The World of “Motherland: Fort Salem” is as Bewitching as its Creator
Motherland: Fort Salem is a show that tells the story of three witch recruits who are fighting to keep their America safe. Set in an alternate timeline, Motherland creates a world full of drama, mystery, and intrigue.
The show, currently on FreeForm, stars Ashley Nicole Williams as Abigail Bellweather, Taylor Hickson as Raelle Collar, and Jessica Sutton as Tally Craven. We follow these three as they go through basic training to qualify for war college. Along the way, they must learn to hone their magical talents as well as work together towards a common goal. Rounding out the cast is Lyne Renee as General Sarah Alder, Demetria McKinney as Anacostia Quartermain, and Amalia Holm as Scylla.
The world is one we recognize with some key differences that add depth to the emotion and actions of our characters.
I sat down with Motherland creator Eliot Laurence to get a look inside the mind of the creator of this bewitching world.
The Geekiary: What I love about the world within the show is that it’s layered, but not overly explained. Can you tell me what inspired it?
Eliot Laurence: I’m obsessed with witches! I always remember this moment when we were learning about witches in school – the Salem witch trials particularly – and I was talking to my mom about it. She said, “You know, if I were alive back them, they would have burned me, too,” and I was like, “Yes! Thank you, I knew we were witches! When do I get my powers?!”
I came to learn that what she meant was anyone who was different were witches. Anyone too this, too that, too beautiful, too ugly, too poor, too smart, too different. That’s what she was going for.
That sense of the witch being the eternal “other” has ways been in Laurence’s consciousness. His fascination turned into a years long journey to develop the world into something for public consumption.
EL: I thought, maybe it’s Gossip Girl and in Manhattan, but as I started to piece together the story, it didn’t quite fit. So I started thinking about the military and then, ‘hey, what if one of the witches cut a deal with the Massachusetts Bay militia and made a place – a formal place for witches in the world?’ Motherland: Fort Salem came from that peanut butter and jelly moment, and that felt new. And I’m always after new, especially with witches. Witches are eternal and there are so many witch shows, but this feels new to me.
TG: It’s definitely a new take, but also grounded in something with enough familiarity. You give us a frame of reference that’s tweaked enough to keep us interested.
EL: Yes! And that’s how I went about creating the world building. There are lots of recognizable aspects shown in more truthful ways, like the pentagram, witch’s holidays-
TG: I loved the painting of General Alder crossing the Delaware!
The painting I’m referring to shows General Sarah Alder working her magic along with fellow witches in a pose that mimics George Washington’s heroic crossing of the Delaware. It’s very powerful and the imagery makes it both familiar and vexing.
EL: The painting was the first sign that- oh my god, this is happening! I started crying when they showed it to me, it was a whole situation because it crystallized that peanut butter and jelly moment like nine years later. The picture really sets the stage and pulls no punches.
Laurence’s vision wouldn’t be complete without the people who live in the world.
TG: I’ve spoken with the cast before and they were all very excited about the unique subject matter of the show. Tell me more about how the casting came together for you.
EL: It was incredible! Another kind of moment like the painting where what was in my head came to life. Taylor (Hickson) brings a serious edge and depth to everything. Tally is a walking and talking exclamation point and that’s Jessica (Sutton) to a T. She has a generosity of spirit and kindness. And Ashley (Nicole Williams) walked in with that thoroughbred/jock/alpha energy that’s all about forward momentum. Abigail is legacy and comes from an incredible lineage, so there was something in Ashley’s stance that spoke to that confidence.
TG: One thing that I thought was interesting about Abigail is that her ancestor was a slave. Her mother Petra tells Abigail that she is her ancestor’s greatest dream. How aware are you of inserting these elements when it comes to cultural and sexual diversity?
EL: It’s very much front and center in my brain and I always try to write the world that I see and that I believe in. It was impossible to me to tell a story of an alternate timeline and not look at American slavery, of the genocide of the Native peoples and the really complicated, painful chapters in this county and re-imagine them.
Laurence goes on to explain the significance of slavery to the witches’ army.
EL: When General Alder cut the deal way back when, she’d won some initial battles, but the goal was meant to find more witches fast. She found particular power and strength from those who’d been enslaved in the south. So the army became entrenched with power and specifically in this matriarchal system. It’s all kinds of flips, but it’s also essential to these times. I think you can’t tell the story without adding these elements.
TG: I think it acknowledges the past without being beholden to it.
EL: Exactly. During the wrap party, the woman who plays Petra (Bellweather – Abigail’s mother), Catherine (Logue Haggquist), came up to me and said she’d never been on a show where they treated older women or women of color so well. And it felt good to create a world where diversity was essential and present and not even questioned, both on and off screen.
Motherland: Fort Salem tells a supernatural story that’s naturally inclusive. Check it out on FreeForm on Wednesdays and Hulu the day after. It’s a fun, engaging watch, and a witching good time!
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