Fate: The Winx Saga Review: Filing It Under Enjoyable But Problematic Because Whitewashing Is Not Cool!
The remake/rehash/reboot/inspired from trend has taken too many things from our childhood and revamped them into entities that we no longer recognise or can reconcile with the original. From Chilling Adventures of Sabrina making the teenage witch all sexy and dark to Archie comics going twisted and NSFW with Riverdale, to the whole live action remakes of some of our most beloved stories, the list is pretty long. I’m not saying I don’t like any of them. Believe it or not, I still follow Riverdale because you just want to go see how far they can push the edges, you know? So naturally, when Fate: The Winx Saga was announced, I, a Winx Club fan, was on tenterhooks to see how they’d handled it. Especially, since it is created by The Vampire Diaries writer-producer, Brian Young.
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Fate: The Winx Saga is a live action remake of the Italian-American animated series by Iginio Straffi, Winx Club, that graced our TV screens back when we 90s kids were in high school. Think of it as a Hogwarts but for fairies, set in a world where they are real, as are other mythical creatures like witches, pixies, and even talking animals. The main character is a fairy named Bloom, who joins Alfea College to learn to control her magic. There, she makes a group of girl friends, also fairies with their own unique elemental powers, and together they are the Winx Club. Before you wonder, it is not sexist. There’s an adjacent college for men, the Red Fountain school, and the male characters are all warriors called Specialists. They don’t have magical powers but are trained in combat with laser weapons. Many of them are romantically involved with the Alfea fairies.
Together, the fairies and the Specialists are a team. The fairies’ magic is connected to their emotions. So the Specialists can step in and thwart the threat with their combat skills, until the fairies can summon and channel it.
The original Winx Club from the animated series comprised six fairies—Bloom (Fire Fairy), Stella (Light Fairy), Flora (Earth/Nature Fairy), Tecna (Technology Fairy), Musa (Music Fairy) and Aisha (Water/Waves Fairy). However in Fate: The Winx Saga, there are only five. Abigail Cowen, who we’ve seen as Dorcas in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, is Bloom, the protagonist. Hannah van der Westhuysen is Stella, and Precious Mustapha is Aisha. We don’t have a Flora; instead the Latina Earth fairy has been replaced with Eliot Salt’s Terra. And while we do have a Musa, she is neither Asian nor a Music fairy. Played by Elisha Applebaum, Musa is an empath, i.e., she can sense people’s emotions. Tecna does not exist at all, at least in this season.
Some of the boys that the girls dated in the animated series are also missing. But we do have Danny Griffin playing Sky and Freddie Thorp as Riven, though their love Iives get a major twist. The original series also had a villainous trio of witches—Icy, Darcy and Stormy—together known as Trix. However, in Fate, they seem to be condensed into a single character called Beatrix, played by Sadie Soverall. Additional cast includes Downton Abbey fame Robert James-Collier as Specialist Headmaster Saúl Silva, Eve Best as Alfea Headmistress Farah Dowling, Theo Graham as Specialist student Dane, and Lesley Sharp as Rosalind.
The plot of Fate is lowkey on theme. Alfea headmistress Dowling brings Bloom from her home world, full of us normal humans, to the Otherworld where magic is a thing. Until a horrible accident involving fire, Bloom didn’t even know she is a fairy. But magic is only a small part of her true identity and it is something she must learn to control and find more about. All while she grapples with being an introvert and sharing a suite with four other fairies, boy attention, and a dark threat that lurks beyond a magical barrier that separates Alfea from mortal danger.
Fate: The Winx Saga gives us both clichéd YA tropes woven in an engaging story.
Show creator Brian Young revealed in an interview that while he was a huge fan of manga and anime, he wanted the show to be rooted in reality and feel relatable. So he skipped the big-eyed pixie-looking animated fairies and turned it into a live action show full of good-looking girls and boys who don’t look like they belong in a school, TBH. We’ve seen that with shows like The Vampire Diaries, which Young worked on for seven seasons.
