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**Author’s note: This discussion of the diversity in Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina does contain a few spoilers. Proceed at your own risk. It’s almost hard to believe that in 2018 words like “diversity” and “inclusion” are seen as “liberal”, “socialist”, and “weak”, but here we are and it seems like the mere mention of these words can set off a storm of negative and nasty reactions. This seems especially so when it comes to entertainment. Fortunately, many filmmakers and showrunners have opted not to listen to these loud, offensive voices, and Netflix’s new Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a prime example of inclusion in storytelling and casting. The new Netflix series boasts a cast of characters and actors who are racially diverse and represent multiple facets in both gender and sexual orientation. What’s more, their inclusion isn’t in the background. It’s not an afterthought. These characters and the actors who play them are integral to the world of Greendale and Sabrina’s life. Take Sabrina’s cousin, Ambrose Spellman, for example. Played by black, British actor Chance Perdomo, Ambrose is a powerful, openly pansexual warlock. Forced into house arrest after conspiring to blow up the Vatican, Ambrose chafes at his confinement but it has strengthened his familial relationship with Sabrina. He is a confidant and adviser who knows all too well how dangerous the Church of Night can be.
Ambrose Spellman (Chance Perdomo) in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Photo by Diyah Pera/Netflix)
Then there’s Sabrina’s friend, Susie Putnam. Early on, we discover that Susie is non-binary, meaning that they do not identify as either totally male or female. The non-binary identification is a sticking point for many who do not understand that gender is not a binary construct as we have often been taught in western society but rather a spectrum with many shades of grey. What’s more, the showrunners at Netflix went one step further than we’ve seen with many projects lately and cast non-binary actor Lachlan Watson in the role. Having a non-binary character like Susie played by the openly non-binary Watson seems especially important in the U.S. at the moment as the federal government actively works to remove protections from discrimination for gender non-conforming, non-binary, and transgender identities.
Susie (Lachlan Watson) and Rosalind (Jaz Sinclair) in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Photo by Diyah Pera/Netflix)
And then there are the sheer number of powerful, racially diverse women of varying ages in key roles throughout the series. Miranda Otto’s Zelda Spellman radiates power even in her most vulnerable moments while Lucy Davis’ Hilda Spellman is a bundle of joy wrapped in emotional strength. Tati Gabrielle’s Prudence is the deliciously wicked leader of the three self-proclaimed Weird Sisters and Jaz Sinclair is a mortal learning to embrace her power as a young woman in the role of Rosalind Walker. And let’s not forget the mysterious and conniving Mary Wardell played by the talented and beguiling Michelle Gomez! But why is this all important? Why does this spectrum of representation matter? Earlier this year, I ran a series of articles celebrating queer identity and inclusion in the horror genre and the amount of comments that I read on those articles implying that inclusion was “shoving the gay agenda down people’s throats” was both remarkable, disheartening, and entirely predictable. I’m not certain what level of fragility in one’s sexuality and identity one has to have in order for it to feel threatened merely by the inclusion of a character outside your own experience, but I’m almost positive it must be similar to that of sugar glass. Unfortunately, this happens not only with queer inclusion, but reminding you again that it’s 2018, this is still true for women and people of color, where horror films with ethnic leads are labeled “too urban” and women are still expected to be two-dimensional sex objects ready to drop their clothing at a moment’s notice to titillate young male audiences. Which leads me to a couple of stumbling blocks in the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. There is a very thin line between sexuality and sexualized and there were times when the show wavered on that line. Kiernan Shipka’s Sabrina finds herself naked (no frontal nudity) more than once in the ten-episode series, and while the instances were, for the most part, missing the male gaze that we so often ascribe to the lens that captures female nudity, it is a bit disheartening when one remembers that regardless of the actress’ age, the character is only 16. Then there is a scene early in the season in which Sabrina and her fellow witches use their magic to trick the four bullies who have been tormenting Susie into making out with each other at which time they take photographs of them and threaten to blackmail with them. Certainly it was effective on those bullies, but I wonder if it isn’t a bit tone-deaf in a series that is doing so many good things for queer people otherwise to make somewhat of a joke out of sexuality in this moment. It especially becomes troublesome later when it is revealed that one of those young men was molested as a child. Even with a few missteps, however, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is doing far more for normalized representation than many other offerings we’ve had of late. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Season One is available in its entirety on Netflix and I would encourage anyone who is a fan of inclusive horror to dive into this interesting and progressive new series.