Witches! All of them witches!
The Witches of Hollywood is a preliminary, fifty-five-minute cut of the upcoming documentary WITCH: HEX THE PATRIARCHY. It examines witch archetypes in tv shows and films and focuses on social activism. Directed by Sophie Peyrard, it features analysis from writers, scholars, academics, and activists: Danica London, Heather Green, Kristen Sollee, Pam Grossman, and Peg Aloi.
It’s a documentary Jung would have admired—it explains how witch archetypes evolved over the years featuring clips from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, The Chilling Tales of Sabrina, Bell, Book and Candle, Suspiria, The Craft, American Horror Story: Coven, Maleficent, Bewitched, The Wizard of Oz, I Married A Witch, and other media to show archetypes in action from hag to hot wife.
The Witches of Hollywood explains how the ‘evil witch’ archetype is a metaphor for transgressive women, and why transgressive women are frightening: Transgressive women break gender stereotypes and gender rules which is threatening, unacceptable, or just plain irritating to people, whether they are conscious of it or not. And if you transgress gender rules, as all witchy women know, it means you’re evil.
The film examines how women are damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Witches are gorgeous or hideous: If you’re beautiful, then you’re evil because you’re alluring. If you’re not conventionally beautiful, then you’re a hag and evil because you’re ugly. It’s no mistake that witches are depicted as bitter, disgruntled, disgusting, and mean, or envisioned as beautiful and evil—she’ll fuck you until you die. Women are evil, no matter what. You can’t win. You’re damned.
“Vanish, she must vanish. She must die! Die! Die!” —Suspiria, 1977
The documentary also focuses on the intersection of racism and witches with clips from The Craft and American Horror Story: Coven, which shows that Black women endure far more marginalization than white women; they have to fight misogyny and racism. A clip from The Craft shows Rachel True’s character using magic to defeat a racist white girl in high school—but it’s telling that magic is required—though the racist girl gets her karma in the end, it was magic that did it.
Another clip shows a fairy-witch who turns to ‘the dark side.’ In Maleficent, the fairy witch (Angelina Jolie) has her wings cut off by a man while sleeping, and she is traumatized when she wakes up. She transforms from an ‘angel’ to a vengeful being who curses the princess, a baby. Although Maleficent tells the story of a witch who became tragically evil after abuse, this isn’t always the case.
Some films show witches fighting injustice with magic, but the inequity shown is minor because a man is telling the story. It’s hard to believe a woman would fly over a town and curse it for a slight. It’s absurd, but that’s what they will have you believe about a witch: She flies at night, plotting mischief because she’s evil, a destroyer of fun, a villain, beyond reason. Witches aren’t capable of reasoning (they’re not sorcerers) because rationality belongs to men and the ‘good’ folk of the town.
The Witches of Hollywood is a thoughtful analysis of witches in popular culture. There are all kinds of witches to admire: housewife witches, vamp witches, 90’s witches, cartoon witches, and green witch-witches, and more to come. It’s a comforting watch—it’s fun to listen to witchy women talk about witchy things. The documentary reminded me of “Witch Burning,” an early poem by Sylvia Plath, which suggests so much:
Sickness begins here: I am the dartboard for witches.
Only the devil can eat the devil out.
In the month of red leaves I climb to a bed of fire.
Witches are for everyone, but marginalized people seem to be particularly attracted to stories about them. Perhaps it’s because witches and warlocks are underdogs, outsiders, the despised, and the misunderstood. But in stories, they have supernatural powers. Witches are powerful, self-reliant loners (another thing to fear about them) unless they have a coven or they’re tight with the devil. Harlots, sluts, whores, trollops, bitches, and witches—Satan welcomes them all. Hell is inclusive, it accepts everyone.
The Witches of Hollywood premiered at Salem Horror Fest, a horror film festival. It’s wonderful that its preliminary cut premiered in Salem, with its rich history of witches. Get ready for its eventual release; if you like witchy films, you’ll love the full cut of WITCH: HEX THE PATRIARCHY.
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