So one minute the teens are using magic and talking about murderous creatures called the Burned Ones that are on the other side of a magical Barrier. And the other minute, they are updating their Instagram stories, talking about sexual orientation being a spectrum and debating the ethical nature of war crimes. It’s a heady mixture of fantasy rooted in reality, much like a Sabrina than Harry Potter. In fact, the show seems to be quite self-aware because int the first episode itself, someone alludes to Harry Potter, and Bloom and Aisha compare each other’s Hogwarts houses (Bloom’s a Slytherin; Aisha a Ravenclaw).
NGL, I kinda dig this. It rectifies the very conservative principles of the world of Harry Potter where the students would still have to write with quills and dress in period fashion while the world around them was seizing modern fashion and technology by its broomtails.
I also enjoyed the way these characters talk/interact with each other. It made me want to be a part of their world, and also assured me that if I ever did, I wouldn’t have to worry about not fitting in. While we don’t know the exact location of this Otherworld, the fact that most students have a British accent and look at Bloom’s obvious Americanness with disdain, this is a British school. The school in itself reminded me of the OG Alfea, dome and towers et al (it’s not purple, of course!) but it was a nice mixture of old school castles with your modern American cafeteria vibe. It felt like a combination of Harry Potter, Wild Child and Winx Club.
Fate spans six episodes of approximately 50 minutes each and I have to say I didn’t think even a minute was wasted on anything frivolous. But while the screenplay gripped me tight and kept me engaged to the hilt, the clichéd YA tropes kinda ruined a few things for me, the biggest being the development of Winx Club’s friendship. It just happened very abruptly that the girls felt this need to protect one another or be there for another, even though nobody’s really nice to each other in the first few episodes. That transition from not liking each other to understanding each other and coming together… that didn’t exactly sink in.
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Bloom’s character, despite being the protagonist, feels the most uninteresting and sometimes downright annoying of them all. I thought Abigail Cowen is fantastic as Bloom, and it is not her fault that her character is written as this girl who tries accuse a cute guy of mansplaining when all he is doing is trying to help her. Her character for the most part is quite contradictory too, I thought. For the life of me, I don’t understand how someone who claims to be an introvert is suddenly so good at beer pong. Or someone who is confused and nervous on the first day of school doesn’t mind venturing out into a Forbidden Forest kinda place, alone, in the middle of the night!
Bloom constantly tries to do the very thing that her friends stop her from doing. And it would probably be okay if it were the right thing to do? But it is now. Fortunately, before it’s all over, she herself acknowledges that she’s been a pain in everyone’s arse. So yeah, I count that as character development.
Our hero, Sky, I thought is your typical ‘good guy female ally’ here but that makes him a little too vanilla for my taste. Especially when you compare him to the complex bad boy Riven. Both characters still feel half-baked but I suppose Season 2, if it happens, will offer up a lot of potential to develop their arcs considering where Season 1 has left them. I think the cast does have great chemistry with each other, and I hope if there are future seasons, their characters give them a chance to really grow into it.
What I love about this new Winx is that one of its underlying themes is how wars fought by the older generations can have repercussions that must be borne by the younger generation. It brings forth questions about ethics and morality and how omissions and half truths from elders to protect children can drive them to cause more harm to themselves. Since this is a YA show, the music is of course songs that would be on every millennial’s playlist. And the first episode does kick off with a very apt ‘Kids In The Corner’ by Amber Van Day, that says “We’re a product of the system in a world that never listens to the messed up truth”. Ain’t that telling?
Also Read: The White Tiger Review: Adarsh Gourav Roars In A Gripping, Eviscerating Satire About India’s Predatory Class Struggle
I do miss the razzle-dazzle of the OG Winx Club, especially the costumes!
When Iginio Straffi created his first version of the Winx Club, the test audience reacted quite unenthusiastically to the characters. Straffi then brought in Italian fashion designers, including some from Dolce & Gabbana and Prada, to help redesign the characters and their looks so they wouldn’t look like just another Japanese animated series.
