Harry Potter fans split up to find out that Claudia Kim will play Nagini, Voldemort's snake. Is this yet another racist stereotype about Asians, or are we exaggerating? A study on the topic.
The fandom of Harry Potter has turned into a crawl space.
It's nothing new, especially since the historical saga ended and, after a few years of silence, the infinite fillers began, the shocking revelations on Twitter, the plays so ugly that most of the potterian fanfictions are done better, and finally the films on Fantastic animals. Which are actually a Harry Potter reboot set in the XNUMXs, without a prophecy on the field and with a few more magic beasts.
Now, we know the controversy triggered by the casting of Johnny Depp like Grindelwald (accusations of domestic violence, although then dropped, not liked by many people, myself included) and by the use of important elements of the culture and religion of some populations of Native Americans, without then in Fantastic animals people of the first people were present. We could write essays on how much Rowling has done a lazy and approximate job with the conception of the American Magical World, completely ignoring the potential of the mix of cultures and nations that are the United States. But we are not talking about this.
We are talking about Nagini.
In the latest trailer for The crimes of Grindelwald, released just a few days ago and that you can see here, we discovered the identity of the film's only Asian character, played by Kim Soo-hyun, better known as Claudia Kim. And no, choose a Korean actress to play Nagini, who in almost seventy years will become Lord Voldemort's magical and evil snake, did not like it.
We specify, however, that practically in no version of the Potterian controversy of these hours is Kim's skill being doubted: we have seen her before as the Mongolian princess Khutulun in Marco Polo, then as the geneticist Helen Cho in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Claudia Kim is good and, of course, he will also make his figure as Nagini (who also seems to have some great costumes, in this sense). But this is not the point.
The point is that the idea of giving a Korean woman the role of a character destined to become the helpful snake of a psychopath, an allegory of far-right movements, has pissed off some people, because "Is racist", stages a series of negative stereotypes about Asian women, and other amenities.
On the other side of the fence, however, Rowling's defenders raised their wands against "the flame that always ruins the fun", because "You must always complain" and "you are never happy", stating that "Nagini is Voldemort's most faithful and powerful ally, practically an equal".
Either way, the two sides are still slaughtering themselves on Tumblr and Twitter, if you want to go and enjoy the show. Bring popcorn.
Nagini is a Maledictus
Not an Animagus and not even the python escaped from the reptile house The philosopher's Stone (tell me that no one is yet convinced that the poor bastard has joined Voldemort): nagini, at least in 1927, she was a human witch, unfortunately suffering from a family curse that is transmitted from mother to daughter. And which allows her to become a huge magical snake, of an unknown species, as big as a boa and poisonous as a cobra. For this, Nagini is defined as one maledictus.
Its fate? Apparently that of gradually lose one's humanity, ending up forever stuck in the shape of a reptile. If then, once trapped in the form of a snake, you also completely lose the awareness of being human and become an animal, we still don't know.
Bad story, made even more sad by the fact that Nagini is one of the attractions of the A mysterious circus, transforming itself into a snake for the spectators' joy. It is not yet clear whether the woman travels with the circus by free choice, because it is the only job for which they accept her, or because she is forced in some way.
In reality, we're not even sure if Nagini is a witch: does not have a wand and may not use magic in the same way as the wizards we have seen so far.
An idea with potential?
Now, I admit it: the idea of making Nagini a cursed woman in a perpetual animal form has potential. If Nagini were evil and Voldemort ended up being the only person who can understand her and with whom she can interact, an interesting situation would arise.
It is quite evident from the books, in fact, how the Dark Lord of our day was fond of his snake and therefore it is also relatively plausible that the affection was also due to the fact that Nagini had human intelligence. For sure, it is confirmed that he had one higher than that of the other snakes.
The Maledictus themselves, in and of themselves, are also a nice idea, which could be developed in an interesting way. Of course, it does not shine for originality, given the very large number of humans who have become monsters due to a curse found in world folklore, but still remains an idea with potential to explore.
However, there are a series of issues that do not convince me or that they play botched me.
Nagini: slave, animal or ally?
One of the main arguments in favor of the decision to make Nagini a Maledictus consists in the fact that Voldemort brought his snake on a silver plate, even quite literally, treating him with gloves and talking to him often. So according to some fans, it would make sense for the Dark Lord to behave this way because he was dealing with an intelligent person, and not with a normal snake.
Now, as far as I'm concerned, it is undeniable that Voldemort was very attached to Nagini, for whom he felt an attachment greater than that shown for any other being in the series. This could derive as much from an esteem for the person that Nagini is / was as from the will to protect his last Horcrux.
