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‘Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ Stars on the Netflix Show’s Feminist Themes

If she had to sum up her titular character in “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” star Kiernan Shipka would describe Sabrina Spellman as a “woke witch.”

The series, which premieres Oct. 26 on Netflix, is a reimagining of the famous teen witch’s story that has overt feminist themes. On the show, Sabrina is a half-witch half-mortal and becomes the first to question the male figures who rule the witches’ world, which leads to her reluctance to sign a pact to renounce the mortal world and embrace her magical side.

“This is totally the Sabrina for 2018, in so many ways. She’s a woke witch,” Shipka told Variety. “Her entire grappling with signing her name away in the Book of the Beast and questioning a lot of the more patriarchal elements of what she was raised to believe and to go into. I think that in and of itself is very feminist and she’s a strong independent woman and she stands up for herself and she does what she thinks is right.”

Shipka and the rest of the cast and creative team appeared at Hollywood Athletic Club in Los Angeles for the series’ Season 1 premiere on Friday night. Ross Lynch, who plays Sabrina’s boyfriend Harvey Kinkle, said they are currently filming Episode 6 of Season 2.

Lachlan Watson, who portrays Sabrina’s friend Susie, said the show’s feminism takes a step further with its intersectionality, which shows that anyone can be a feminist. Susie is non-binary, like Watson themself, and their experience with bullies at Baxter High is part of their journey to embrace their authentic identity, Watson said.

“Susie provides a side of feminism that really represents that you really don’t have to be female to be a feminist. It really encompasses all minorities and all misunderstood people, or gender inequality as a whole, I think,” they said. “Throughout Susie’s sort of queer journey — specifically a bit of a genderqueer journey — which really speaks to me, it’s having that group of incredible feminists behind their back.”

The show has strived to promote diversity and inclusion on and off the set. Watson said they were “accepted with open arms” by the cast and creative team, and allowed to be unapologetically themself and “a little different and a little weird.” Similarly, Chance Perdomo, who portrays Sabrina’s cousin Ambrose Spellman, said it was refreshing that the show portrayed so many diverse characters. When he auditioned, the role had no race specifications and welcomed any actor to try out, Perdomo said.

One frequently talked about aspect of the show was its much darker look than the lighthearted “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” iteration that ran on ABC and the WB from 1996 to 2003. Creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who acts as chief creative officer of Archie Comics, wrote the script for the series and said it is in the vein of “fun horror” like Stephen King and George A. Romero’s dark comedy horror anthology film, “Creepshow.” Aguirre-Sacasa said the series is a “love letter” to the horror films he grew up with, and there are easter eggs referencing movies like “The Exorcist,” “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Suspiria.”

Shipka said there won’t be any actors from the original TV version of Sabrina appearing in the Netflix adaptation, but she teased that “there might be some other people from some witchy shows coming on.”

With the show set in the same world as “Riverdale,” Aguirre-Sacasa also said there is an easter egg in Episode 7 that “tips its hat to” the the CW show, which he adapted from Archie Comics. Aguirre-Sacasa said he “would love for” a Riverdale-Sabrina crossover to happen, but did not confirm any plans to do so yet. “Sabrina” executive Sarah Schechter put it best: “Never say never, as Justin Bieber says.”

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