The 1996 cult classic The Craft was a microcosm of peak ’90s pop prominence from its now-cyclical fashion to its roster of go-to young actors. By the time of the film’s release, three of the starring quartet—Robin Tunney, Fairuza Balk, and Neve Campbell—were already tending to their rather active careers. Campbell was easily the production’s most visible young star at the time thanks TV drama juggernaut Party Of Five, while Tunney had just wrapped fellow future cult classic Empire Records prior to filming. The Craft’s marketing reflected this dynamic, pushing imagery that heavily centered on Campbell, rising star Tunney, and veteran child actress Balk, who was portraying the head teen witch, Nancy. But for many burgeoning Black horror enthusiasts, all eyes were on Rachel True and her witchy fictional counterpart, Rochelle Zimmerman.
“Sometimes I think that even my costars don’t understand what that role at that time represented for Black women and girls,” True shared with The A.V. Club over the phone. “It wasn’t about me so much as what it represented to other girls at that moment.” The Craft’s Rochelle stood as a viable point of entry for Black female horror fans in an overwhelmingly white mainstream landscape. More importantly, she accomplished the rare feats of actually having a dedicated storyline of her own and surviving until the end alongside her white costars. True was integral in expanding the role of Black women in modern horror, cultivating a space where they could be more than the sacrificial lamb. Nothing was cooler than the emergence of The Craft’s movie poster, where True can be seen sauntering shoulder-to-shoulder with with her fellow witches against a curtain of lightning, where she ostensibly had equal billing.
Yet somehow, even as True continued an acting career in TV and film, she was largely erased from conversations surrounding The Craft years later. In 2019, the actress publicly called out the fan convention circuit for excluding her from cast reunions. She also tweeted multiple movie platforms that failed to recognize her as one of the film’s stars in their descriptions of The Craft, one of which listing her as a supporting actress while her three costars maintained top billing. Soon after, she was invited to participate in New Jersey’s Monster Mania Con, where she reunited with her fellow cast members for the first time since 1996. “I speak up for this because when I was growing up, there were these textbooks where you’d see a picture of a woman and it would just say, ‘woman’ or ‘dancing slave,’” True explained. “At some point these women had names. I wouldn’t have spoken out like that if I was younger but now that I’m older, I see it happening to the younger generation of kids as well. And so I’m going to speak up for myself and them.”
Now an author, True recently released True Heart, Intuitive Tarot, a tarot card deck and accompanying guidebook infused with memoir essays and her insights into Hollywood and esoteric studies. She still finds herself arriving to new conclusions about The Craft, which continues to tender a legacy that endures decades later and has spawned a Gen Z reboot, The Craft: Legacy (on which True declined to comment). She shared her thoughts on Rochelle’s storyline, her theory behind the witches’ shrinking skirts, and the little white lie she held onto while filming.
The A.V. Club: Congratulations on the release of your book. Your interest and expertise in esoteric studies stems from a young age. Did your early study of tarot impact how you crafted the character of Rochelle at all?
Rachel True: Yeah, totally! But not in the ways that you think because Rochelle was a high school student, right? So I would say it shaped my preparedness for the role. Rochelle was not as knowledgeable as me, but she was a natural witch.
The thing I really love and am happy about—because I did pour a lot into the writing and design of the book—is that other scholars and practitioners of esoteric studies really like it. It makes me feel great because the last thing I want people to think is, “You got into this because of The Craft.” That would be my fear because I was into all this as a small kid.
AVC: To this day, The Craft resonates as a perfect encapsulation of what girls growing up in the ’90s imagined a bunch of cool witches would look like. It still holds up, but it’s also very much “of that time.”
RT: Also, did you notice that as our powers get stronger, our skirts got shorter? I attribute that to pop culture witchcraft in the ’90s. I think it was used as an analogy for burgeoning female sexuality. You hit that age when you sort of realize the power you can hold over other people just by the fact that you have these new lumps on your chest. You have a lot of feelings going on in your mind and your hips are swinging and all of that. So in a way, yes, it’s about witchcraft. It’s also an analogy for just what women go through and when they feel small and disenfranchised. Then you kind of hit that age when you say, “I was told I have no power as a woman. But wait, I see that I just twisted that guy up in knots.” And there is some power to that as long as we learn not to manipulate people.
AVC: Initially, your character was intended for a white actress. How did Rochelle go from that to having a storyline so rooted in her experience as a Black girl?
RT: A friend of mine who is white and read for it said [that I] should audition and read for that role. I said okay because I had actually been really delving into my tarot studies after my TV had broken nine months before that script literally landed in my lap. She sent me a copy of her script and [the producers] were like, “Well, maybe we can open it up.”
