Rachel True spoke with Okayplayer about The Craft and how she would’ve handled character Rochelle’s storyline differently, her tarot set and memoir True Heart Intuitive Tarot, and Black horror.
Twenty-five years ago came the release of The Craft, a teen supernatural horror film that centered around four outcast teenage girls who pursue witchcraft. At the time and since then, the film has sparked conversations about so much: the sensation of being an outsider in a community and how ostracization is its own type of trauma, especially for teens; the age-old concept of “absolute power corrupts absolutely”; poverty and the challenges of trying to escape it; open ableism; and blatant racism. The latter is an issue explored through one of the four teens: Rochelle Zimmerman. Portrayed by actress and tarot practitioner and advocate Rachel True, Zimmerman faces bullying by a group of popular white girls at the Los Angeles high school she attends. As she, Sarah Bailey, Nancy Downs, and Bonnie Harper all learn how to manifest their powers through a powerful deity they worship call “Manon,” they execute spells for their own personal gain. For Zimmerman, she casts a spell on bully Laura Lizzie that leads to her losing her hair.
For Black horror enthusiasts and those looking for Black witchy representations in pop culture, True’s Zimmerman was — and still is — a standout. And a part of that wasn’t just because of who she was portraying, but her interest in esotericism — which encompasses mystical, spiritual, or occult viewpoints, with esoteric studies including everything from magic to mysticism — she had long before becoming Rochelle Zimmerman.
That interest has since manifested in True making her own hybrid memoir and tarot set. Titled True Heart Intuitive Tarot, the book not only includes a 78-card deck designed by True (and artist Stephanie Singleton) but 22 memoir essays too. The book was released last year in October.
Amid the anniversary of The Craft, True spoke with Okayplayer about how the film attempted to tackle issues that are still prevalent today (however clunky), how her spiritual journey led her to pen and publish a hybrid memoir and tarot set, and her thoughts on the trajectory of Black horror and how Black characters fare in the horror genre.
You’ve often talked about how you practiced magic pre-The Craft. What did you bring to your role as a result, and what did you take away from it?
Rachel True: I think, hopefully, what I brought to Rochelle was a sense of authenticity in her. And I don’t mean that in a sense of today’s modern influencers when they say “I’m authentic.” What I mean is, I think we were all able to — despite our differences as actors and ages and all these things — portray an authentic experience of the luminal space that you were in when you are becoming [a] woman, because The Craft is very much an analogy.
When you think about it, [it’s] an analogy for burgeoning sexuality in women. The out-of-control-way [teen girls] attempt to own [their] sexuality. When we’re first discovering [it], it is very much parallel to the out-of-control way the girls handle their magic in the movie. And if you [also] notice, our skirts get shorter as our powers get stronger. So [it’s] very much telling of that.
We can all agree that Chris Hooker (played by Skeet Ulrich) is an aggressively and objectively terrible person even prior to Sarah and her [botched] love spell. So my question is, why is his demise considered the turning point that shows that Nancy has quite literally lost the plot? Do you think now that storyline may have taken a different turn?
Personally, I think that they [might] still leave it in. I think it is the tipping point because… if we’re talking about major “religious” upbringings, what’s the worst thing you could do? You could be Muslim or Jewish or Buddhist and killing [is still] one of the worst.
It’s about [how] ultimate power corrupts. You know, it doesn’t always have to be [that way]. I don’t think that it does. But I do think [that] when you are a teenager like Nancy’s character was, you’re not thinking of the consequences and everything. You’re just thinking that this is your first taste of power.
It’s a tipping point for sure. But it’s also “kill the patriarchy” a little bit. I mean, I like that [the film] does a little nod to the fact that [it’s] not even going to belabor his death. Because it’s long overdue that the ideology of the patriarchy dies. I also want to put a theory to fucking bed.
And which theory is that?
I read somewhere [that] people think Sarah is the “only witch with power.” That she has the power because they couldn’t get it together until they had her. Have you not fucking met Nancy and the rest of the girls? All of them came together to grow their own power. I don’t like that theory because I’m like, “I ain’t giving all the power to the one generic white chick. I’m just not doing it. I’m not. No, no.”
I played the role so take my word for it. They were more powerful, obviously, together in a group than separately. There’s just power in numbers. Doesn’t mean there’s no power at all.
What would you say to people who disagree with the notion that the film is about female empowerment?
Well, I would say everyone’s entitled to their opinion and to interpret things any way they want. I think we’re all going to have different opinions and I don’t expect everyone to necessarily agree with my thoughts on it. But I do feel like it is [still] a film about female empowerment, mainly because I think [that] when we’re talking about female empowerment, we tend to leave out the aspect that we are pitted against each other [under patriarchy] and almost meant to compete, compare, and contrast to one another. Leaving that out is idealistic. It is truthful in that.
Let’s talk about female empowerment through the patriarch. Mainly, why do you think “Manon” is gendered in the film? Why is he given the pronoun “he?” If he is “everything and in everything?”
I think Manon is gendered in the film because of the times. It was a long time ago in the scheme of history today. In the end, I didn’t think of Manon as male, even though I do think Fairuza Balk [who played Nancy] has a line where she calls him “he.” But that is because of the times. In the ‘90s, there was a movement of “Hey, why is everything masculine? Why do we [view] everything through the male gaze?” Or there was but it wasn’t quite public [as it is now].
