True Heart: Actress Rachel True Has a New 'Craft' to Share

Illustration for article titled iTrue Heart/i: Actress Rachel True Has a New Craft to Share
Photo: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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“I think I’m relevant past Halloween,” laughs Rachel True, who first broke into our pop-cultural consciousness as “Rochelle” in the 1996 teen witch thriller The Craft. With a now decades-long career in Hollywood, that is, of course, true (pun intended); but as The Craft has now been a cult classic long enough to inspire the recently released Blumhouse follow-up The Craft: Legacy, it’s equally impossible to separate True from the original film’s legacy. (This, despite the fact that her other most-beloved role, as “Mona” on UPN’s early-aughts sitcom Half & Half also recently hit the streaming zeitgeist via Netflix—and no, she doesn’t know who Mona chose.)

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And yet, in a classic case of art imitating life, True’s breakthrough role felt preternaturally suited for a young woman who’d begun exploring the occult (which, for the record, simply means “supernatural, mystical, or magical beliefs, practices, or phenomena”) early in life. In fact, as a self-described “lifelong practitioner, and part of a movement committed to demystifying and destigmatizing esoteric studies,” when True auditioned for Rochelle it was amid several months of immersing herself in deeper practice and study of the tarot.

“I know the script for The Craft was attracted to me because of my enduring relationship to the cards and mystical studies,” she writes in True Heart Intuitive Tarot, a book and tarot deck True released on October 13. Considering the fact that the film was originally written for four white characters, there may be something to her theory. “Maybe I still would’ve somehow ended up booking The Craft—some parts are meant to be yours,” she adds, “but...[w]ould my vibration have matched my character, Rochelle? Thank goodness I’ll never have to know.”

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Thank goodness for all of us who loved seeing a Black girl cast in the film’s supernatural quartet (one who delivers her racist bully a karmic comeuppance, no less). “Listen, Black witches are some of the OG witches!” she only half-jokes. But as True explains during our phone conversation, the true uses of the tarot aren’t sinister at all—or even necessarily supernatural.

“The tarot tells the story of humanity, giving you insight into yourself by helping you clarify the now and make better choices for the future,” she further explains. “They’re like a shrink in a box and spiritual Xanax all rolled into one.”

Illustration for article titled iTrue Heart/i: Actress Rachel True Has a New Craft to Share
Photo: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

This is not to say True thinks the tarot is a replacement for therapy, but rather complementary to it. In fact, as she reminds us in both the introduction to True Heart and during our discussion, Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, heavily relied upon tarot in his practice.

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“In the beginning, it’s a way to get to know yourself, understand your subconscious motivation, help you decipher why you made that weird choice—which then lets you understand how not to make that weird choice again,” True tells The Root. “It’s about taking ownership, too...I think what I love about tarot in tandem with therapy is that we can feel our pain—experience it, feel it, own it, whatever you want to do with it. But then, I love tarot for going, ‘OK. Now, how do I move past this? How do I not let this thing—this tragedy, this thing that didn’t work out for me, this love affair gone awry—define me for the rest of my life?’ Because I am the only thing I can shift. I cannot shift other people’s behavior.”

Reflection and accountability are recurrent themes in what True calls the “hybrid book” that accompanies the 78 cards comprising the Major and Minor Arcana. The deck, gorgeously illustrated with intentionally diverse imagery by Toronto-based artist Stephanie Singleton, is an homage to the art of Pamela Colman Smith (the illustrator of the quintessential Rider-Waite-Smith tarot, who is widely believed to have been mixed race.) But instead of the typical brief instructional pamphlet, True’s 224-page book is part spiritual manual, part Hollywood memoir told through a series of intimate yet illustrative essays; her own story used to explain in depth the archetypal hero’s journey represented by each of the 22 cards of the Major Arcana.

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“One of my hopes for this book would be to demystify and destigmatize these paper cards printed with ink,” she says. “There’s nothing magical about the cards; let me just dispel that myth right now. The magic is what happens when you see the symbology and that hits you on a visceral level. And that feeling that comes up in you. That’s actually the magic.”

Illustration for article titled iTrue Heart/i: Actress Rachel True Has a New Craft to Share
Screenshot: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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As overused as the term “Black girl magic” has become in recent years (yes, by us, as well), it has perhaps never been more appropriately applied than in reference to True. For Gen X-ers like myself, she was among a handful of talents—Lisa Bonet, Persia White, and Cree Summer among them—who, while all biracial and well within a beauty standard traditionally more palatable to Hollywood and non-Black audiences, also gave life to a certain type of “odd weirdo Black girl portrayed onscreen,” as True writes.

Having been a somewhat idiosyncratic Black girl myself coming of age in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I was among those who saw themselves in characters like Rochelle. Reflecting on the era, True is both proud to have filled that representational void and yet under no illusion of the role her crossover-ready looks played in her career.

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“I was medium [brown] with curly hair. And I was one of the few people wearing my hair curly, too,” she notes, her still-natural hair texture a cultural touchstone she insisted on maintaining even when relaxers were de rigueur. “Thank goodness things are changing now,” she adds. “You know, it’s a very diverse playing field out there now.”