I keep pointing out to my Black and white peers that up until that time we only had John Hughes movies, which were wildly entertaining if you were a teenager, but very homogenous. Then the one movie [Sixteen Candles] where there’s an Asian character, the big joke is, “There’s an Asian character.” So it was not great. Then teens kind of went out of style and really didn’t come back in until [the mid-’90s] with Clueless, The Craft, and Scream. So as much as pretty teens are the thing now, it wasn’t so much back then, and The Craft was kind of a weird risk. I don’t know why they decided to let me in and read it when everybody else in it was white.
The character was also originally bulimic, by the way, and my first audition was an “I threw up today” kind of monologue. Then they hired me and switched [my story] to being about racism. I found this interesting as a Black woman because when I got the new script I remember thinking, “Yeah, okay, people are racist to [her.] What’s my actual storyline here? What’s my actual problem in this town?” Like, [Bonnie] is burned, [Nancy] is suicidal. ’90s Rachel was so trained to know that she will be treated like shit and people will be racist to her. Most Black people are like this and just put it over there in a box. So I was like, “Yeah, it’s a problem, but it is what it is. So what’s my actual problem,” you know? So it’s kind of interesting for me to watch it again a few years later and be like, “No, this is actually good. It’s interesting that the other three girls never talk to you about it and you don’t have parents and no one talks about what you’re going through.” [Laughs.] But they had me in there, and that’s valid because while we don’t necessarily want to see slave torture porn retreads, I think there’s a lot of room left for the human experience of being a Black person in America.
Also, I was lying about my age so hardcore, it was like I was leading a double life. I think I lost my passport in Neve’s trailer once and had a heart attack the whole night because I was like, “She’s gonna find out that I’m not a teenager.” And she was so young. That girl didn’t even think to look at that passport. The next day I was like, “She doesn’t care, she’s 20. She’s not like you, freaking out.”
AVC: Being presumably the only Black woman on set, what was the table read of the new script like? Was it a helpful experience at all?
RT: It’s funny, I don’t think I had a reaction to that, to be honest, because I was prepared. I do remember sitting outside the Sony building ahead of the table read and Fairuza came by and just wasn’t that friendly. [Laughs.] I mean, I love Fairuza now, obviously, but she had a permanent scowl on her face back then. Robin had just done Empire Records and I don’t even think she knew I existed in that movie, to be honest. And then Neve came through and she was like, “Hi, I’m Neve! What’s your name?” She was friendly and that really helped me out that she was friendly and wasn’t giving any “I’ve worked more than you” actor shade or whatever else was going on. She was just like, “We’re doing this movie together and it’s going to be fun.” I think what I’m saying is as a Black person, I was like, “Okay, here’s an ally, maybe.”
AVC: Rochelle’s interactions with her nemesis Laura Lizzie (Christine Taylor) in the gym locker room are so intense, especially after Rochelle casts the spell that leads to Laura’s massive hair loss.
RT: It is. Somebody included me on their Instagram stories and they shared the clip where Rochelle is in the locker room after she discovers that her spell has worked and the girl is sitting there with her hair all coming out in clumps. It’s funny because after watching the little clip and I went, “Oh yeah, I played it that way,” which was a little out of alignment. Everybody else was gleeful and cackling when their wish came true. I made a choice because Rochelle’s Black and even if you want something terrible to happen to someone who’s done something terrible to you, my feeling was that she’s been through it, she know what it feels like. And so Rochelle had that moment because she’s Black, unlike the other three witches, where she thought, “Oh, shit. I have really, physically hurt someone and I’m a little freaked out,” because Rochelle knows how it feels to be hurt by other people.
RT: Seriously?! [Laughs] Fairuza and I are very good friends and sometimes we’ll giggle to each other like, “We helped bring witchcraft into pop culture in the ’90s,” you know? Because we’re both into esoteric studies, so it kind of makes us giggle that that movie, as silly as it is, helped put it in the forefront.
AVC: Well, that debate included two schools of thought. One side thought she deserved it because she engaged in manipulating Sarah after she wanted out of the coven. The other side thought she didn’t deserve it because her root cause was dealing with a racist bully.
RT: See, this leads back to the first thing I talked about because I didn’t see her doing anything that terrible myself. It’s like, “Okay, so she wanted to get back at someone who was racist to her? I mean, that’s fair enough.” And again, I stand by what I said earlier when I asked, “Is there another thing?” Because in my life I’m going to deal with racism and whatever else is going on. It’s never the only thing. And personally, I remember filming the end in reshoots and I was like, “I think I’m more powerful than this.”