Black Girl Magic: A Rise in Fantasy Representation on Screen

                                  Artist: Nicholle Kobi

                                 Artist: Nicholle Kobi

“Black Girl Magic” is a phrase coined in 2013 by blogger CaShawn Thompson, in “celebration of the beauty, intelligence and power of Black women everywhere.” It has since become a rallying cry for black women of different backgrounds to celebrate their accomplishments and moments together in sisterhood. But unlike the phrase and recent movement behind it, “Black Girl Magic” in the literal sense has rarely been showcased at the forefront of film and television. There are many film franchises and shows built on fantasy or supernatural stories, but these largely feature white casts and protagonists. Since the 1990s, however, more black women with magical abilities have moved to center stage.

Rochelle Zimmerman – The Craft, 1996

An outcast at her Los Angeles school because of her skin color, Rochelle befriends girls on the fringe who form a coven to regain power over their teenage lives. Rochelle is not only one of the witches in the main cast, but a skilled swimmer whose goal is to make the high school team. When this is hindered by a racist school bully, Rochelle aptly casts a spell to make the girl’s hair fall out. In addition to this, she has the power of telekinesis, levitation, and glamouring. Though left without power at the end of this cautionary tale, Rochelle is a rare portrayal of black women unapologetically using their power towards their own goals.

 “I drink of my sisters and I ask for the ability to not hate those who hate me. Especially racist pieces of bleach-blonde shit like Laura Lizzie.” – Rochelle

Eve Batiste, Mozelle Batiste Delacroix, Elzora – Eve’s Bayou, 1997

 
 

This trio took African-American cinema to new heights in its portrayal of black women with clairvoyance and voodoo. Eve, the youngest, finds her dreams to be visions of tragedy to come. Her gift of sight mirrors her aunt Mozelle’s, a woman who not only has visions, but reads people’s lives by holding their hands. Mozelle also sparingly uses voodoo to help customers if they’re desperate enough. Eve and Mozelle encounter Elzora, an elderly woman who tells fortunes at the market and proves to be quite twisted. The three are brought together in a tragic coming-of-age tale in which Eve takes on her troubled family one summer in a Louisiana bayou.

     “Like others before me, I have the gift of sight. But the truth changes color, depending on the light. And tomorrow can be clearer than yesterday. Memory is the selection of images, some elusive, others printed indelibly on the brain. Each image is like a thread, each thread woven together to make a tapestry of intricate texture. And the tapestry tells a story, and the story is our past.” – Eve

Raven Baxter – That’s So Raven, 2003 – 2007

Dealing with friendships, boys, and dreams of becoming a fashion designer, a huge part of Raven’s life are her psychic visions of the future. She’s very insecure about being seen as a freak if anyone finds out, but also has unique experiences and life lessons during her adolescence in San Francisco because of her gift. Raven afforded many children and teens a lighthearted, relatable portrayal of Black Girl Magic in comedy. She returns as the star of spinoff and sequel series Raven’s Home, which aired in July 2017 and is set in Chicago.

     “Oh, snap!” “Ya’ nasty!” “I’m okay!” – Raven

Bonnie Bennett and The Bennett Family – The Vampire Diaries, 2009 – 2017

 
 

Bonnie discovers her penchant for witchcraft as a teenager when her best friend gets involved with vampires. She goes on a journey of honing her powers, learning from her grandmother Sheila that they hail from a long line of matriarchal witches. They are descendants of Emily Bennett, who was a powerful witch in Mystic Falls, VA in the 19th century, as well as one of the most powerful witches of all time, Qetsiyah. Bonnie experiments with both dark and natural magic, eventually developing the powers of divination, healing, necromancy, and psychokinesis (aero, bio, pyro, and tele). Through Bonnie’s storyline, audiences have an example of Black Girl Magic through several generations of powerful women in the same family.

      “Witchcraft has its limits. If I push too hard, it pushes back.” – Bonnie

Queenie and Marie Laveau – American Horror Story: Coven, 2013 – 2014

 
 

Queenie, a new student at Miss Robichaux’s Academy in New Orleans, is descended from Tituba of the Salem Witch Trials, and calls herself a “human voodoo doll,” able to transfer self-inflicted wounds and pain to others. She later performs telekinesis, teleportation, mind control, and astral projection. For a time, Queenie joins the fold of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, based on the real-life, renowned figure. Marie survives to modern times because of an immortality deal with Papa Legba, in which she must sacrifice an innocent once a year. In addition to her voodoo mastery, Marie demonstrates telekinesis, teleportation, necromancy, and a war cry that causes people to turn on one another. Both Queenie and Marie take on an immortal racist and other threats in the war between hunters, voodoo practitioners, and witches in this campy, dark story.

     “I grew up on white girl shit, like Charmed and Sabrina The Teenage Cracker.” – Queenie

Abbie & Jenny Mills – Sleepy Hollow, 2013 – 2017

Abbie, who has prophetic dreams, learns that she is one of Two Witnesses in the Book of Revelation meant to prevent the apocalypse with Ichabod Crane. A Lieutenant originally headed to the FBI, she remains in Sleepy Hollow, NY to rise to the cause. She can also see spirits, have visions of the past, and assist with casting spells. Her sister Jenny is drawn into the fight, having seen the demon Moloch when they were children, as a supernatural relic hunter. This is one of the rare portrayals of black women, fantasy, and the Bible coming together.

 
 

     “Here's what we can do: no more first-hand accounts of witches or founding fathers. Or donut tax outrage unless you want to be sent back to the asylum.” - Abbie

These portrayals of Black Girl Magic, which feature characters who have storylines independent of their white counterparts, are markedly different from “The Magical Negro” stereotype in cinema. The Magical Negro was first seen with The Song of the South (1946), but mostly lends itself to male characters. The handful of black women who fall into this category are Oda Mae Brown in Ghost (1990); Mother Abagail in adapted miniseries The Stand (1994); Jezelle Gay Hartman in Jeepers Creepers (2001); Missouri Moseley on a single episode (2005) of Supernatural; and Evelyn in Annabelle (2014). These characters have no purpose in the story beyond helping white ones, even going so far as to sacrifice themselves in some instances.

Black Girl Magic speaks to a beauty and power that black women have on their own, as evidenced by stronger characters in TV and film recently. Fortunately, the road doesn’t end here. Coming to television soon are actresses Sibongile Mlambo in the role of a mermaid on the Freeform show Siren, and Clark Backo in the role of a psychic and descendent of Supernatural’s Missouri Moseley on Wayward Sisters at The CW. On the big screen, expect to see Oprah Winfrey in the role of Mrs. Which for Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time in 2018.

As black women continue to see the magic within themselves, they can now see even more of it represented on screen.