However, we must remember that we are talking about Voldemort, a sociopathic person who has never shown love or affection for anyone. In this perspective, the fact that he was gentle only with his snake would resume a little the duality of behavior of some of our Dark Lords with the passion for dictatorship: we also kill thousands of "impure" human lives, but woe to those who touch our favorite furry!
Personally, I even believed that the analogy was wanted by Rowling, which makes me quite skeptical about the author's latest statements: according to recent tweets, in fact, the idea that Nagini was once human had been buzzing in her head for at least twenty years. In any case, however, it is difficult to have certainties.
It doesn't matter anyway: Voldemort doesn't really respect anyone
However, that Voldemort spoke to Nagini in the affectionate and condescending tone with which the rest of us approach our pets, is also fairly well established by the books themselves. Maybe he wanted to hide his snake's secret from his followers, or perhaps he had known Nagini when she was now stuck in her reptilian form, perhaps regressing to an almost totally animal intellect.
Maybe Voldemort didn't even know that his snake was a Maledictus: we have no idea when the two met, but nobody talks about Nagini in reference to the first magical war, so probably their meeting will have taken place between the facts of the The philosopher's Stone and those of The Goblet of Fire. It is in fact in the summer between Harry's third and fourth year at Hogwarts, in 1994, that the Dark Lord had killed Bertha Jorkins and used his death to make Nagini a Horcrux, as we read on Pottermore.
Either way, whether Voldemort knew about Nagini's secret or not, it doesn't matter: he used it as a tool and treated it like a pet, making her eat the corpses of her enemies and making her the bearer of a piece of her soul. But he did not treat her as a human being: the little affection that seemed to show her, probably, is due precisely to the fact that Nagini, in Voldemort's eyes, was not a witch, and that therefore it was not required to carry out complex plans.
Nagini did exactly what a big evil snake should do: he crawled into places and ate people, and Voldemort didn't need anything else. And the fact that, hypothetically, he knew his secret of Maledictus, continuing to treat Nagini as an animal, only makes this man more abominable.
The Naga, the Dragon Lady and the submissive Asian women: where is racism?
Now, Nagini seems to be a tragic character, whose story would also have potential, since it would tell the fall of "a wonderful and fragile woman who wants to live [and who] wants to remain human", as Claudia Kim ad Entertainment Weekly. There is all the potential to stage a nice contrast between the Nagini we knew and this new interpretation of the character.
A good story may come out, but there are some objections that deserve to be heard and on which it is worth pondering, without immediately jumping in defense of your favorite author.
First of all, the combination of a Korean woman with Voldemort's faithful companion pet made many people turn up their noses. Not only for the general cringeytudine of this kind of unhealthy relationship, but also for the fact that one of the most recurring stereotypes about Asian women paints the latter as potential "submissive wives".
According to this kind of representations, in fact, Asian women would be attractive because they are ready to submit to the will of their husband, silent shadows that offer support without ever being cumbersome presences in the life of their men. And Nagini, stripped of her humanity and even the opportunity to speak, plays a fairly similar role in Volemort's life: she is his most precious servant, the one who does not speak out of turn, who lets himself be guided by his will and who never disappoints him. Add to this the fact that Nagini was an Asian woman (on a leash, at this point, of a Nazi wannabe of our time), and you will have your walking stereotype ready.
Or, if you feel more adventurous, you can also see Maledictus as the embodiment of another racist trope: that of the Dragon Lady, the dangerous and mysterious Asian woman who will inevitably put the protagonists in difficulty. Although we still don't know what role Nagini will play The crimes of Grindelwald and although it is quite clear that the woman will be linked by a certain affection to Credence Barebone, her curse will inevitably condemn her to become a cannibal monster.
Nor can the criticisms that Maledictus be interpreted by a Korean woman, notwithstanding, be ignored the name Nagini takes up a being of Hindu and Buddhist mythology, the Naga, whose cult / representation is typical of Southeast Asia (and not Korea). This automatically raises some observations on Rowling's habit of being inspired by all cultures for her own magical creatures, but without ever bringing characters from these cultures to the center of history, as had been seen for Native Americans. Indeed, some fans have wondered if the author thought that any Asian actress would have gone well, since, in the eyes of many Westerners, Koreans, Indonesians, Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese are the same.
