The Chilling Truth of Sabrina and Black Women

It’s hard to write about a show’s fall from grace when there are so many points when it fell. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina didn’t miss its mark in its storytelling. Introduced to a new twist on a beloved classic, I was ready to fall in love with it fully and wholeheartedly. What I didn’t expect, though, was how fast characters were disposed by the main protagonist, and how more often than not it was its black female leads.

Let me preface this with something that gets colluded when it comes to criticism of popular media: when you’re a black person, you head into every situation looking for every black person in the room with you. This tactic is something we learn for protection, comfort, and from the “tribe” mindset all humans learn as babies.  And, as a black woman, you instantly find all the black women in that litter that you can later turn to if anything goes astray. In the instance you’re faced with a situation that you know is targeted and particularly harmful, sisterhood is what we instinctively run to. The same can be said for shows and films. Black women in media, as well as real-life, are seen so often as the voices of reason that it’s almost impossible not to be be drawn towards them. These characters are often related to us not just for it’s representation but that familiar reminder of our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, and ever friends.

The third season of the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina didn’t make me excited as much as it did with its initial release back in 2018. The premiere brought this exciting idea of a new show with inklings of Riverdale but with a better put-together premise with magic, witchcraft, and all that’s occult. Right up my alley. It was exciting for a non-Riverdale watcher, like myself, to be reintroduced to beloved characters of Sabrina, Zelda, Hilda, and Salem. It was no match for Sabrina the Teenage Witch, but it was something new, dark, and exciting. This new exciting show introduced us to a slew of characters, the Aunties and even a new family member, Cousin Ambrose, but only a handful of black women: Rosalind “Roz” Walker (Jaz Sinclair), Prudence Night (Tati Gabrielle), Lady Constance Blackwood (Alvina August), the wife of the headmaster of the witchery academy, and in the latest season, Mambo Marie (Skye P. Marshall), a Haitian Voodoo Priestess from New Orleans. Instantly, I knew this wasn’t going to be good in the long run.

In the first season of the show, one of the few black women is taken away from us. Lady Blackwood dies during childbirth, something that in hindsight feels very harsh and heartless given the fact that black women are most likely to die during childbirth than other races. The little we know about her character is centered on having a child with the headmaster Father Blackwood and giving him a son. After her death, she was never remembered fondly in any fashion. This death within itself is an injustice to a character who was never fleshed out or even recalled in later seasons other than simply being, plainly put, a vessel for these twins. This death sits u well with me because, again, black women are more likely to die during childbirth but also because her joy for these children was the depth to her. Of course, this isn’t to say women who dedicate their lives to motherhood lack depth, but there was nothing ever even muttered about her. Her death came suddenly and her memory faded even faster.  What makes it all worse is that all that is Lady Blackwood is instantly replaced in our minds when not only her husband takes up a marriage with Sabrina’s aunt Zelda, but also to the revelation that Prudence Night is the illegitimate child of Father Blackwood and the righteous heir to the throne. Prudence’s character, in a small way, takes the place of this woman who didn’t stand a chance in showing us any part of herself or playing a key role in the story ahead.

Prudence, though, who is something like Sabrina’s frienemy, is our strongest black woman in the show. She exudes power stronger than Sabrina, she carries herself with more grace and dignity and honestly, in the world of queens, Prudence is Meghan Markle while Sabrina is Kate. Prudence didn’t get much of a storyline at first that wasn’t quickly overshadowed by Sabrina’s foolishness or own selfish needs. Throughout the show we are given what feels like these small pieces of Prudence that almost don’t feel as serious as other character’s plot lines. For example, Prudence is in sisterhood with two other witches Agatha (Adeline Rudolph) and Dorcas (Abigail Cowen), but even their bond feels very each witch for herself, which felt like an abandonment of Prudence. Sadly, it isn’t just the sisterhood, it’s every bond created throughout the show by Prudence and other characters that always feel either rushed or one-sided. It can easily be said that her character is hard, callous, and not one to be so emotional. But is that not what black women are always seen as? For what reason does her character seem so stereotypical in terms of black women but not catered to or comforted like all the other women? For example, When Father Blackwood takes her younger siblings and disappears in the night in the second season due to a fallout within the Church of Darkness as well as the Academy, Prudence is seen as taking on the task of finding her father and brother and sister with ease. No questions asked, no one telling her she shouldn’t. It’s almost as if it’s all her choice. Though it’s never really told who she’s raised by, it’s rather clear that she is the “strong” black woman on the series. Her moments of weakness must be swallowed, her own personal afflictions have to be set aside because everyone is looking to her for safety and strength. As a viewer, this could be seen as representation, but honestly, I can’t help but see it as a slap in the face to black female viewers who want to see themselves in the show. Prudence is deserving of everything good and great in this world of chaos, yet she’s paid in dust not once, not twice, but three times rather consecutively. Her father abandons her, her rightful position as the head of the church is pronounced to her and quickly taken away in the same breath (and also given to Sabrina in a way). We see her moments of weakness, of her humanity, in such small bites that it’s so hard to treasure them because we’re met again with the woman who has a job to do, a task to complete, a matter to sort. And, in all honesty, this wouldn’t be the case if it weren’t for Sabrina making it her personal duty to ruin the lives of those around her with her carelessness and selfishness. 

