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  • Dani Orozco

Woeful Justice & Joy in Wednesday


Image Courtesy of Netflix


There’s a new Wednesday in town, and like many of her predecessors in comics, film, and tv, she doesn’t play nice. Grab a cafecita, and let’s chat about why this braided heroine—the titular character of the Jenna-Ortega-led Netflix series, Wednesday (2022)—has been so darn charming!

 

In today’s media, the show possesses distinct anticolonial and queer themes (which is kind of perfect, because let’s be real: the gothic is already pretty queer in its ability to subvert norms). It’s particularly special to see a fantastical Latina on TV, but what I appreciate most is how justice and joy appear in the show, and how Wednesday gets hers, with gothy glam of course (*snaps twice—you know the one*).

In today’s media, the show possesses distinct anticolonial and queer themes. . .

There’s no doubt the series has spell-casted audiences, enamoring folks around the globe. On my part, I watched the show the same day it premiered, consuming all eight episodes, wide-eyed and hungry. I witnessed the same kind of televisual devouring when family came to visit for the 2021 Christmas break, and we spent evenings after festive activities huddled around the TV soaking in the gothic atmosphere of Wednesday. Perhaps it’s the tension between “normie” and “outcast” that binds the underlying narrative—a throw-back to punk sensibilities of the 80s, and yet—a tension that still resides today, as all of us (at some point in our lives), have felt this tension, this pull between normie and outcast (with many of us, perhaps mostly feeling the latter).

 Perhaps it’s the tension between “normie” and “outcast” that binds the underlying narrative—a throw-back to punk sensibilities of the 80s, and yet—a tension that still resides today. . .

We follow Wednesday’s enrollment in a private academy called Nevermore (a nod to Poe-lovers)—a school for outcasts—and watch as murder, mystery, and mayhem unfold. Along the way, she makes some—quite literally—powerful friends and enemies, making contact with spirits and all manner of supe creatures. Much like the teen girl detective Viper de la Muerte in her own novel, Wednesday takes on the role of detective. However, fact and fiction begin to blur as she seeks to find out who or what is behind the murders around Nevermore and the neighboring local town of Jericho, and why. The answers, as she finds, transport her back to the past. In many ways, Wednesday is a time traveler—rupturing time and space as her growing and spontaneous psychic visions allow her to access ancestral memories and knowledge.


Image Courtesy of Netflix


Wednesday, as a character, is strong, fiercely independent, stoic—hard-pressed, hard to impress, she marches to the beat of her own drum, typically unbothered by the demands or needs of others. She is trying desperately to forge her own path, apart from the affectionate maternal embrace and hyper-femme expression of her mother, Morticia. Most of all: as her roommate Enid points out, quite bluntly, Wednesday is obsessed with all things spooky and dead (and this is what typically separates—even isolates—her from her peers). Blood, grave-digging, monster hunting, playing with guillotines, swimming with sharks…these are all activities that Wednesday partakes in (often, much to the confusion and balking of those that surround her). She is, kooky, spooky, queer to the normie gaze.


Image Courtesy of Netflix


And, she’s definitely not a hugger (well, not at first). She’s a fighting girl; it’s not uncommon for us to see Wednesday caught up in a brawl (though, to be fair, other people usually start it and she is certainly not one to back down, sometimes even goading them). Constantly on the defense and ready for an attack should it come (and, it usually does), she is knives out—quite literally and figuratively. She fights, she goads, she kicks butt—certainly not the “ladylike” behavior that her mother, teachers, and peers seem to expect from her. Unlike her peers, she doesn’t prioritize romance—instead, she often taunts and evades the boys in her life who express interest in her. She’s most interested in devoting time to her own interests, like finishing her novel or pursuing a murder-mystery with a Pinterest of crime scene photos. She is an outcast among outcasts. Though, I wonder if you—like me—rooted for this dark-eyed, pig-tailed fiend.

 She fights, she goads, she kicks butt—certainly not the “ladylike” behavior that her mother, teachers, and peers seem to expect from her. Unlike her peers, she doesn’t prioritize romance—instead, she often taunts and evades the boys in her life who express interest in her.

Here, I think of Gloria Anzaldúa’s explanation of some of the only acceptable paths for women in Mexican and Chicano culture: the roles of mothers, wives, or nuns. Women who fall outside these categories are seen as deviant (coded for queer, as we know), and are selfish, badly behaved (aka una mujer mala). As women wrestle with the strings of patriarchy, the world is—as Anzaldúa so aptly put it—“not a safe place to live in.”

 

But Wednesday is someone who looks at her adversaries, and scoffs (however imperceptibly—thanks to Jenna Ortega’s facial work with Wednesday. She doesn’t do a lot with her face—and yet she does SO much. The slightest eye flick, twitch, huff, or jaw clench—it conveys much about her internal thoughts and feelings, even as she’s being hunted. Haters should know—she’s ready for them and you should be ready to put up one hell-of-a-fight. This kind of character deviates from some of the other Latina images we’ve seen before in media, including the “Disney Latina” (subtle, ambiguous, light, and highly profitable) and the spitfire trope (accented English, hypersexual, curvy, loud, comical, passionate, a dancing beauty).

