By Angelica Monk
Have you been looking for another binge-worthy series that encompasses all the things you love about great television? Well, say no more. Netflix has got you covered with its newest foreign import, Siempre Bruja (or Always A Witch for those who don’t speak Español), a genre-bending series that combines the drama of your classic telenovelas with the magic of fantasy.
The lead also happens to be an Afro-Colombian time-traveling witch (say that three times fast).
We open in 1646 in the Colombian city of Cartagena. Carmen (played by newcomer Angely Gaviria), a beautiful young slave, has been sentenced to burn at the stake. Her crime? Falling in love with a white man and not just any white man, her lover is Cristobal (Lenard Vanderaa), the son of her slave owners. As the pyre is set on fire, while her accusers look on, Carmen mutters an incantation and before the flames consume her, she is transported to modern-day Cartagena. Carmen, washes up on a beach, a party is in full swing and she is amazed by the flashing lights and pulsating music. She approaches a few party-goers and before she can speak, she passes out from exhaustion and shock.
Who said time travel was easy?
She awakens in a hospital attended by a kind doctor. Carmen is treated for severe burns on her feet and she claims to have no recollection of what happened to her. She soon becomes agitated and is sedated. In a fretful slumber, she dreams of her love, Cristobal. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn how Carmen and Cristobal met. He found her humiliated and abused on the block at a slave market. He chastises the slave trader for his cruelty and helps Carmen up.
One look into her deep brown eyes and he is transfixed. She soon becomes a slave and his parents’ household and the two quickly fall in love. They meet in secret coordinated through the use of letters hidden in exposed beams of the house. During one of their secret meetings, they are set upon by Cristobal’s mother, who believes her son has been bewitched. They attempt to arrest Carmen but she soon exercises her power over the attack dogs that were brought to subdue her. Cristobal begs her to stop and Carmen is taken away. She is brought before an angry mob and an inquisitor rattles off her charges, her first crime is bewitching a white man, her second her ability to read and write through means of witchcraft. Carmen argues her literacy is a sign of her intelligence and not witchcraft but in a time where slaves are seen as little more than animals, her protests fall on deaf ears.
She is sentenced to death by the inquisitor and Cristobal denounces his faith and vows to die with her. Cristobal’s father, disgusted by his son’s words, pulls out a pistol and shoots Cristobal, all in the name of saving his immortal soul. A devastated Carmen collapses in tears.
Back in the present, Carmen’s condition raises concerns and the doctor soon contacts the authorities. We learn that a series of murders have occurred in the city, five women have been burned alive and the police suspect that Carmen may be the only surviving victim of the “Fire Killer”. Perceiving, the officers as a threat, Carmen uses magic to escape the hospital.
Outside, she uses her powers to heal her feet and we learn that Carmen has a mission. While awaiting her execution, Carmen met a powerful wizard named Aldemar (Luis Fernando Hoyos). Aldemar strikes a deal with Carmen, in exchange for delivering a magical stone to a witch in the future, Aldemar will send Carmen back in time to save Cristobal from his fate. Carmen agrees and back to 2019, she wanders the streets of Cartagena in search of the witch, Ninibe (Veronica Orozco). She is eventually spotted by the police officers from the hospital and they give chase.
She flees into a part of the city that is familiar to her and she soon finds the very house she once called home. She climbs the balcony and sneaks into a room, accidentally bumping into Jhony Ki (Dylan Fuentes). She discovers that the house is now a hostel owned by Jhony’s grandmother, Adelaida (Constanza Duque). Adelaida helps Carmen find her way to the university where Ninibe is a professor and a biologist.
Carmen presents Ninibe with the stone, happy her mission has been completed. Ninibe tells her that the only way to return back to her time is through a ritual that must be performed by three witches. Carmen hopeful, is content with remaining in the future for a short time, after all, she has a lot to learn. Ninibe notices markings on Carmen’s arm, a sign of magic use. She warns her not to use magic or she may be discovered by a dark force named Lucien. Witches have been hunted by Lucien and coerced into his service. Every witch that has refused him was turned to ashes (a clear connection to the “Fire Killer).
Ninibe and Carmen tour the University, Ninibe explains to Carmen that the world no longer believes in witches and now they hide in plain sight as doctors, scientists, and even biologists. Ninibe spots what appears to be a fellow witch, Alicia (Sofia Bernal Araujo), and attempts to convince her to partake in the ritual. Carmen waits in Ninibe’s office as she speaks to Alicia, at home in Ninibe’s greenhouse, filled with the herbs and plants she loved so well as a healer back in her time. As Ninibe heads back to Carmen, she is overtaken by an unseen force. And just like that, Carmen has lost her only chance to go back home to her love, Cristobal. She’s left to fend for herself in a world that’s is both strange and unfamiliar.
It’s not often that we are treated to an Afro-Latina actress in the lead of a fantasy series but Angely Gaviria delivers with her strong performance of the vulnerable yet resilient Carmen. Viewing the present through the eyes of a slave from the 17th century is pure genius. Everything from electronics, modern-day fashion, social settings, and race relations are part of Carmen’s new normal. It’s clear that Carmen has been brought to the future to take part in a greater fight against the darkness and Lucien’s forces but watching her make her way in a modern world is definitely the highlight of the series. Carmen along with a colorful cast of supporting characters are sure to become your new favorite TV obsession.
Siempre Bruja/Always a Witch is available now on Netflix.