Then comes Roz, Sabrina’s mortal friend and an important role to Sabrina staying connected to her teenage mortal life. Roz was introduced to us with little backstory before they decided to give all Sabrina’s friends a plotline of their own. Roz was introduced to us as a pastor’s daughter who is outspoken and the “tell it like it is” friend. She has a little secret of her own that she discovers in the first season which is that she has visions from something called The Cunning. Her Nana Ruth suffered from blindness and the constant visions due to a witch that cursed her family generations ago. This ability is right away used to assist Sabrina on her magical misadventures.  Later in the series, Roz falls blind from supposedly her myopia but more than likely from the curse. This all happens in the absence of Sabrina and it’s the first time that Sabrina is faced with the fact that she’s not the friend that she thinks she is.  Sabrina models herself throughout the show as this great selfless friend. She upholds the hero’s journey of making sure every action is in no way reflected in her own personal thoughts and feelings but instead for the betterment of others. Unfortunately, that’s just not true in her case. When she gets the news of Roz being blind, her first instinct is to fix the situation. She doesn’t give a second of her time to listen to the wants and needs of Roz, but to speak over and tell her what’s good for her. When Roz is frustrated and devastated in, calmly trying to explain how magic is the last thing her situation needs, we see Sabrina putting on the waterworks to “defend” her case before she walks away from what she takes as an attack to her character and not her witchery. 

How does Sabrina damage these black women? What does Sabrina do that causes so much chaos in the lives of these women she says she loves? Simple, she does nothing because she doesn’t care about them. 

Prudence is seen as a threat to her for the first half of the show and then seen as nothing in comparison to Sabrina and her infinite magic. When faced with trouble, Prudence isn’t met with someone who has the best magic to help her. No, she’s once again left to face so many challenges on her own when she’s in acquaintance with a woman with magical word equivalent of “privilege” to help her through. In the last season, Prudence was paired with cousin Ambrose and still had to swallow her pride when faced with defeat and left on her own to tend to her wounded ego. This is damaging to her because we are shown that she directs all that anger from disappointment onto someone less deserving. The final scene we have with Prudence is her falling into the arms of someone who has seen just as much damage as her but still not someone who’s strong enough to lift her and support as she should have been since the beginning.  Roz, on the other hand, is doing her best to resurrect her mortal life after going blind and regaining it after a set of circumstances that was, at the end of the day, Sabrina’s magical doing. In the latest season, Roz tries out for the cheer squad and desires to permeate her relationship with Harvey and her life as a normal teenager. Then Sabrina comes along, once again to deal her damage to her best friend without accepting accountability, without truly showing her appreciation to her, and at a time where she could have saved her life, she didn’t. Why can’t Sabrina support these women along their own hero’s journey? For what reason did she have for not helping Prudence or at least bestowing what knowledge she did have upon her so she could excel? Why must Sabrina’s mortal best friend be dragged into the mess that is her life and be met with nothing? 

But I do wonder, why not at least honor the importance of friendship? It feels blatant that the show shows us how little these black women mean to their story and their central characters (and this is even extending to cousin Ambrose, the only black male in the entire series).  There’s an episode where Roz is turned to stone and a spell to turn her back has to be done by someone who loves her deeply. Instantly, eyes are turned to her boyfriend, but for a moment I wondered, why wasn’t the kiss done by her best friend, Sabrina? Why didn’t her friend save her but instead leave her best friend’s boyfriend having to sacrifice their relationship by instead diving into action? We could all say for drama or for tension, which is true, but why can’t friendship be honored in a show with a girl who makes it her job to supposedly be the best friend in the whole world to all these people? If I could rewrite it all, Prudence would be the one saving Roz from Sabrina each and every time she could, because it’s true what they say: at the end of the day, the only person protecting black women is black women.

This doesn’t stop with the characters. For a show to be painted as a teenage drama, it’s hard to not think that black girls glued to their screens looking up to girls like Prudence and Roz who have to accept that at the end of the day that they only have themselves. As a black woman, sadly, it’s all too true. In science fiction and fantasy, it’s true that black women rarely see themselves. To come to a show riddles with magic and magical mishappenings, we’re  barely anywhere to be seen. Mambo Marie, the black woman added to the latest season is the only semblance of a balanced black woman on scene but there’s something that leaves a bit of a sour taste when she’s a voodoo queen. Same can be said for Roz as a preacher’s daughter and Prudence being a child of a father who wanted nothing to do with her. What does this say to little black girls who want to believe in magic? That we too only have so few roles to be?

Sabrina doesn’t carry herself through the show honoring what she says matters most to her. This is a show introduces these important characters that, at the end of the day, are expendable. Black girls looking for something to find themselves in aren’t allowed to find it in the roles CAOS offers. Where do the Roz’s of the world fit in? Where do the Prudence’s go when they’re belittled for being strong and smart? We all have a Sabrina in our lives, and truly, no black girl deserves that.

By Jade Ivy Monet

Jade Ivy is a mother, a devoted writer, an avid (yet slow) reader, and a freelance copy editor and web designer. Her debut novel is taking its precious time writing itself but she is occupying that time with art, napping, video gaming, and late night writing (crying) sessions.

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