by Maria-Isabel Allen-Cordona
Unlike many telenovelas, which are dramatic and often melancholy, “Always a Witch” is colorful and optimistic and absolutely worth your time.
“Always a Witch” premiered on Netflix February 1, 2019. The story is about a young slave named Carmen Eguiluz who travels to the future in order to save the life of her lover.
During its promotional period, the show had a lot of buzz surrounding it. For many people in the Latin-x community, the show was an opportunity to change a common pattern in many TV shows across Latin America.
As in the United States, Latin American entertainment has struggled with sufficient representation of Afro-Latinos.
TV shows typically star fair-skinned, more European-looking women, with Afro-Latinas taking the backseat and playing roles like sex workers or troubled women.
“Always A Witch” changed that narrative by portraying its main character as a strong, independent, young black woman is was willing to do what it takes to bring her lover back to life.
But when the show was finally released on Netflix, it left people scratching their heads.
What rubbed viewers the wrong way was the relationship between Carmen and her lover Cristobal, who, in the beginning, was introduced as the son of a rich slave master. Also, throughout the majority of the show Carmen consistently expresses that she wants to go back to her slave life.
Hordes of people on Twitter expressed their concern and mentioned that promoting this kind of relationship was damaging and regressive, especially in this day and age.
These points are valid. But it’s also important to note that “Always a Witch” isn’t your normal, everyday TV show.
“Always a Witch” is one of many extremely successful shows that have come out of Colombia in recent years. Shows like “Ugly Betty” and “La Niña” have gained massive popularity in both Latin America and the U.S. These are not normal dramas: they’re telenovelas, or soap operas.
Soap operas should never be taken seriously. Their purpose is to over-exaggerate the emotional drama of the characters in the show. “Always a Witch” is nothing more or less than a modern, complex soap opera.
In an article written a few days after the show was released, critic Kathia Woods writes, “This series is loosely based on a novel by Isidora Chacó. It’s a telenovela. Novelas are loose with reality and more focused on entertainment.”
As frustrating as it is, soap operas are not looking to be accurate with history. They are all for pure entertainment. Problematic beginnings aside, people need to realize that as the show progresses, Carmen’s goals change. As she adjusts to life in the 21st century, she makes meaningful friendships and learns more about herself and her family. The people she meets serve in assisting her in the discovery of her inner strength.
Yes, her relationship with Cristobal was her initial drive — but in the end, she wants to go back not just for her lover, but to fight for the rights of women and slaves. After living in 2019 and seeing how free women were to learn and explore all these possibilities, she wanted to share those values with the people she loved in the past.