The 'Fantastic Beasts 2' Trailer Has Sparked A Huge Controversy & Here's What You Need To Know
The trailer for the upcoming Harry Potter spin-off film, Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crimes of Grindelwald, generated controversy this week with a shocking reveal: Voldemort's pet snake, Nagini, was once a human woman. The decision to cast South Korean actress Claudia Kim in the role of human Nagini has brought allegations of racism to J.K. Rowling's doorstep, and not for the first time. Rowling has responded to the criticism, and the whole controversy can be explained below.
For nearly 20 years, Harry Potter fans have known Nagini as Voldemort's only familiar. She first appeared in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, at the scene of her master's rebirth, and was present at Voldemort's side for the next three books. One of the Dark Lord's horcruxes, Nagini died in the Battle of Hogwarts after Neville Longbottom pulled the Sword of Gryffindor from the Sorting Hat and used it to behead her.
When the Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crimes of Grindelwald trailer showed Nagini living as a human circus attraction in the 1920s, the Harry Potter fandom erupted with questions. Rowling revealed that the infamous serpent is a Maledictus: a person cursed to transform into an animal for increasingly long periods of time, until the transformation eventually becomes permanent. The term had not been present in the Harry Potter source materials prior to a Thursday tweet from Rowling, which shot down a fan's assumption that Nagini was an Animagus.
As I said before, there's a lot of problematic B.S. to unpack with Nagini's new backstory, so buckle up. Here’s everything that’s irked Harry Potter fans about the trailer, that shouldn’t be ignored:
Nagini's Cultural Profile Is All Kinds of Messed Up
In the Harry Potter books, readers learn that Nagini has accompanied Voldemort since his exile in Albania, which led many to believe that she was some kind of eastern European snake. Of course, Nagini's name comes from the Sanskrit word for "serpent," but many fans — myself included — assumed that that was Voldemort's name for his pet, or maybe a common name for snakes — think Nag and Nagaina from "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi."
With actress Claudia Kim portraying Nagini in The Crimes of Grindelwald, however, the waters get a little muddier. Now the character is a Korean witch, and Credence Barebone confirms that she had her Sanskrit name long before she met Voldemort. Leaving the fact that she wound up in Albania aside, can we just address the fact that this feels like the Fantastic Beasts 2 creators tried to make Asian identities interchangeable, without addressing the worlds of cultural differences that exist between the Indian subcontinent and the Korean peninsula?
J.K. Rowling defends Nagini's casting, stating that the Naga come from "Indonesian mythology," and Indonesia is where Chinese people live. Except that the Naga didn't originate in Indonesia, but in stories from Hindu scripture, and Korean people — like Claudia Kim — are not Chinese.
Nagini Has Now Become Just One More Oppressed WOC in a Nerd Fandom
The stereotype of the submissive, oppressed, Asian woman runs rampant throughout nerd fandoms, but Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts had largely managed to avoid all of that. Sure, Cho, Parvati, and Padma weren't strong female role-models, but they had agency and weren't enslaved as pets by and for corrupt men. Turning Nagini into a flesh-and-blood woman of Korean descent completely changes the narrative surrounding her relationship with Voldemort.
Nagini, an actual woman, lived out her life as a sideshow freak before she became a white man's pet. Voldemort used her body to store part of his soul, and had his right-hand man milk her to sustain him as he recovered from his injuries. The worst part? As a Parselmouth, Voldemort could speak to Nagini at all times. He knew she was a sentient being, and probably even knew she was once a human being.
The fact that Voldemort's a bad guy doesn't make this any better. With the release of the Fantastic Beasts 2 trailer, we have learned that the series' most prominent Asian character was the villain's slave, who was beheaded by Neville Longbottom so that the good guys could win. "That shit is racist," tweeted We Need Diverse Books founder and author Ellen Oh.
Nagini Isn't the First Harry Potter Character to Draw Allegations of Racism
This is far from the first time that J.K. Rowling has been accused of racial insensitivity. Aside from a handful of Hogwarts students — and no faculty — the wizarding world is very, very white, straight, and cisgender. So, to make her fans feel more included, Rowling likes to retcon things, or make things canon retroactively.
Like, a lot of things. Dumbledore and Grindelwald were a gay couple, or so she claims, but their relationship is not portrayed as such in the books or on-screen. When actress Noma Dumezweni was cast as Hermione in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child — a great move, by any measure — Rowling said that she "never specified" that Hermione was white, just that she had "brown eyes [and] frizzy hair." Rowling has also said that all of the world's major religions were represented at Hogwarts, but the only holidays the school celebrates are Christian ones. There also aren't any students with disabilities in the books, as Rowling has noted before, because illnesses like mine are for Muggles only.
When Cursed Child included an alternate timeline in which Ron married Padma, Rowling named their daughter Panju — the Indian equivalent of someone from the U.S. naming their child Assateague or Ocracoke. And when Pottermore released its "History of Magic in North America" page as a teaser for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Native American readers brought immediate attention the the fact that the so-called history had completely misrepresented their indigenous cultures.
So yeah, Nagini's new identity as an Asian woman and Maledictus isn't representative, and it could be very problematic. For the Potterheads who have already spoken up about the erasure of Dumbledore's identity, the lack of diversity at Hogwarts, and the poorly thought out "representation" of Native American magic-users, it hardly comes as a surprise.