The ‘Charmed’ reboot and the demonization of Macy Vaughn
We deserve more thoughtfulness in regards to storylines about Black women, and Macy deserves so much more humanity.
by Cosima Smith
Television, movies, and literary representations all serve to enforce, perpetuate, and reinforce the lived-realities of their subjects and audience. They also proliferate the ideas of their creators by portraying a set of characters who, ideally, undergo hardships and growth, experience love and loss, and who (work to) internalize a great deal of personal lessons. Often, the metaphorical value of characterization runs much deeper than, but is incredibly informed by, the speech, action, and detailing of a character because we are meant to identify ourselves in relation to them and the storylines presented. And, as one would assume, this representation if often far from fair or true.
We constantly find Black women—both within media and in their everyday—defined by one of four major archetypes: the Mammy, the Jezebel, the Sapphire, and the Matriarch. Black women are either oversexed or frigid; they are either endlessly altruistic (without ever truly being enough to save their loves) or entirely self-serving (without ever being deserving of even the smallest dignities). Black women are always problems: too much to understand or help and, often, not even worthy of the effort. It is sad and disheartening that Charmed, whose reboot has diversified and revamped the storylines centering the three most powerful (Western) witches, plays so heavily into these tropes in demonizing Macy Vaughn, a Black “charmed one” of Latinx descent.
Macy, played by Madeleine Mantock, is literally part demon—her mother brought her back to life with the help of a necromancer who secretly used demon blood in the ritual. Throughout the series we see Macy told over and over again that she “has darkness.” Think about this: a group of writers and creators sat in a room and decided it was okay to attach an identifier of darkness verbally, repeatedly, and with the connotation that she is part demon to to a Black witch (played by an Afro-Caribbean woman). How fucked up is that?
Throughout the first season of the series, Macy and others search ad nauseam for a way to get rid of this demon element, but it is ultimately conveyed to the audience that she will have to continue to live with this stigmatic darkness. The possibilities of a “cure” offered include a binding of her magic by the (mostly white) Witch’s Council, eugenic gene therapy from the lab at which she works, and her boyfriend undergoing training to be a ritualistic surgeon.
Once a cure is theoretically found, she indeed chooses not to undergo the Yoruba ritual needed to remove the Ibi, or evilness, from inside her. By this point in the season, she has been manipulated, lied to, and is craving control over some part of her life after having been thrust into a role as one of the most powerful witches alive and coming to know, for a second time in her life, that she has a “darkness” that is problematic.
Macy is a prime example of how Black women are expected to be needless, self-sufficient, and providing the role of the emotional Mammy. She is forced to bear any and every burden, even literal demonization; and Mantock herself is forced to bear quite a burden in playing the part of not only the Mammy but also the Sapphire via Macy’s hardness and emotional trauma from her mother abandoning her.
This intricate characterization is done through Macy’s distance from her sisters—even in name, with their shared surnames being Vera. There are countless scenes and circumstances in the first season in which Macy is notably an outsider, even within her own family. Her sisters study the social sciences while she works in a genetics lab on campus—where she is the only woman and one of only two Black people. Because of her demon side, she is able to use the “evil eye” which allows her to see through the eyes of the demons that threaten the Charmed Ones. She can even read demon script!
But her witch powers set her apart as well. When an explanation of the “Power of Three” is mentioned, Macy’s power is characterized by a God (Anu) instead of a Goddess as her sisters’ powers. She is masculinized again and again as her powers increase, her voice deepening, being expected to shut herself off from the rest of the world in order to access power and control, and having that power manifest as domain over the realm of the physical (in comparison to her sisters’ power over emotions and time respectively).
From the beginning of the series, Macy is ostracized and distanced from her sisters, toward whom she is shown to harbor resentment for having been cheated out of time with her mother. She has been forced to distance herself from those she cares about because her “darkness” is too much baggage or makes her somehow too dangerous to be loved. The “darkness” of evil, which subsists on her insecurity, is too much for her to handle—she becomes overwhelmed by its power and loses control of herself and her actions.
Macy is characterized as a Mammy, who bakes to relieve her stress, and a Sapphire, who can’t allow anyone to come close enough to understand her. She was portrayed as a witch and a scientist and a demon, but we are very rarely allowed to see her as human. We deserve more thoughtfulness in regards to storylines about Black women, and Macy deserves so much more humanity than the shreds she has been given as the first season of the Charmed reboot comes to a close.
Cosima Smith is a freelance writer, yoga teacher, and photographer (and polyglot!) from Keysville, Virginia. The degree they received in Gender and Sexuality Studies from the University of Virginia has pushed them to further explore notions of intimacy, the body, sex and sex work, and cultural/religious/linguistic representations of the gender and sexual spectrums. Find them on twitter @CosimaCreates/@Cosimatyke and Instagram @a.misoc