For a show that literally was as bright, fantastical and fashionable in its original source, Fate: The Winx Saga does like the dazzle dazzle, both in its magic and its costumes. I think the most breathtaking moment in Winx Club is when the fairies transform into their full fairy forms. We get a tiny glimpse of it in Fate, and it is stunning indeed, but I wish there was some more punch put into the wardrobe. Most of these girls, other than Stella of course, dress in clothes that seem rather drab and uninteresting. If you are updating your story as per these times, why not do that with fashion too?
The whitewashing of the cast and token efforts at representation make Fate a beacon for controversy
We’ve now reached the climax of this review. And that means we need to get down and dirty. This is where a real crisis of faith happened with me about Fate. The trailer had already left me angry that there would not be a Tecna in this one. I was upset about Flora too, when I found out that they had replaced the Latina character with a Caucasian one, and named her Terra. But while Eliot Salt’s Terra is adorable and she is amazing, I was even more pissed when they made Terra Flora’s cousin. Oh and Musa is not a Music Fairy? Okay. But she isn’t even Asian? Girl! Not okay!
I failed to understand why making these changes were necessary to the plot? To make up for getting rid of two non-white women, they brought in one woman of colour, as Aisha. Sorry to make another comparison to Harry Potter, but this felt like J.K. Rowling being enthusiastic about casting a black actress for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The woke retrofitting feels forced, and it has absolutely no bearing on the actual characters’ personalities or the inclusivity movement. If anything, it deprives their personalities of the layers that being women from a particular race or culture would accord.
Why couldn’t Terra be Flora, be a Latina and have her father be a Latino teacher at Alfea? Why couldn’t Musa be Asian? If Alfea is the only magical school that matters, where Bloom had to come all the way from America to learn, then wouldn’t kids from other cultures there too, right? Where are my Asian kids? Why aren’t other Americans in Alfea? What about Africa’s fairies? There has to be a reason why these choices were made. And since we don’t see any sense in them, the outrage that is ongoing about the show’s casting choices is valid.
For me, there was an additional touchpoint of Terra being the only heavy-bodied girl in an otherwise model-figured cast. She is definitely a force to reckon with and we see her show a guy his place when he tries to get nasty with her. I appreciate the writers depicting the concerns of plus size women when it comes to exposing their bodies and their emotions to their ‘pretty and perfect’ friends quite well. But having seen the bare minimal done for Aisha, the lack of diversity on the cast and the only three queer characters being vilified makes me feel everything is just tokenism.
I read somewhere that Iginio Straffi created Winx Club because he saw that the animated action genre on TV was dominated by men and “the cartoon world was devoid of female characters”. It’s been more than a decade and a half and we’ve come a long way from that. However, now, it is about taking representation a notch higher and more importantly, doing it right.
Verdict: I’m filing it under enjoyable but also problematic. Because yes, we can have both.
The Internet, and especially Twitter where the critics and fandoms reside, have developed this nasty affliction where everything has to be either black or white. But I enjoy living my life in grey, which is a nice way to relish all that it has to offer. I went into Fate: The Winx Saga with the Hindi version of the Winx Club title track playing in my head, and the disappointment from watching the trailer in my heart.
However, I was pleasantly surprised when I couldn’t put it down and consumed all six episodes in one go. So credit where credit’s due. I enjoyed Season 1 thoroughly. I am a sucker for this genre of YA fantasy, and all the shows that I have compared Fate to in my review, including the Harry Potter movies, are stories that I’ve loved watching on screen. Moreover, any show that strives to give me more badass female characters and female friendships are much welcome. I’ll definitely be waiting for Season 2.
But while I can appreciate the entertainment that the series provides, I can simultaneously condemn it for the choices it makes in its casting and adhering to cliché tropes that no longer fly with the young audience they are trying to connect with. I suppose the casting choices are too late to be written over. But I do hope it takes a leaf out of Supernatural angel Misha Collins’ book, and really listens to fan conversations on how to do better in the future, instead of being like other actors and filmmakers who start getting defensive when they’re called out.
Fate: The Winx Saga is currently streaming on Netflix.