Why Zoe Lister-Jones made 'The Craft: Legacy' for 'woke' teens

  • Adam (David Duchovny) greets Helen (Michelle Monaghan) when she and Lily (Cailee Spaeny) arrive at his house in "The Craft: Legacy."

    Adam (David Duchovny) greets Helen (Michelle Monaghan) when she and Lily (Cailee Spaeny) arrive at his house in "The Craft: Legacy." Courtesy of Sony Pictures/Columbia Pictures

 
 
Posted11/6/2020 6:00 AM

Sit down and let Zoe Lister-Jones school you for a bit. The 38-year-old writer-director of "The Craft: Legacy," about a coven of teenage witches poised to upend the patriarchy, talks identity politics, inclusion and woke filmmaking like a rock star professor.

Lister-Jones's take on the beloved 1996 film "The Craft" will feel familiar in two ways. Like the original, the story line centers on a group of young women who don't fit in, finding solace in one another (and witchery). And, much like our everyday reality, in the new film, young women are forced to figure out how to navigate a male-dominated world on their own.

 

"I never thought twice about the story that I wanted to tell," said Lister-Jones, who felt a fierce connection to the original as a young outsider. In the filmmaker's "reimagining" (since this is not technically a remake), available on demand as of last week, the witches talk potions and consent. They know who Janet Mock is. They use terms like "cisgender." One of the witches is a trans woman.

"I wanted to be really careful in the message that I was going to put out into our current world," said Lister-Jones. "Young women, and women of all ages, have been forced to ingest really horrific and harmful messaging for the past four years. This movie is about a celebration of our power and really honing in on that power being at its greatest strength when we use it collectively."

The Washington Post spoke to Lister-Jones about her film.

Q: Why is high school the worst?

A: Well, I personally had a very difficult time in junior high school.

Q: Didn't we all? Even the cool kids are constantly afraid.

A: You know what? All of my childhood was a nightmare, to be honest. I was bullied from the jump. I was bullied from kindergarten through high school. I think that kids are cruel and their cruelty sort of grows in scope and scale as their hormones start to shift. I was lucky in high school to really find a group of people who saw me and accepted me. They were my protectors at a time when I was feeling very isolated.

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Q: So, when you first saw the 1996 version of "The Craft," about a clique of outsider girls who take their power back, was it an aha moment? Like you'd finally found your people on screen?

A: "The Craft" came out at the apex of my sense of alienation from the world. I was definitely othered in a way that was causing me a lot of pain. I was quite masculine presenting and I was bullied a lot and I was misgendered a lot. So, when "The Craft" came out it felt so revolutionary to be represented in that way in mainstream popular culture. To get the wish fulfillment of the weirdos taking vengeance on all of those who were causing them so much pain? Yeah, it was a really important movie to me personally.

Q: Nearly 25 years later, does the story still feel as relevant?

A: When it came to me as an adult, it felt so full circle because we're now at a time in our world when othering is at such a fever pitch. It felt like such a resonant film to re-explore and reimagine.

Q: Did you immediately think you were the right person to tell a new story from "The Craft" universe?

A: I was excited and terrified, which is sort of the Venn diagram of my life. It was a huge responsibility. I hoped that I could be trusted by the fans to honor the original. And I think the way that I set out to do that from the get-go was to not try to re-create it, but to create a film that could stand on its own.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Q: "Legacy" doesn't shy away from getting topical. The new coven is more diverse and woke as it battles toxic masculinity. Were you ever hesitant to get so political?

A: My mom always taught me that the personal is political and that those two things should be intertwined. The practice of making art is a political practice. So I wasn't afraid. Those who are made uncomfortable by identity politics -- more equity and inclusion -- if this film makes them uncomfortable, then I've done my job. Those people need to understand that their inconvenience is necessary for progress.

Q: No spoilers, but David Duchovny is the bad guy who, in the film, does Men's Rights advocacy work. But you never say that explicitly on screen. Was that a conscious choice, not to give that movement a voice?

A: There's a new world of men's rights activists that feel more dangerous than they have in the past because their approach is very academic. It's almost posing as allyship and their arguments can be persuasive to even educated people. The wolf-in-sheep's clothing is an amazing archetype in genre films because it's so psychologically complex.

Q: How so?

A: For young women especially, I wanted to play on those fears that come at an age when we become hyper-visible to men and very aware of dangers that could potentially lurk around any corner. But we don't know when we're paranoid or when to trust our guts. And honestly, that gray area continues throughout our lives.

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