'American Horror Story: Coven' Is Unfairly Villainizing Marie Laveau
FX's American Horror Story: Coven is a series that plays with history. Where we find one notorious psychopath and murderer in a history book, we find a bumbling, helpless woman played by Kathy Bates who's been softened by years of immortality on AHS. Where we find the New Orleans Axeman, who was real, but never identified, AHS delivers a supernatural being trapped on the other side. Where Marie Laveau was often called a "saint" by many historical accounts and a "witch" by many others, American Horror Story resolutely makes her a merciless villain. The difference is that, whereas Bates' Madame LaLaurie is a bad person getting a second chance to make things right via fiction, Laveau is a woman whose legacy is scattered to the winds of uncertainty and AHS has plucked out the worst possible conclusion: that she's pure-bred evil.
After all, AHS's Lavaeu is depicted with a sinister eye and a penchant for taking down anyone she pleases. When she buries Madame LaLaurie alive in the 1800s, she first kills her entire family — including her innocent daughters — and hangs their bodies before her victim. It's a level of cruelty that surpasses the revenge she's enacting on LaLaurie for torturing her slaves because it punishes innocents in order to make a point.
Later, when she and Fiona face off, she sends a Minotaur after the entire coven. At the time, it appears the Minotaur is commissioned to seek out Madame LaLaurie, but when given the chance, it almost kills Queenie. Again: senseless violence towards innocents. The theme presents itself once more when Laveau sends zombies to consume all the young women at the coven — an onslaught so massive, there's no way innocent people could have avoided harm if it wasn't for Zoe, her chainsaw, and that last-minute spurt of magic.
This week, we find Laveau speaking to her minion, Cordelia's once sweet husband. She hired him, long before he fell in love with Cordelia, to take down the coven by killing witches. If the circumstances weren't enough, the camera work acts as a linchpin; Laveau has just been named this season's villain against the "good" coven. (Of course, Fiona's not great either, but she's not the "good" part we speak of.) With that, the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans is no longer "one of the most wonderful women who ever lived," as the New York Times claimed in her obituary, or a woman worthy of those who still drop flowers on her New Orleans grave. On AHS, she's a secret villain, who's duped history with her immortality and her ruthlessness.
Given Laveau's murky history, it's understandable that the series would take license to play with it. In fact, some of the rumors surrounding Laveau were that her voodoo powers were so powerful that she could be just as responsible for a Governor's death as she could be for a man escaping the hangman's noose. It was even rumored that Laveau never actually died and that she still lives among us today — which would account for that piece of AHS's interpretation. However, for the most part, she is remembered like so: "in all Voodoo, in all places, in all times, she is the Queen."
Given the uncertain background of Laveau's story and the absolutely resolute history of Madame LaLaurie's atrocities, is it not strange that the condemned historical figure is the one that AHS paints as a character who's not so bad? Is it not confounding that the woman still beloved in New Orleans is made to play the tormentor?
While narrative cues may not support the decision, I'm choosing to hope beyond hope that Laveau has a chance to redeem herself for her wrong-doing. If the woman who brutally tortured and maimed hundreds of her own slaves gets the chance on this show, there had better be a shot for the beloved Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, too.