 

Wednesday manages to avoid some of these pitfalls—still light-skinned but inconspicuously conspicuous and mortified of how her own mother chooses to express herself in hip-hugging fashion and fabulous nails (get it, Morticia!) Two gothic women, two different styles, especially towards getting things done (Morticia is a dove, her daughter a raven). For Wednesday, there are the Ides of growing up: classic mother-daughter tension and a story of identify formation set amidst a fog-saturated backdrop of murder-mystery.

 

All of this to say: Netflix’s Wednesday is doing something new, something highly noticeable. And, as I want to be clear here, something highly profitable, which can be a bit sus—because as scholar Angharad Valdivia queries: in our search for an ideal utopia for Latines and the media, what is the difference between real transformation and assimilationist practices? The answers, perhaps, only come in hindsight. Globalism affects what and how we watch, and diversity is either not-top-of-mind or white-washed—scrubbed of any potential for real change or disruption.

Netflix’s Wednesday is doing something new, something highly noticeable.

However, markers of Latinidad are, intentionally and episodically, woven into the fabric of the show. Wednesday herself is mixed race with Mexican ancestry (Jenna Ortega is Mexican and Puerto Rican). Spanglish is used by her father, Gomez (Puerto Rican actor Luis Guzmán) and her Uncle Fester (Fred Armisen, who has Venezuelan, German, and South Korean roots). The mother-daughter pendant that Morticia gives to Wednesday is made of obsidian, used by Aztec priests to conjure visions. A dia de los Muertos altar is present in the Addams home year-round with extra seating. And, in her psychic trips, Wednesday meets her ancestor Goody Addams, one of the first settlers of Jericho from Mexico, a powerful witch who founded both Nevermore Academy and the secret society of the Nightshades, meant to protect the outcasts of the school.

 

Another key-detail I want to highlight before shifting focus: her music! Indeed, the music Wednesday listens to on her ancient gramophone (another sign she is out of place and time). “La Llorona” by Chavela Vargas? “Tierra Rica” by Carmenita Jiménez? (The former song being one of the most famous figures in Mexico and Chicane oral and literary traditions.) As scholar Domino Renee Perez has written about, La Llorona “is a legend, spirit, symbol, and living entity…,” highly contested as she’s imagined as a villain or icon of resistance—depends on who you talk to, as Renee Perez might suggest. That Wednesday is listening to an emotion-laden corrido about this highly politicized folkloric figure seems to be no mistake. Aspects of our shared language and culture are embedded into the show, rendering ways that we, as Latines, are being seen in today’s TV.

 

Okay: so I still gotta talk about two big things: Justice and Joy. Because that’s why we’re here, no? What does justice and joy look like in the show? First: Justice. As mentioned previously, Wednesday is trying to unlock the secret mysteries of Nevermore and Jericho while a monster is on the hunt. What she discovers is perhaps even more disturbing than she might have anticipated.


Image Courtesy of Netflix


During one of Wednesday’s psychic visions (a power that has been passed down from her mother), she bears witness to historical injustices. In episode 3, she’s transported to the past where she sees Goody being accosted by the town’s founding father, Joseph Crackstone, and a lynch mob. They accuse her of being a wicked witch before tossing her into a barn with other imprisoned outcasts. The villagers set fire to barn, condemning everyone inside. It’s worth noting the outcasts in the barn are primarily people of color while the townsfolk represent a sea of white faces. After narrowly escaping, Goody dedicates the rest of her life to protecting outcasts and to killing Joseph Crackstone. But as we learn, her work isn’t done; psychically, she reaches out to Wednesday in the present day so that our heroine may continue Goody’s work of protecting outcasts as a monster commits heinous acts of murder and dismemberment.

 

With some major sleuthing, Wednesday connects the murders and uncovers a plot to resurrect Joseph Crackstone so he can eliminate all outcasts. Wednesday is the perfect candidate for the job of stopping this injustice; she relishes in vanquishing bullies. Of course, the reanimated pilgrim of Joseph Crackstone is a tough opponent, the ultimate bully—both an agent and symbol of colonization’s violence. In a time when we have Proud Boys storming the US Capitol, deep suspicion of law enforcement who target and murder black and brown people, and continued violence against women of color around the world (I’m thinking particularly of missing and murdered indigenous women)—a world where white supremacy and patriarchy are so prevalent, Crackstone’s return honestly doesn’t seem that far-stretched.

 Wednesday is the perfect candidate for the job of stopping this injustice; she relishes in vanquishing bullies.

