Written by: Dyanette Rivera Cordero

Graduate candidate, Jo-Anne Hernández Michelson, conducted her thesis defense on “Magical Sexualities: Witchcraft in Film and Television” on May 18, 2020. The purpose of Hernández’s research was to analyze the representation of witches in television series and the implication they have within the field of feminist studies. The primary objective of the thesis was to analyze how witches have been portrayed throughout the decades, and how it has changed until present day representations. 

The inspiration 

Hernández felt inspired to analyze and study the message behind witches’ previous historical representations in popular culture. Witches have always been symbols of both oppression and liberation and this is why her work aims to determine if, in regards to women, there is still a need for such a representation. Hernández Michelson questions the relevance of previously accepted witch stereotypes in film and series, the changes these have undergone, and their validity in today’s society. 

The graduate further expands on her work by explaining how she deemed it necessary to conduct in depth analysis of the witch characters. “We must be observant, and question these renditions. What are they trying to tell us? Is the witch a figure of liberation within the show or does she help perpetuate age old stereotypes concerning women?” she explains. 

The challenges met 

The grad student explains the biggest challenge she faced during the entire process was learning how to  organize properly. She states that “organization and commitment are key” to have a well-exposed topic. 

“If you do not organize your research, you will become lost in a sea of data. You need to do outlines for each of your chapters and stick to the outlines of key points or you will risk trailing off of your topic. Research as much as you can. Read everything you can about your topic. You do not need to learn it by heart but the more you read the better. I was only able to answer questions during my defense, questions I had no idea I would be asked, because I read a lot about my topic and could recall aspects of the information concerning the questions,” Hernández said. 

Before the curtain closes

Hernández recognizes that taking her time writing her thesis was the highlight of her process. She sees it not as a setback, but as the key that led to her success. 

She began to develop her thesis idea in 2014. Since then, many events that aligned with the subject of her research, such as the #MeToo movement and the emergence of the first woman to run for president, Hillary Clinton. Hernández Michelson explained how all the issues that came with Clinton’s candidacy, such as “the use of the term ‘nasty woman,’ were crucial elements which justified my research.” 

During this time, between 2014 and 2020, several television shows also brought new witch characters to the small screen. These include “The Witcher” (2019) and “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” (2018). “These shows deal with crucial issues concerning witchcraft, feminism and feminist studies which were necessary to discuss within my work,” Hernández said. 

Hernández advises future grad students just to focus and keep going. She described how the key to survival is to write every day and research articles, books, movies, and series related to your topic. She adds that, while a thesis defense might have seemed like a huge mountain that she would not be able to climb, by keeping her eye on the prize, she was able to finish strong and obtain her title.

After all is said and done, Hernández Michelson looks back and sees things she could have done differently. She would have liked to have had a more organized ethos during her research. “I wish I would have better organized my research creating different folders by year of each of the articles and books discovered. If I had done that when creating my work cited I would have had far less trouble,” she recalls. 

What comes next? 

Jo-Anne Hernández’ current aspiration is to finish her elementary school ESL certification as well as the TESOL certification so she can teach in public school. Additionally, and while she finishes these certifications, she is exploring Doctoral Programs for the upcoming year.