Is Charmed a Champion for Feminism?

Was the late 90’s hit TV show Charmed (1998) about a trio of powerful good witches tasked with saving the world from evil a champion for feminism? How does it compare to the modern reboot of Charmed (2018) which features a more diverse casting and storyline diving into issues of sexual identity, race and other women’s issues? The original TV series was created by Constance M. Burge and starred Shannen Doherty, Holly Marie Combs, Alyssa Milano, Rose McGowan, Brian Krause, Julian McMahon and Dorian Gregory. The supernatural fantasy drama was one of the longest running female led shows of all time until its end in 2006. In the latest string of classic TV reboots, the new Charmed (2018) features a new set of sisters played by Sarah Jeffery, Madeleine Mantock and Melonie Diaz. With mixed reviews, YouTubers Eloy from the channel The Turnout, Kristen Maldonado, Rachel Macdonald, and Melina Pendulum explore the similarities and differences between the two series.

Charmed is incredibly female focused. It’s one of the few shows I would describe as female driven given its full leads are female, much of the supporting characters are female, the Halliwell line is a matriarchy and not a single female character is ever sidelined for a male character.

Though the original series found many critics questioning the feminism aspect of the show, YouTuber Rachel Macdonald claims it is truly a forefront leader in the “girl power” element of portraying females as strong, competent and driven characters. She makes note that in the first four seasons of the show, which featured a female showrunner, focuses on their strong female relationships and familial bond to tackle the different obstacles the sisters faced in each storyline.

Never do we see the girls victimized. There is not one hint of sexual violence in the show … so often female strife in media is defined by how much suffering female characters can take and never are the girls put through trauma or pain in order to further anyone else’s storyline or arch.

In the new Charmed (2018) reboot, YouTuber Eloy from the channel The Turnout is intrigued with the layers and depth of character background added to each sister compared to the original in which they seemed to operate and act stereotypically according to their standing in the family as the oldest, middle and youngest sister.

Now you have Macy who is the oldest but is also a scientist. You have Mel who yes, she’s the middle child, but she’s also an activist. And you have Maggie who yes, is the youngest, but she’s also an insecure college student and she’s doing a lot of things. I feel like the old show is really just I’m the oldest so I get to be overbearing, I’m the middle one so I care about everybody, I’m the young one so I don’t know anything. It played on the stereotypes.

The YouTuber praises the new series for taking the time to create and convey interesting backstories for the characters, especially the supporting ones like Harry, who plays the older, very by the book, father figure Whitelighter to the sisters. It gives the show a more light-hearted yet serious tone, compared to the original which feels more melodramatic due to all the characters hooking up with each other throughout the seasons.

Of course in the old show Leo was there and it became kind of a 90201 with magic where you just had all these hot people in close proximity and you knew eventually they were all going to hook up … in the new show they really are trying to pay attention to everyone’s genuine backstory.

Another big change added to the reboot is the diverse casting in the sisters as well as the supporting characters. All the YouTubers agree the original show was severely lacking in diversity and often times culturally appropriated different cultures, which wasn’t as big of an issue as it is in today’s society. However, with shows now “race bending”, YouTuber Melina Pendulum strongly feels entertainment industry leaders have to be more responsible when making and implementing these changes.

When white producers are going to make these race bend reboots putting women of color at the forefront of it, especially mostly black women and they are not being responsible about what that means and not caring about using people's culture … that bothers me.

An example she addresses is the issue of the show being marketed and promoted as a Latina led show, when in fact only one of the main cast members is actually a Latina actress, while the other two actresses are of mixed-race ethnicities not of Latino heritage. The YouTuber cites different magazines and media organizations specifically calling out a “Latina led Charmed” and says the issues of colorism in casting people of color played a huge role in the misconception and disappointment in the production aspects of the show.

To me colorism played a huge role with how this turned out. Mantock and Jeffery are both lighter skinned women of color. They are very light skinned black women and for that reason both of them, especially Jeffrey, were able to be perceived as Latina because they fit into the mainstream depiction of what Latina people are supposed to look like.

In the new reboot, the show does a great job of hitting on very modern and feminist issues plaguing society today, says the YouTuber. The show hits a stronger chord with addressing issues such as rape culture and slut shamming.

I think the feminist angle on this show is a lot stronger. They talk a lot about campus assault, rape culture, slut shaming. The medusa episode is really powerful with the twist being that medusa was turning people to stone who looked away from her as kind of a metaphor for turning a blind eye on sexual assault. That was really really powerful.

YouTuber Kristen Maldonado agrees and says the modern issues the series addresses are very relevant and especially the concept of questioning the sensibility of authority. In the original show where the sisters often were directed by The Elders to kill whatever evil being that was on hand just for the sake of riding the world of evil, the reboot shows the sisters taking a stand against the corrupt Elders and taking matters into their own hands to figure out why the evil is plaguing their community and the most responsible way to destroy it.

I also think that this show talked about a lot of important topics like the me too movement, the idea of questioning people in power instead of just going along with whatever they say, sex, sexual identity, race, women supporting women and consent in all forms when it comes to making your own decisions.

Disappointed in the reboot and loyal to the original series, YouTuber Macdonald thinks it does not have the same emotional impact on feminist issues and should be all together called a different show name not to be associated with the original Charmed universe. On the other hand, though the new Charmed (2018) strays from the original a bit, it still gives a similar message of female empowerment, according to YouTubers Maldonado, Eloy and Melina Pendulum, who really enjoy the show and are looking forward to the next season.

This reboot is just another extension of the Charmed universe. There is the original series. There’s the comic books, and this is just another extension of that. It's telling a different story, it’s expanding the universe, and I think it stands on its own.

YouTubers Kristen Maldonado, Rachel Macdonald, Melina Pendulum and Eloy from The Turnout, rate and review movies and TV shows on their channels regularly.