Santana Caress Benitez, who plays Mars' sister Lulu on "She's Gotta Have It," shares what you need to know before practicing Lucumí.
Spike Lee reimagining She's Gotta Have It as a series on Netflix was all we were obsessed over as we closed out 2017.
One stand out character among Nola Darling's lovers is Mars Blackmon, and as we got to know him, we were introduced to his sister, Lourdes or Lulu, a young, Lucumí priestess who we see give Nola some much needed clarity throughout the season.
Lulu's practice of the religion stemming from Yoruba spirituality on the show was as real as it could get—especially since Santana Caress Benitez, the actor playing Lulu, is a Lucumí practitioner in real life. The religion slightly differs from Santería, as it does not incorporate elements of Catholicism that many are familiar with.
"Lucumí is pure Yoruba, orisha worship," Benitez says.
Although she was raised Christian, the Afro-Boricua always wanted to be connected spiritually outside of that faith tradition. "I didn't buy the Christianity thing anymore," Benitez says. "And when I was 23 or 24, I met a Babalao, a priest of Ifá, and fell in love with him."
It was through her relationship that lasted over a year that Benitez was introduced to the practice. She then moved to New York after their breakup, wanting to sink her teeth into the practice on her own terms. She's been practicing for five years since, with the help and guidance of her godfather and New York-based professor, Weldon Williams.
A chef with a Chopped championship under her belt, playing Lulu was Benitez' debut role as an actor. She says she kept up with Lee on social media, when a recent exchange on Instagram prompted Lee to message her directly the summer of 2015.
"He asked me if I've done any acting," Benitez says. "At this time, the writers were still developing the show, and he asked, 'Would you be interested in auditioning for this role when you get back to New York?' But you can't say no to Spike, so I said yes."
When it came to filming the scenes that incorporated the practice, including Nola's initial reading and spiritual cleansing, Benitez emphasized that Lee and Iya AkileAshe, the consultant and a Yoruba priestess for 20 years, wanted to make sure the scenes were authentic without revealing too much—and the pressure to get it right was real.
"For me, it didn't matter who wrote the script or who's behind the scenes," she says. "I'm the face of it, and I practice, so of course for me that was a big deal because I'm not yet initiated. I wanted to make sure that everything that I did was within reason, [and] wasn't anything that was going to compromise sacred protocols or rituals that we do. It was really important to me that we only show things that could be accessible to anyone—but also done right."
Being introduced to Lulu on She's Gotta Have It is a big deal, as we don't see the spiritual practices of the diaspora depicted accurately on TV often—if not at all. So in the wake of the show being renewed for a second season, we had to learn more.
For the curious, Benitez breaks down what you need to know before practicing Lucumí with us below.