The cast of The Craft walking together wearing black and white.
Credit: Columbia Pictures

Fright Fortnight: Feminism within The Craft (1996) and The Craft: Legacy (2020)

12 mins read

Although critics largely dismissed the original film at the time of release, The Craft (1996) became a beloved cult classic. It inspired many young women, including myself, to delve deeper into the world of witchcraft and sisterhood. Let’s be honest, it’s also a fantastic movie to watch on Halloween.

A follow-up movie, The Craft: Legacy, came out in 2020 and received poor reviews at the time of release. Many original fans criticised the sequel for being too ‘woke’ and ‘politically correct.’

However, others argue that the second movie does a better job showcasing witchcraft feminism in a more intersectional way than the first.

Image Credit: Columbia Pictures

The Craft (1996)

The movie follows a group of outcast girls in high school who discover that when they are together, they can make strange things happen. Sarah Bailey starts at a highly Catholic prep school where she meets Nancy, Bonnie and Rochelle, becoming the ‘fourth’ member of their coven.

Sarah also meets Chris, a popular boy who asks to hang out with her. After spending time together, Chris tells people at school that he has slept with her, causing her reputation to plummet.

This pushes Sarah closer to the other girls because they are now all outcasts.

The girls begin to practice witchcraft together, breaking free of aspects in their lives which oppress them.

Sarah, Nancy, Bonnie and Rochelle begin by being oppressed and then become the oppressors.

Sarah moved due to mental health issues and attempted suicide at her last school. At one point in the film, she also admits she lost her mother after she died giving birth to her.

Image Credit: Columbia Pictures

Nancy is from a lower class background than the other girls. She is a social pariah due to her sexual activity and not conforming to beauty standards like girls at school. She also lives in a caravan with her mother and stepfather, who regularly abuses her and her mother.

Rochelle is the only black girl in her school and suffers racist abuse from the popular girl Laura. Bonnie battles issues with her appearance due to having severe burn scars all over her body.

The girls experiment with changing their appearance and making their lives better. However, it quickly gets out of hand. Nancy uses her newfound powers to cause her stepfather to have a heart attack, leaving her and her mother free of his abuse. Bonnie and Rochelle use power to ‘blend’ in with the popular girls at school, leading them to become narcissistic and subject to control by Nancy.

The movie ends with a showdown between Nancy and Sarah. Sarah believes the other girls have gone too far and must be stopped before they hurt more people. However, Nancy is just getting started.

Is it feminist?

There has been significant debate around whether or not the original film can be defined as a ‘feminist’ film. Although The Craft has the bones of a feminist movie, it has some problematic aspects which cause people to dismiss it as such.

It begins as an empowering movie about breaking free of gender stereotypes and sisterhood, but quickly turns into a film pitting women against each other. The film employs the ‘good witch’ versus ‘bad witch’ trope, which can be considered problematic. It can also be argued that it is catered to the male gaze, especially with the sexualised Catholic schoolgirl uniforms.

The movie was undeniably influenced by 90s post-feminism, which believes that young post-feminist women “benefit from the women’s movement through expanded access to employment and education and new family arrangements but at the same time do not push for further political change,” says Pamela Aronson, a Professor of Sociology.

The Craft shows this by showcasing sisterhood and women breaking free of oppression yet only using their gains for themselves and not society as a whole. It also turns women against each other to further the plot.

However, the film also explores the feeling of being an outsider that many young girls experience in adolescence. Not conforming to beauty standards or being sexually liberal (or in Sarah’s case, the opposite) has placed these girls as outcasts who can only rely on each other. It also showcases taking back power from those who have stolen it or misused it, notably men.

The Craft: Legacy (2020)

The Craft: Legacy received poor reviews during its initial release in 2020. However, many reviews hailed the movie as a better intersectional and socially aware reimagining of the original.

A girl named Lily moves to a small town with her mother and moves in with her boyfriend and three sons. Lily then starts school along side her new stepbrothers. During her first class, Lily begins her period and bleeds onto her seat and the floor. This receives disgusted remarks from her stepbrother’s friend Timmy, a popular misogynist.

