The Craft is a cult classic from the mid-90s. When I saw the movie, a few years after its release in 1996 I was an early teenager trying to navigate life, young love, school, and the social politics that come with it all. The movie shows a magical sistership between four young girls: Sarah, Nancy, Bonnie, and Rochelle. Each of them faces their own problems with race, beauty, socio-economic status, and fitting in. When the three witches find Sarah to be their fourth and final witch for their coven, they begin to meet regularly to explore their powers and push the boundaries of the craft.
Sarah wishes Chris would like her; Bonnie wishes that Laura would stop bullying her about her hair (and race); Rochelle asks to be beautiful inside and out (she has burn scars across her body); and Nancy wishes for all the power from Manu (the ‘god of nature’ that they worship). The plot on the surface is a classic ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ cautionary tale. After invoking the spirit, Nancy becomes drunk on power and ends up going on a short killing spree and the movie ends with the three witches turning on Sarah.
Nancy is troubled. She lives with her alcoholic mother and her mother’s latest abusive boyfriend. There are hints of sexual assault and verbal and physical abuse. Nancy wishes for power, but also to be free from poverty. In the film, Bonnie jokes that Nancy wished for no longer being white trash, but Bonnies explains that Nancy is white (and she also implies trashy) so she should just get over it. When Nancy gives her mother’s boyfriend a heart attack she and her mother inherit money from the boyfriend’s insurance fund. Nancy’s life turns around, at least financially.
Nancy is supposed to be hated and she is used as an example of what happens when you become power hungry. Yet, I feel for Nancy. In fact, I can identify with Nancy. Whilst I never had abusive drunk parental figures, my family was poor. We lived in government housing and struggled to make ends meet. When I was in primary school, the area was fairly poor so I didn’t really notice that some people had more than others. It wasn’t until I went to high school and realised that there were the haves and the have nots and fitting in depended a lot on what brand of bag or shoes you had.
I hated the kids at my school with money and everything it could buy them. I saw them fitting in, paying for school lunches, getting their hair cut at salons instead of in their mother’s kitchen… In fact, given half the chance, I wonder if I would have been a Nancy? I too used my unpopularity as a defense for many things. If people thought of me as strange, well at least they weren’t picking on me.
At the end of the film, Nancy ends up in a mental institution as an apparent punishment for her treatment of Sarah and her abuses of power (Nancy tries to kill Sarah and make it look like a suicide). But what does this ‘punishment’ say about how we treat people struggling with poverty and sexual and substance abuse? What does this punishment say about people who try to change their socio-economic circumstances, albeit through magical powers? It is not fair to simply reduce Nancy to a self-fulling prophecy of poverty and power gone wrong; a simple victim of the system. Yet, Nancy is a victim. She is a victim who lashes out on a society that deems her unworthy of saving, unworthy of a chance. I wonder what would happen to Nancy if she had proper support? If she wasn’t ostracized because of her poverty and if she actually received the proper care?
It is easy to think of Nancy as a bitch who deserves everything she gets in the end. But that is the same type of thinking that blames people for being poor as though those people actually want to have no money.
The only way Nancy thought she could fit in and be successful was to literally becomes someone/something else as she allows Manu to possess her in the hopes that she can get some extra money, make people like her, and finally fit in. Imagine if we lived in a world that didn’t punish Nancy for being poor. Imagine if we lived in a society that told Nancy she didn’t have to be someone else to be considered enough.
When was the last time you indulged in some 90s movie fun? Remember as always, to share the reading love.