Fantastic F*ck-ups: The Crimes of J. K. Rowling
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J.K. Rowling has really outdone herself with the reveal that came in the latest Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald trailer, that Voldemort’s snake Nagini is actually an Asian woman cursed and trapped in the body of a snake.
We wanted more representation, but not like this.
It’s a running problem that JKR just can’t seem to wrap her head around — trying to make the original series more diverse isn’t something that can be done in retrospect. Especially in such a misguided way.
Harry Potter has faced criticism for its lack of diversity — fans complained that the only characters of colour are background characters that aren’t treated very well (Cho Chang, the Patil twins), or are in fact whitewashed when they become plot-relevant (Lavender Brown).
Since there’s no way of changing those films, the logical step for JKR and the creators would be to diversify the Fantastic Beasts franchise, but while the intention to appease fans is there, the attempts so far have been so horribly misguided it’s a wonder they even bothered at all.
The big reveal of Dumbledore’s sexuality and his relationship with Grindelwald was supposedly one of JKR’s big trump cards that the series really had been diverse all along. It absolutely doesn’t count as representation when there’s no textual evidence and it has to be announced by the author afterwards, but a young Dumbledore (Jude Law) and Grindelwald (domestic abuser Johnny Depp) interacting in Crimes of Grindelwald would have been the perfect opportunity to put her money where her mouth is.
It’s a kids’ film - no one’s asking for graphic gay sex on screen - a brushing of hands, a confession of love would do it. But no, once more this so-called representation will stay invisible. Which defeats the purpose, while hammering home the homophobic notion that gay relationships are somehow inappropriate, while we’ve been promised the romantic backstory between Newt and Leta Lestrange, and the development of his romance with Tina.
On to Nagini, it seems once more that JKR thinks she’s just added an Asian woman to her cast of characters from the original franchise. But clearly Nagini once being a woman had absolutely no bearing on her function in the story, or it would have been elaborated upon in the actual story.
Beyond that, again this grab for representation brownie points actually reinforces harmful stereotypes. Asian women and particularly East Asian women are often fantasised and caricatured as submissive and obedient to white Western men. It’s a whole new level of nasty to make this particular woman a literal pet to wizard Hitler. A voiceless, agency-less pet, with a piece of Voldemort's soul inside her. I mean, I’m happy for the actress, Claudia Kim, who gets to star in a massive blockbuster and whose career will surely benefit, but the ramifications are too gross to ignore.
There were plenty of opportunities to have a far more diverse Fantastic Beasts cast, yet in the first film, the main cast of Newt, Tina, Queenie, Kowalski, Credence, and Graves are all white. The only characters of colour are Serafina Picquery (who fulfils the Obama myth of “there’s a black president, so racism is over.”), Gemma Chan’s character (who has one line and whose name literally means Madame Asia), and a photograph of Zoe Kravitz.
JKR’s issue is that she loves to use metaphors for real life oppression while erasing the oppressed people in question. The whole mudblood/pureblood thing is a metaphor for racism, yet there are absolutely zero people of colour aside from background characters in the whole franchise. Voldemort and Grindelwald’s pureblood supremacy rhetoric is clearly borrowed from Hitler, yet JKR uses highly offensive Jewish stereotypes to characterise her goblins. Even Credence (Ezra Miller)’s whole repression of magic arc in Fantastic Beasts echoes a gay narrative, but neither he nor Dumbledore will get to be gay on screen.
Hermione being black in The Cursed Child was something fans came up with to make JKR’s mudblood/race metaphor less offensive — thought went into it, and it empowers the people whose very struggle JKR co-opted for the character. Her attempts to diversify, on the other hand, do the opposite.
It’s a problem, and JKR needs to learn from her mistakes rather than citing inaccurate Wikipedia mythology to defend her offensive writing. @JKR do the research, talk to an actual person of colour, and maybe read some Barthes while you’re at it.