will find stronger and more empowered footing in stories that focus more on these aspects of Carmen's personality than in ill-advised romances.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the popularity of witch-themed shows in modern media. From American Horror Story to The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina to the Charmed reboot, stories about female spell-casters have never been more popular. How does Siempre Bruja compare to these offerings?
Talk about what motivates the choices Carmen makes when it comes to Cristobal. Is it possible for someone to be owned by another human being, and to still have true agency within that relationship? Why or why not?
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