How ‘The Craft: Legacy’ Director Zoe Lister-Jones Built Her Thoroughly Modern Coven

Matt Donnelly
·7-min read

We may be past the Oct. 31 witching hour, but “The Craft: Legacy” is still casting a spell on streaming viewers across the country.

The sequel-of-sorts to the groundbreaking 1996 teen thriller “The Craft” bowed last weekend from writer-director Zoe Lister-Jones, and brought a modern (or “woke,” to use the completely oversaturated moniker from nearly every review of the film) new tribe of young witches to the fold.

Lister-Jones, director of the 2017 Sundance darling “Band Aid,” was entrusted with the project by Blumhouse and Sony Pictures. The director said she came on board with deep reverence for the original, but a strong desire to send love and positivity to a generation of young people rocked by the political climate. Variety spoke to Lister-Jones about taboos, trans representation, and bringing beauty and fun to cinema’s depictions of witchcraft.

The film has rated as a top streaming title for its opening weekend. How was the reception been for you?

Fans of the original “Craft” are so die hard, in the best possible way, so I entered into this project with the expectation that, for many people, this is sacrilege to touch this ever again. That’s OK, I hold space for those people, too. But for the most part, it’s been encouraging to see a new generation of filmgoers respond to it. I’ve gotten such wonderful responses from viewers and its been gratifying to see it resonating with so many people.

How did you land this project, and what influenced this new take?

I was asked if I wanted to pitch Blumhouse for a reimagining of the original. It was at the height of #MeToo when the opportunity came to me, and I was grappling with so many issues that are very much a part of the thematic landscape of the original, and we as a culture are still grappling with today. I was really excited by the potential of being able to explore those sociopolitical concepts through the medium of a genre film. I was really feeling so heartbroken for young women, especially, but young people in general who are having to ingest such bigotry and misogyny and transphobia and homophobia and xenophobia from those in power. To create something that can potentially instill some hope in a generation that I feel gives me hope — I wanted to give back to them. It’s my love letter to Gen Z.

The women in this film are certainly of this time, and much more evolved in the ethics of their magic and how they use it.

I credit the first film with making witchcraft as a concept accessible and exciting to the general populous in a way that it never had been before. I was looking to carry on that tradition and take it one step further by broadening people’s understanding of what witchcraft can look like. There’s been stigma for so many centuries around witchcraft being something that is used for harm or evil, and the archetype of the witch is for the most part a dangerous figure. I really wanted to look at what I had learned was so beautiful about the traditions of contemporary witchcraft — it is so much about women in community, and women honoring the divine feminine and using that power in these covens to affect change. It felt like such a perfectly resonant allegory for what we’re trying to achieve today.

[Spoilers ahead for “The Craft: Legacy”]

David Duchovny has such an interesting role in this, a sort of insidious toxic man dressed up as someone really enlightened. Even without magic, he’s pretty terrifying.

At the time I started writing this, I was really fascinated with a new breed of men’s rights activist. There are certain leaders in that community who are delivering their message through an academic lens, a lens of vulnerability, that makes it easily digestible to people who otherwise might have scoffed at it. I love a villain who leans back, and to me, it felt like such a perfect metaphor for the patriarchy. Often times it’s a dangerous figure with their hands sturdily in their pockets, because that’s how much power they have.

An early trailer for the film shows your lead character, Lily, get her period in an embarrassing public setting, but that incident leads her to find her coven. Something as common as menstruation is still absent, maybe even taboo, in mainstream culture.

That happened to me when I was in high school, that exact situation. I often am channeling my own personal traumas through my characters when I write. So many women who I have spoken to said that happened to them as well. It’s an all-too-common story and it speaks to the shaming around women’s sexuality that occurs at such a vulnerable moment in a young woman’s life. Those scars stay with us for so long and have such reverberations. It was a perfect catalyzing event to push Lily into embodying her power.

This new coven includes a young trans woman named Lourdes, and I think embodies a kind of representation we often don’t see in mainstream films — she is not tokenized, not physically harmed, and not struggling with her identity. She exists as naturally in the world of the film as her cisgender friends.

I think it was important to me that the character of Lourdes was not defined by a tragic narrative. Putting a spotlight on her trans identity that somehow distinguished her from the rest of the women in her coven felt like the exact opposite of what this film is about — trans women are women. And when we’re talking about women’s issues and feminist issues, trans voices must be included. It’s our responsibility to be listening. For me, I take my responsibility as a filmmaker seriously when it comes to representation. That was something that I felt excited by the idea of creating a narrative about women in community, that could also celebrate singularity without making overt distinctions between them. Once I had the script written, we worked with GLAAD in the casting process and specifically an amazing consultant named Scott Turner Schofield, who is a trans man. He went through the script with me and was just an incredible resource when it came to micro-adjustments of language. We had something like 200 submissions from trans Latina teenagers, which was incredible to see how many incredibly talented young women came out. But Zoey [Luna, who plays Lourdes] was a bright and shining star, which was really exciting.

“The Craft” was so visually emblematic of a ’90s kind of rebellion. How did you update it for today?

I felt like I was looking to create a world that could stand on its own. I wasn’t looking to recreate the world of the original, either in vocabulary or costume design. That movie is so iconic that to try to recreate any of those looks, to me, would be a dishonor to the original. I was raised by a second-wave feminist who taught me to look at media through a lens of representation, especially when it came to women. I wanted to be really careful about the silhouettes I was putting these young women in, and who they were dressing for specifically. There’s a lot of power to be found in women embracing their sexuality and sexiness, but I wanted to do that through the female gaze. I’m always aware of the fetishization of young women, especially in Catholic school girl uniforms. As an adolescent, I shaved my head and I wore a lot of leisure suits. I was very masculine presenting. I wanted to play with more masculine silhouettes coming from a place about these women dressing for themselves rather than drawing the attention of men around them — but still playing with beauty magic, and fashion magic. To me, it was interesting to subvert the idea that witchcraft is all dark. There is so much fun to be had, and so much beauty that is honored in these traditions.

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