The Power Within Her: Reflecting on the Initiation of Sarah Remake

Curator's Note

The 1978 telefilm The Initiation of Sarah surfaced at the tail end of second wave feminism, and is regarded as a small screen cult classic of its era. The bell-bottoms and wonderfully 70s vibe may date the original for some, but the underlying themes female teen angst, and an aching desire to fit in remains as relevant as ever. What has changed in the wake of a post-feminist millennium is the narrative. While young women were always a highly desired demographic in the world of television, adolescent females of today are extremely savvy viewers, and desire characters who express more agency and are their own heroes, ala Charmed and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The remake of Sarah, which aired on ABC Family in 2006, tells the tale of a girl who doesn’t understand her supernatural powers, and finds herself battling a witch coven operating as a popular sorority on campus. The remake succeeded in maintaining the angsty tropes of the original while updating it in deeply relevant ways. Unlike Kay Lenz’s portrayal of a painfully shy Sarah in the original, the 2006 Sarah (Mika Boorem) is sassier, and while hesitant to dive too deeply into her powers, is still open to them. Whereas the original Sarah nodded towards the 1974 mega-hit Carrie, the updated Sarah did much the same with Carrie’s own remake from 2004 in terms of presenting a protagonist who can stand up for herself, but is trapped in an impossible situation. Further deviating from the original, Sarah is actually not “The One,” and her powers are minor compared to those belonging to her sister (Summer Glau), who has been bending over backwards to conform to the sorority/cult’s criteria for the perfect “sister.”

According to "Glamorous Witchcraft: Gender and Magic in Teen Film and Television," Rachel Mosley posits that witchcraft and power are connected to glamour and therein lays the appeal to young female viewers. However, in Sarah this trait is subverted, depicted as undesirable, and is ultimately rejected. The “plainer” sister who ultimately doesn’t have the full power is still the stronger one because she can walk away from the lure of beauty norms, being popular, and so on. It is here that the heart of both films is revealed; yet, the remake enhances the ever-growing dimensions of female empowerment cast along the cultural landscape of television.

Comments

Hannah Green's picture

Really interesting post

Really interesting post Amanda! I like that you noted the cultural shift that has taken place within televisual representations of young women. It seems that this shift can be recognized across a range of contemporary television, but when thinking about The Initiation of Sarah, it appears that magic and witchcraft contribute an additional layer to expressions of femininity. I think its great that you recognized the connection between the “glamour” of magic and the feminine identity of the characters. I would love to see how you might unpack this a bit more. I find the connection between magic and gender to be a compelling insight and it would be really interesting to see how you might further think about how this contemporary empowered femininity is impacted by the plot line of magic that is present throughout Sarah. How does magic, as an element of one’s identity, interact with one’s gender expression, especially expressions of femininity? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Thanks again for you post.

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