After running to the toilet in tears, Lily is approached by three girls, Tabby, Frankie and Lourdes, who offer her reassurance and a clean pair of shorts. This starts a bond that will change Lily’s life.

Image Credit: Sony Pictures

Timmy begins harassing Lily around school, causing her to discover her powers when she throws him into lockers after touching her. While in detention, the other girls use their powers to communicate with Lily, telling her to meet them outside.

The girls explain to Lily that they had been practicing witchcraft for a while now but were yet to see solid results as they needed to find their ‘fourth’. They tell Lily that they believe she is the ‘fourth’ they’d been waiting for.

The girls quickly form a strong bond and begin practicing witchcraft together, seeing tangible results such as stopping time and changing their appearances.

They then decide to cast a spell on Timmy the bully to awaken his ‘higher self’. This leads to Timmy becoming more open and socially aware, scolding classmates for making fun of consent training and befriending the coven.

Back at home, Lily begins to get suspicious of her new stepfather who has been trying to assert dominance over her and her mother.

Is it feminist?

This film is without a doubt more feminist than the original, being heavily influenced by current fourth-wave feminism.

Witchcraft has become increasingly popular with today’s young women, LGBT+ and non-binary people as it resonates with many who are or have been oppressed by the patriarchal system that we live in.

“I think that what witchcraft provides for young women… is a sense of embodying your own power and having some control over outcome at a time when it feels very out of control,” Lister-Jones said.

“The beauty of the traditions of witchcraft that have been sustained over centuries is not only about finding community, but manifesting the energy that you’re looking to put out in the world.”

Instead of a white-washing cast like in the first movie, the cast instead consisted of a black actress, a trans Latinx actress and a Jewish actress. This made the film feel relatable and showcased some real inclusivity instead of manufacturing it for the plot like the original.

A trans actress, Zoey Luna, plays Lourdes, one of the main witches. Lourdes makes reference to being trans when one of the other witches suggests that the ability to give birth means all women have magic. Lourdes corrects them saying that not all women have that power, expressing that “trans girls have their own magic too”.

Credit: Sony Pictures

Representation aside, director and writer Zoe Lister-Jones also made sure that the set was a safe space for Zoey.

She worked with GLAAD and a “trans consultant” to make sure that dialogue and the on-set environment were as inclusive as possible.

She said: “What I wanted to really showcase was the power of women in communities and that each woman’s power comes from her singularity, comes from her stepping into her identity and finding her power in that and how great the collective power is when all of those singular identities unite,

“And I think now more than ever, the world really needs to be living in intersectional communities where we can uphold and uplift each other to subvert the really oppressive power structures that are at play.”

A regular expression within the The Craft: Legacy is: “Your difference is your power.” Something that many people are reclaiming in today’s day and age.

Despite the teenagers in the movie falling out at one point, the plot doesn’t pit them against each other except at one point where the girls bind Lily’s powers so she can’t cause any harm. They still reunite to fight the evil patriarchal villain.

It is an apt metaphor that the villain in the film is a father figure who aims to steal witches power. He also runs a cult like group, presumably for warlocks, whose focus is about men not giving in to ‘weakness’.

The film also focuses on men being victims of the patriarchy themselves, for example, Timmy who was once overcome with internal homophobia and the need for power over women becomes a thoughtful and kind young man.

Overall, the film accomplished wonders in terms of representation and built on the feminism of the original, making it more intersectional and inspiring.

Featured Image Credit: Columbia Pictures

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BA (Hons) Film, Media and Journalism graduate. Freelance Journalist for Brig Newspaper and Entertainment Daily. Head of Social Media for Brig Newspaper.
Passionate about diversity, inclusion and representation.

BA (Hons) Film, Media and Journalism graduate. Freelance Journalist for Brig Newspaper and Entertainment Daily. Head of Social Media for Brig Newspaper.
Passionate about diversity, inclusion and representation.

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