Is Sabrina a Woke Witch? The Internet Can’t Seem to Decide
For every 10 people praising a piece of pop culture, there will always be one person calling out its problems.
Netflix’s hotly anticipated resurrection of Sabrina the Teenage Witch dropped this past weekend, and, as promised, it’s scary as hell. But the goat-faced devil, corn maze chase scenes and nightmarish demons aren’t what have Twitter talking. Instead, those who binged the reboot are focusing on Sabrina’s progressive feminism—and on the fact that her sassy cat Salem can’t speak.
“She’s a woke witch,” Kiernan Shipka said to Variety of her Chilling Adventures of Sabrina character, a half-witch, half-mortal teenager struggling to reconcile her dual nature. “She’s a strong independent woman and she stands up for herself and does what she thinks is right.” That’s the spoiler-free show pitch. Here’s a brief rundown of how Sabrina’s woke-ness comes to life in the series: she kick starts a “women supporting women” society at her school, she constantly questions the male figures in power who rule both her witch and mortal worlds and she hexes the homophobic jocks who bully her friend. As she refuses to sign her name into the Book of the Beasts to the protest of her witching community, she asks of her clan’s so-called Dark Lord: “Why does he get to decide what I do with my body?”
But it’s not just CAOS’s protagonist who’s being praised for her progressiveness. The series features a pansexual cousin, plenty of POC representation, multiple badass middle-aged women, a non-binary best friend, boys who experience anxiety and trauma, a character who’s empowered by her disability, and conversations about power, free will and a woman’s autonomy of choice. This thing really feels like it checks off all of your PC boxes, and it’s received all kinds of recognition for doing so.
can already hear the outcries from certain men/anti-feminists watching the new #Sabrina but I am all for Sabrina Spellman being a woke witch fucking up the patriarchy and tackling LGBTQ issues head on #CAOS ?️?
— Lauren (@ohlittlered) October 26, 2018
The chilling adventures of Sabrina has interracial families with no explanation. Two white ladies with a black nephew. A black witch who’s dad is a white high priest. I’m here for it.
They casted this show like the live Cinderella with Whoopi and Brandy and Whitney. ???
— Coco Lopez ? (@BonniMinusClyde) October 27, 2018
Sabrina in @sabrinanetflix is feminist AF and doesn’t take orders from anyone. I dig it. I’m thrilled for the 14 year old girls growing up on this series like I did with Buffy. ????♀️
— dammit, ally! ⛈ (@dammitally) October 30, 2018
So yes, it’s woke. But amidst the preachy progressiveness, the show has its share of missteps. Twitter has been quick to call out the problematic plot points in the supernatural Netflix series—starting with Sabrina’s side boob.
“The focus on the character in various states of undress in the first few episodes of the show feel uncomfortable and exploitative,” Roisin Lanigan writes for i-D. Several Twitter users mirror her sentiment, showing concern for the voyeuristic way young Sabrina’s body is presented on screen. Nobody’s suggesting that feminism and nudity can’t co-exist, or that there isn’t power in owning your sexuality, but as Lanigan writes, certain shots of the 16-year-old “can feel unnecessarily gratuitous.”
The new #sabrina is great but I’m v grossed out by the decision to include a blatant bathtub side boob nude shot of a 16-year-old girl character? In a show that otherwise bends over backward to be perceived as feminist? Like I’m sorry what????
— Molly Mulshine (@mollymulshine) October 27, 2018
And then there’s the criticisms happening around homophobia and consent. In the second episode of the series, Sabrina and The Weird Sisters take revenge on a gang of misogynistic football players who bullied Susie, Sabrina’s gender non-conforming bestie, by using their magic to make them make out. (And no, the boys did not give their consent first.) The witches take photographs of the lip-locked jocks, leveraging homophobia to scare them into silence. And then they hex them with impotence.
Watching the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and so far it’s dope but I also just reached an episode where they shamed homophobes…with homophobia???????? pic.twitter.com/16ZfnbQjGt
— Lyuben Dzhugdanov (@lyubendanov) October 26, 2018
But perhaps the most viral and perceptive critique of CAOS comes from writer Taylor Crumpton. In a 23-part Twitter thread, Crumpton unpacks the racial politics of the relationship between Prudence, the “bad witch” leader of The Weird Sisters, and Sabrina, the earnest “good witch” protagonist. It’s an in-depth critical analysis that provides a perspective many people say they felt, but had difficulty putting into words. Head to her Twitter to read through the thread in full.
From this situation, the audience begins to sympathize with Sabrina's character arc as the misunderstood small blonde haired White girl who is being "mistreated" by the tall Black woman
— venmo: taylorcrumpton (@taylorcrumpton) October 27, 2018
For every 10 people praising a piece of pop culture, there will always be one person calling out its problems. And while each of these criticisms is valid, none should dismiss CAOS or discourage viewers from sitting through the series themselves. Sabrina isn’t a perfect hero, but she’s among the best teen TV role models we’ve had in a long time. We need more independent, strong-willed females on our screens who aren’t afraid to poke holes in the patriarchy—and the real world could always use more, too. Here’s hoping that with Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, we’ll have a few more.