With Goody’s help, Wednesday uncovers parts of the mysterious plot, and in this way, taps into her ancestral knowledge—one that dates all the way back to her indigenous Mexica heritage. However, her tenacity to solve the crime often comes at a great cost—physically, spiritually, and emotionally. As the mystery unravels episode-by-episode, bit-by-bit, it becomes clear that no matter how independent she is, Wednesday is going to need help in getting things done, in resisting violence and a sinister past that threatens to jump into the present. Justice looks like determination, but it needs a little something else to keep it going…


Image Courtesy of Netflix


This leads me to the “JOY” of the show: friends! This is a coming-of-age story, where Wednesday is pushed out of her comfort zone (one defined by morose solitude and the macabre), and as we watch each episode, we see minute shifts in the ways she interacts with others. The gothic and horror have always given her pleasure—spider-filled piñatas, torture with medieval devices—but as she grows into the spaces of Nevermore, it seems to change her too. Her joy shifts as she unwittingly makes friends, people who love and want to be around her. She forms an intimacy with her lycanthrope roommate, Enid (a friendship with subtextual queer intimacy, especially after that hug they shared—I’m just saying) and is absolutely crushed after they have a temporary falling-out.

The gothic and horror have always given her pleasure—spider-filled piñatas, torture with medieval devices—but as she grows into the spaces of Nevermore, it seems to change her too. Her joy shifts as she unwittingly makes friends, people who love and want to be around her. 

Let me just say that Wednesday went from NO hugs with anybody, under any circumstances to that hug with her best friend, Enid. I’m ready for this queer love (and sidenote: apparently, so is the cast too! Elsewhere, Jenna Ortega and Emma Myers have said they would very much be on board with coupling their characters, much to the elation of fans who have shipped them together, #Wenclair!). There is much more I want to say on this, of course, I but want to be mindful of time…

 

Some of her friends even warn Wednesday that being her friend should come with a warning label and they’re right; most of the people that tend to get close to Wednesday experience harm or hurt, due to her passion for finding the town’s killer. But as her friend Eugene—another outcast among outcasts assures her—it’s not her fault; it’s the monster’s. Enid is also a beacon of undying support, often encouraging the gothic interests and pursuits of our heroine, despite her own uncertainty and gross-out factor about those very same things. Wednesday learns the power of joy in friendship, love, and vulnerability and by tapping into her physic visions, she determines who her true friends—and enemies—are.



Image Courtesy of Netflix


So, how does this all come together? In re-connecting with her ancestors like Goody, Wednesday uses ancestral knowledge and power to enact swift justice and take on Crackstone in the show’s final episode (take that, Crackstone!) Her friends help her to enact this justice and protect the outcasts of Nevermore by supporting her with the help of their own unique and fantastical gifts (we’ve got siren powers, hive-mind, were-wolfin’-out). I think the magic of the show is not just in putting down a bigot pilgrim and his meddling outcast-hating progeny, but in friendship, solidarity.

 

When I watch Wednesday, it’s a joy to see her confront a colonizing pilgrim zombie, all in a manner of gothic whimsy. While the creators/writers/directors of the show are mostly white guys, there is one director, Gandja Monteiro, a Brazilian American who directed two episodes which happen to be key in Wednesday’s transformation as she begins to see the value of friendship under harrowing circumstances. When faced with violence and oppression, Wednesday experiences the opportunity to radically change the ways she’s typically approached others so she can effectively fight and protect the school’s outcasts from the wounds of the past. She learns to heal the ghosts of her past bullies by forming genuine connections to her peers—a sort of healing on-screen. A changing of reality, the choice for Wednesday to do something different, to bring into being a sustainable future for herself and others.

When I watch Wednesday, it’s a joy to see her confront a colonizing pilgrim zombie, all in a manner of gothic whimsy.

Ultimately, the show allows us as viewers to reflect on the super-natural experiences happening in our own communities—phenomena that horrifies us (young children locked up in detention centers, the degradation of our natural environment, continued violence against people of color) or fills us with joy (how we band together in these times to share love, light, and yes, justice).

 

Works Cited

Aldama, Frederick Luis. “Preface: Dreaming Latinx Realities.” Speculative Fiction for Dreamers, edited by Alex Hernandez et al., Mad Creek, Columbus, 2021. 

 

Anzaldúa Gloria. Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza. Fourth Ed. San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute Books, 2007.

 

_. Light in the Dark / Luz En Lo Oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality, edited by AnaLouise Keating. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2015.

 

Butler, Bethonie, and Elahe Izadi. “Tim Burton Explains Why His Movies Are Full of White People.” The Washington Post, 29 Sept. 2016, www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2016/09/29/tim-burton/.

 

“Data for Indigenous Justice.” Data For Indigenous Justice, www.dataforindigenousjustice.org/.  Accessed 7 Mar. 2024. 

 

Delgado, Sara. “Jenna Ortega Wanted Wednesday & Enid to End up Together.” Teen Vogue, 9 Dec. 2022, www.teenvogue.com/story/jenna-ortega-says-wednesday-and-enid-would-have-dated-in-a-perfect-world.

 

Gaspar de Alba, Alicia, editor. Velvet Barrios Popular Culture & Chicana/o Sexualities. Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

 

Serrano, Carmen A. Gothic Imagination in Latin American Fiction and Film. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2019. muse.jhu.edu/book/64958.

 

Valdivia, Angharad N. The Gender of Latinidad: Uses and Abuses of Hybridity. Wiley Blackwell, 2020. 

 

 

 

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