It’s this type of self-awareness that makes True so innately likable. Our hourlong discussion is filled with candor, laughter, and commiseration on being part of the largely lowkey and now mature MTV generation who nevertheless defined so much of contemporary culture. (Hip-hop, anyone? You’re welcome.) On the page, True is equally transparent as she revisits her own coming of age as the child of an at times emotionally difficult white father and “manic pixie black girl” mother. Her guide through the tarot takes us through deeply relatable discussions of toxic romances, tragic losses, impostor syndrome, aging, and even the all-too-familiar Black woman experience of fibroids.

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Throughout, True offers a vulnerable yet pragmatic lens on how the tarot can be an interpretive tool, even as she sprinkles her narrative with pop-cultural breadcrumbs, like an early-career stint as a stand-in on The Cosby Show (where her intuition served her decades before any allegations surfaced).

“When it came to writing the book, it was also very daunting because I thought, well, how much do you reveal in a book?” True, who also has several screenplays under her belt, admits. “So that’s a bit of a delicate dance.”

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Then, there were her experiences of marginalization both during and in the aftermath of The Craft—including the questionable “character flaw” she was assigned as the only castmember of color.

“I suspect they decided that if Nancy’s crisis was her drunk, white trash mother, Bonnie’s was her burns, and Sarah’s was her suicide attempt, my Blackness was a built-in albatross for Rochelle,” she writes.

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I thought about that at the time: ‘Do they see my Blackness as a problem?’” she says during our conversation. “Because, oh racism—yes, of course, I have to deal with racism. But what’s my actual problem in this film? Not that I thought racism wasn’t a problem; it was just so much a part of my everyday life.”

If the film’s writers problematized Rochelle’s race in 1996, that misstep has sadly not been resolved in the decades since. “It’s decidedly weird to be known as ‘the Black chick in that movie,’ but it is what it is,” she writes. “Actor ego aside, being regularly excluded is unfortunate. Representation matters. The sheer amount of cognitive dissonance required to be Black in America is utterly exhausting.”

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To her point, True has repeatedly been omitted from The Craft’s enduring legacy, whether left off of the film’s starring credits in media outlets or on the film’s IMDb page. More recently, as she recounts in True Heart, she was excluded from an invitation to join her three co-stars at a major convention appearance; an omission that was not only deliberate but a potentially missed opportunity to stage the first cast reunion in 25 years.

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“I made it clear I’d also like to be at the convention, but it was made clear back to me that my presence was not wanted,” she writes. “It was mind-boggling to me until I realized, ‘Oh yeah, he doesn’t think he needs me. He thinks I have no value. He thinks I’m just the Black girl from The Craft.’ This would not stand.”

Turning to social media to express frustration over the slight, True’s relevance was indeed reaffirmed—and her invitation accordingly extended, to the delight of the convention’s audience. “I didn’t think anyone listened to my tweets,” she laughs. “Girl, I didn’t know!”

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Well, we knew—and True’s association with the supernatural doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon. (When asked about The Craft: Legacy, she simply chuckles and responds, “It’s got big shoes.”) While, like many actors and artists, several of her pending projects were sidelined by the COVID outbreak, she will soon be back onscreen in the demonic possession thriller Agnes (as a nun, no less), and has any number of other creative projects pending. But for now, True is leaning into the introspection our present moment offers—and is inviting us to do the same with True Heart.

“I’d love for people to get that tarot is simply another tool in your arsenal to use to further yourself along. In this particular time—I don’t know if we’re at the end or the beginning of something, right?—and everything feels out of control. Personally, I feel it’s super comforting to understand, in a reading, what you are in control of, which is yourself. You know, the one thing you can determine what to do with and tell what to do is yourself. So it’s really empowering, actually, and makes me feel like I’m standing on sturdier ground by having a tarot practice.”

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Perhaps intuiting my own, less sturdy countenance as of late, just before we hang up, True is inspired to offer me a bit of personal advice on how to interpret this anxiety-ridden time. “Don’t fear it,” she says. “As long as we take care of ourselves and whatever that means for you, or me...It’s all fine.”

 True Heart Intuitive Tarot ($27) is available now from various booksellers.

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up, co-host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door...May I borrow some sugar?

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DISCUSSION

I bought The Craft: Legacy this weekend and was not disappointed! It probably was the most intersectional woke film I have ever seen, and it was so tastefully done that you could not help but fight the patriarchy with the four young witches. Zoe Lister-Jones deserves ALL the praise, as does the stellar cast (even Duchovny Dad).

The original is a CLASSIC, and Rachel True is an icon, so I will have to give this deck a whirl. The artwork looks absolutely beautiful, and I am always here for different interpretations of the major and minor arcana. Sure, Rider-Waite is a classic in and of itself, but the iconography is not really geared towards anyone non-white, so this looks like a refreshing deck. At the end of the day, it is about how YOU connect with your deck.

Had my eye on a vintage deck from Fendi, but of course supporting True is more important! What an undertaking to create something like this!