The film makes it a point to illustrate that Rochelle was wrong for wanting her racist bully and tormentor to be cursed, which was a choice. If you had had total control of that storyline, how might it have panned out?
First of all, I would have made it a little more layered and nuanced to be honest. I remember thinking, “Everyone has a [problem].” Nancy is poor. Sarah tried to commit suicide. [Bonnie] suffered [severe] burns. Where was my impediment like everyone else’s? Is [her] skin color considered an impediment? Where’s Rochelle’s problem?
Because racism isn’t Rochelle’s problem, it’s everyone else’s problem [with her]. And I was uncomfortable with that until I realized — and especially now — that storyline is more relevant than ever. I know as Black people, we kind of hate having to carry the weight of something like that. You know, it’s [almost] always that. It does get tiresome, I suppose. But yet, people are still dealing with it.
[As far as how] I’d have had it panned? I’m not like a mean person but I would have rather [have] her be put in some Twilight Zone kind of experiment where she was the only white [person]. Where she was a “minority.” You know, to be all “Black like me” for a while and learn that way through experience, rather than making her hair fall out.
So, let’s talk about your tarot set and memoir, True Heart Intuitive Tarot, because I loved it. It did a lot for me spiritually, especially as someone who is still deprogramming from an uber-Baptist upbringing.
Thank you so much for that. Like, it really means a lot because, you know, you make something — whether it’s a movie or a book or a set — and you release it into the wild. And you have no idea what’s going to happen. And so to hear that, it meant something.
I feel like it’s an accomplishment to write a book and design [it]. [But most importantly], some don’t get that my whole point with this was to help demystify and de-stigmatize [tarot] for people like you who grew up a certain way, [or] grew up going to church. And my thing is, it works beautifully in tandem with whatever your religion is. You’re in therapy? Well, it’s a tool that [will] work in tandem with [that] as well.
So when people say to me, “Oh, but [what about] the Devil?” and I’m like, “What about the devil?” It’s literally cardboard cards. It’s just an image. But it does [challenge] you viscerally and that gives you food for thought. And then you can grow and help change the world in yourself. My whole thing is, “How can I shift some of my negative behavior patterns that were ingrained in me by choice or by environment?”
You make the distinction of calling yourself a “tarot practitioner and advocate,” rather than a tarot reader. Can you elaborate on that distinction?
Well, I think it’s out of respect to people who are actual readers. Tarot readers out there who that’s what they do, and that’s how they make their living. So, I distinguish that because I’m not a card reader. I don’t read. I did for a little while but I don’t read for other people. You know, it’s not my thing. There’s also a lot of card slingers on YouTube.
Yup. You should be careful about giving your money to Vegas card sharks. I’m serious. There are a lot.
Why did you ultimately go the route of turning True Heart into a hybrid memoir and tarot set, rather than any other medium?
I think it made sense to do it as a book because a lot of people secretly want to write a book. And I also wanted the challenge of, “OK, you haven’t written anything longer than like five or six pages since college. Can you do it?” It’s usually very motivating for me; there were certain points where I was like, “I don’t know if I could do it.” But I did.
In your 2020 Cosmopolitan interview, you mention how tremendous it is to see Black people returning to ancestral religions and spiritualities, as well as exploring the occult. Do you think this is a temporary shift? Or just the beginning?
It’s a little of both, for sure. I think people will always experiment with something new. But we are [also] in the age of Aquarius now. So I do think it is more of a tipping point shift. I think that of everything though, not just esoteric studies. As for the occult, I don’t live in that world, but I know what [that word] carries for some people. And this is, again, because of my[Generation] X age, like what’s attached to [that] for my generation is “satanic panic.”
I’m going to speak now only for myself and say that the God and Jesus I was taught [about] when I was young was, “You better [worship] him because [if you don’t] he’s going to kill you, send you to hell, [and] you’ll die!” That’s how religion was taught [to me] back in the ‘70s and ‘80s. You had to [live in] fear [that] someone was going to come down and strike you dead in your chair.
So it’s not that I avoid [the occult and such] but again, I don’t necessarily lean into it because I don’t want to scare my fellow Black people. But in the end, using [tarot] or some [other tool] to discern what’s going on with you is so much closer to our old routes as [a people].
Since The Craft, where do you think [Black] horror is headed?
I think the sky’s the limit. I kind of love, in a sense, what they did with Lovecraft Country because I was always an avid reader. I was always put off that I would enjoy a book or Lovecraft story, but then read about what a horrible racist he was. But I love what they did with that, because they took this racist legacy, acknowledged it in the story, and then turned it on its head. And frankly, like most great things, it was probably stolen from someone Black. So I think that opened that up.
I think at some point it’s just going to be stories, right? Horrific stories where people just happen to be whatever they are. I’m excited to see where it’s going to go. Frankly, it could go anywhere. I know though that, like a lot of people, I’m not necessarily looking for torture porn aspect from [films focused on subjects like] slavery. Yeah, I’m over that too.
Are you going to act again?
When the right role comes along.
Clarkisha Kent is a Nigerian-American writer, culture critic, former columnist, and up and coming author. As a University of Chicago graduate with a B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and English, she brings with her over seven years of pop culture analysis, four years of film theory training, and a healthy appetite for change.
Her writing has been featured in outlets like Entertainment Weekly, Essence, The Root, BET, PAPER, HuffPost, MTV News, and more. She is also the creator of #TheKentTest, a media litmus test designed to evaluate the quality of representation that exists for women of color in film and other media.