Patrick Gomez is a Senior Editor at Entertainment Weekly.
Right off the bat, I want to make three things explicitly clear: 1) I am Latino. 2) I have actually watched the pilot episode of the new Charmed. 3) I am a huge fan of the original Charmed — as in, I own the special-edition box set and have watched the unaired pilot (the one with Lori Rom as Phoebe instead of Alyssa Milano) multiple times.
When news first broke that there was a Charmed reboot I was — unlike many original Charmed fans on social media — excited that we’d be treated to another view into the world of The Charmed Ones. I was even more thrilled when it was announced that they were considering actresses of all ethnicities when casting the three leads and ultimately landed on making the sisters Latina.
Then came the backlash, and not the one you might think. Yes people were upset that the new Charmed was diverting from the original in such a big way. But those people were generally upset that anyone was creating a new Charmed in the first place, not that the sisters — who had been white on the original show — are now a different ethnicity. No, the backlash has come from the fact that Melonie Diaz, who plays the middle half-sister, is the only Latina playing one of The Charmed Ones. (Madeleine Mantock, who plays the eldest half-sister, identifies as Afro-Carribean and Sarah Jeffery, who plays the youngest half-sister, identifies as African-American.)
There’s no denying that Latinx (the gender-neutral term that is now used in lieu of Latino when referring to a mixed-gender group of people of Latin decent) representation in Hollywood is abysmal…
Bear with me, we’re gonna get statistical for a minute: According to a United States Census Bureau estimate, people of Hispanic origin made up 17.8 percent of the nation’s total population in 2016. When examining Hispanic on-screen representation during the same year, the UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report concluded that Latino actors played only 2.7 percent of roles in the top movies of the year and 6 percent of roles on scripted broadcast programs that aired during the 2015-16 season. (The report also stated that all other minority groups were underrepresented other than Blacks, who — at 13.3 percent of the population — played 17 percent of roles on scripted broadcast programs that aired that same season. And minority representation was worse all around when looking at cable and digital scripted programming from that season.)
Okay done with the numbers.
So yes, it bothers me that — while they represent basically every race, creed, and color on the massive cast — there’s no Latinx regulars on one of my favorite shows, Grey’s Anatomy. And it irked me that while the Ocean’s Eight team was wonderfully diverse, there was no Latina in the bunch. And would it be ideal for the three Latina Charmed Ones to be played by three Latina actresses? Of course. But what would that exactly look like in the casting room?
In another life, I was an actor who regularly went on auditions. Basically, half the time they were in Spanish and half the time they were for characters of Middle Eastern descent. It’s a problem that agents, managers, casting directors, and executives think that having similar skin color makes actors from completely different backgrounds are interchangeable. But the alternative is having a sign on the door that says “Whites Only.” And I think we can all agree that’s not a good look.
RELATED VIDEO: New Cast of ‘Charmed’ React to Backlash: We Want to Focus on the ‘Positivity’ of the Show
I’m not talking about high-profile actors being cast in roles that should have gone to a minority. We all know Scarlett Johansson isn’t transgender… or Japanese. Of course, when looking for an established name to headline a project, anyone that a casting team would be looking at would have done numerous interviews and their life story would be out there for anyone to see. Casting unknowns is a different situation. In the same way actors have fought to keep their ages off IMDB, others might not want things like their ethnic backgrounds public knowledge because it will limit their ability to work. I have an actor friend of Middle Eastern descent who changed his name because all he was getting called in for was terrorist roles that he never booked because physically he looked more European. I have another who looks 29 but has been taken out of consideration for roles when it was discovered that she’s actually in her mid-40s. For the average working actor, having a real life can be limiting. And being an average working actor is hard. It’s often a thankless job and every small gig you can book keeps you from the unemployment line.
So what should the casting directors and producers of this new Charmed have done? Should they have been asking people to spit into a plastic tube and submit to a 23andMe analysis before being allowed into the audition room? I admit I don’t actually know what the audition process was like for the show. Maybe they did ask Diaz, Mantock, and Jeffery what their ancestry was and decided to cast them anyway because they were the best actors to come into the room (in interviews, the three have been upfront about their backgrounds since day one). And — while not clear in the pilot episode — it seems that each of the Charmed Ones share a Latina mother but three different fathers, so, ultimately, the actors may be infusing a bit of their own heritage into their roles, which is often what happens in episodic television. (Executive producer Jennie Snyder Urman has done similar things with characters on her other CW series, Jane the Virgin.)
I, for one, am glad to see actresses of varying skintones playing the Latina Charmed Ones. Lighter-skinned Latinx people are too-often considered the standard of Latin beauty both in Latin America and in the United States, and that’s not okay. So I hope people celebrate the fact that an African-American and an Afro-Caribbean woman are being cast as “Latinas” because Afro-Latinx people are not given even a fraction of the visibility they should have in on-camera representations of Latinx people.
I understand why people would want to raise eyebrows at non-Latinas being cast in Latina roles, but I think the answer is we need more roles for all minorities. When we can get to a point where what we see on screen reflects what we see in our everyday lives, that’s when I’ll be happy with representation in Hollywood. But getting up in arms about Charmed? I just don’t think it’s the right place to focus that anger and energy.
And I’m not saying this “Latina Charmed” is perfect. It’s exciting to see the iconic Book of Shadows back in action, but I find it a missed opportunity that, while Latinx culture has it’s own rich history of Brujería, the new Charmed Ones’ powers are still rooted in the Celtic wicca traditions. (Though, I did let out a gasp of delight while watching the pilot when Diaz flipped through the new Book of Shadows to reveal a familiar name from the original series). I’m hoping this is something that will be addressed as the series continues, but for now, as a fan of the original, I am pleased with this new interpretation of the themes of Charmed and look forward to giving the show a fair shot this season when it premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. ET.
It’s okay if you don’t agree with me. The subject of race and representation should be nuanced and complicated, and everyone brings baggage into the room when discussing the topic — there’s no easy answer to fixing Hollywood overnight — but just by having the debate and conversation, I think we’re opening the door for a step in the right direction.