One of my favorite movies of all time would have to be “The Craft”. The Craft was a movie that had a few amazing things incorporated from the 90s: awesome casting choices, excellent music choices, great use of 90s fashion, awesome use of special effects, a girl gang/coven wrecking sh*t, and also magic. Oh and Rachel True…she was magic by herself and I just wanted her there in every scene just being Rachel True. Can we just have a round of applause for the beauty that is Rachel True?
Anyways, The Craft was an amazing movie and a box office hit of its time. Pretty much it was your text book movie of the 90s: small town girl moves to the big city, she’s had a rough life, she makes friends, she has a crush, and then nothing but spells, an attempt at rape, a murder, and nothing but “girl drama”. You know, typical 90s movie…oh with a black friend to top it off. But there was always one problem I had with this movie and with series involving witches. Actually there are a few problems, but they all boil down to one thing and that’s agency or lack thereof.
What is Agency you ask?
Agency is pretty much a characters ability to think, feel, and act “freely” with their own goals in mind. In fact you can even break it down to a few things like: I want, I feel, I think, I need, and pretty much exchange the pronoun to however you see fit. But this also means that the actions reflect the motivations. It can be as simple as “ I want a cookie, so I go get a cookie” to as complex as “I want a cookie, because I never had a cookie and now I’m going to steal a cookie because the patriarchy won’t let me have one.” That last one might be a little over the top, but that’s agency in a nutshell.
In The Craft movie the protagonist Sarah wants popular boy Chris’s love…after he spreads a rumor about the two of them sleeping together…so she puts a love spell on him. (Don’t ask just go with it, it was reasonable at the time.) Bonnie has a horrible skin disease that leaves her with scars so she cast a beauty spell on herself to cure it. Rochelle wants revenge on a racist girl named Laura, so Rochelle puts a curse on her and the racist girl starts going bald. Nancy wants to get out of being working class so she cast a spell for success and her mother becomes rich after her stepfather dies. So pretty much the agency is action + motive, simple right?
Well, it would be simple if a character’s motivation wasn’t thrown out as much as they do. Going back to the example I gave about Rochelle’s motivation and action this makes sense. The problem is that this is the only time we get to see Rochelle or Bonnie’s agency because the rest of the movie becomes them being the lackeys for Nancy.
In Bonnie’s case, she loses her agency because none of her choices are of a completely sane mind as she is still suffering from the effects of the spell she casted (spoiler alert he becomes horrifically narcissistic). Rochelle is made out to be a bit little more thoughtful about her actions than even the protagonist Sarah and antagonist Nancy; however this gets thrown out the window the moment the plot calls for a dramatic conflict in the later half in the movie.
The audience is never given a reasoning for this accept that obviously the other two girls want power just like Nancy the power hungry maniac wants power. In fact that reason makes the first part of the movie feel empty. We get a movie about these four amazing ladies and then the rest of the movie is like “nope, there can only be one good gir…I mean witch in this movie.”
So why is this a problem?
Supernatural narratives, especially ones about witches and magic users have been used to do two things. On one hand their used as a metaphor to contain or warn against the wild and specifically the wild woman. If you’ve ever read the Arthurian legends, women were put into two categories: the refine respectable lady who questions nothing or the woman of the wilds who creates chaos in the land. Hell read Beowulf and you’ll see an example of the Madonna-whore complex (virgin/whore dichotomy) in its two female characters.
However in more modern tales of witches; women, people of color, and queer characters are given a lot more agency as magic users. Everyone wants to be a wizard, a witch, or a magician because of freedom. This provides a narrative of “I can do what I want to do” and not “I can do only what I’m programed or sentenced to do.”
However, when a movie strips characters of motivation for “THE INTENSE DRAMA” it becomes a problem, especially when it pits women against each other to see “which one the better woman” or in this case “witch”. Rather than this amazing movie becoming “finding your power with your girls” it just ultimately becomes “why one girl is better than the other girls.”
In Sarah’s case, “she was born for this,” and Nancy “, you deserve this.” But that doesn’t leave much for Bonnie and Rochelle. In fact it just means that their motivations and wants/needs/desires are chucked out and they might as well be broomsticks for the other ladies to ride on. It doesn’t allow them to make any other choices except for the ones the conflicting powers allows them to have. And that sucks because it undermines the concept of having power or freedom in this case.
So, The Craft is still a great movie. It still has girl power…in the first half of the movie. It still shows off perfect displays of magic and the ending was great (Sarah shows the other witches she still got the hands). But I always wondered what would have been, if this movie didn’t become girlfriends pitted against each other to see who the alpha witch was, but girlfriends navigating the scary real/supernatural world in front of them with magic.
This article was submitted by Marcus Cross, you can follow him on Twitter @Dazural additionally you can view his art on Instagram and tumblr.