Now, let's be clear: I highly doubt that Rowling, or whoever, wanted to create a racist stereotype conceiving the story of Nagini and engaging Claudia Kim. Indeed, probably the idea was to make the cast of Fantastic animals a little more variedgiven the criticism of the first film, in which we had to syrup a New York inhabited by almost only white people - although in the XNUMXs the Big Apple was full of black people of all possible ethnicities.
The problem is that, during the casting and the conception of the story, nobody in the production came to mind the potential problems of an Asian woman destined to become the pet of a magical Nazi. Furthermore, we repeat that the representation is not done by token characters.
The protagonists are all white. And the only Asian woman is almost a monster.
And here we come to what, in my opinion, is the real problem of Nagini's casting.
It's okay to engage black actors or actresses in tragic roles, as antagonists or as secondary characters: stories also need these roles and non-white, non-straight and non-male people are made of the material of all the characters in the world. They are people and deserve to be able to occupy any role, including problematic and negative people.
Of course, it is always advisable make sure you're not reinforcing racist stereotypes that harm black people on a daily basis, from violent blacks against the police to submissive Asian women. This because tropes of the genre cement the perception of these minorities in real life: Asian women, for example, and people from Asia and the Pacific islands in general, are the categories most affected by trafficking in human beings in the United States, and Asian women in particular are often victims of the Mail order brides. Yet the stereotype of the submissive Asian woman often places these phenomena in the spotlight.
But in any case, if Nagini's had been just a gaffe and the Harry Potter franchise compensated with many other Asian characters in important roles, we could easily talk about a small slip in a product that, for the rest, gives us little characters stereotyped.
Too bad that in Harry Potter e Fantastic animals the Asian characters (yes, we also count those of the Indian subcontinent, for goodness) can be counted on the fingers of one hand: the only ones to have any relevance in the plot are the Patil twins, Cho chang and now, nagini. In a sea of white people, where environments such as the United Kingdom and New York are anything but predominantly white, having been a destination for massive immigration. The mere presence of Indian and Chinese students in Hogwarts shows that the Magic World is not immune to this kind of migration either, although it is logical to assume that magicians emigrate for reasons other than Muggles.
And despite the addition of Nagini, Fantastic animals continues to be the bleach festival, with Leta lestrange, another dark-colored character, who takes on the role of black share in the story.
And this is, gentlemen, the problem of Rowling and David Yates: they think by odds, by individual colored characters to be included in the work to pat themselves on the shoulder, nodding pleased and saying "even today we have contributed to the cause of representativeness". But a good representation, as we said in these the two articles, not for token characters, for symbol-characters who must take on the weight of representing entire ethnic groups.
And surely such situations should not occur in works set in potentially very multi-ethnic environmentsIncluding Paris, whose XNUMXs were filled with African American jazzmen who emigrated to France to escape racism.
In conclusion: there were all the prerequisites (again) to have a diversified cast and to explore the Magical World in its global variety. But (again) we're reduced to having two relevant black characters, presumably in supporting roles, one destined to become a monster and the other a probable antagonist. It's a sadness, a wasted opportunity and a lazy authorial performance and pantofolaia: we only talk about what we know and we sneak from other cultures only when we need them.
Nagini is the Safe Link ™ to the Harry Potter books
If you thought I was done, I'm sorry to disappoint you, because I still have other things to say.
Although I am still convinced that telling Nagini's story may have potential, despite Rowling's laziness, I realize that, of all the characters in the historical saga of which something new can be told, Nagini is the safest of all.
In fact, unlike Dumbledore or even Nicolas Flamel, Nagini in this film will basically be able to say or do anything, without affecting its future characterization in any way: starting at The Goblet of Firein fact, we will only have to deal with a dangerous snake, almost without jokes and without personality. You don't have to pay attention to anything because it is impossible to spoil anything: the curse will lead Nagini to inevitably become an animal.
And so, Rowling got her Safe Link ™ to the Harry Potter books with which stimulate the curiosity and nostalgia of the old fans, without thereby really risking discontent with anyone, at least in terms of characterization. Again, a lazy choice, which reveals how Fantastic Beasts are the Safe Way ™ to make new money without really inventing anything new (Ilvermorny is the draft of Hogwarts, statece.)
This does not mean that The crimes of Grindelwald may not turn out to be a good movie: certainly from the trailers it seems to be a cut above the first title of the new series, in terms of quality. However, it is sad to see a once phenomenal author like JK Rowling reclining on her laurels, recycling her creations and not daring to take the risk of giving "color" to her world.
I wish I had the urge to go and see Fantastic animals, also because I'm very curious to find out how they will develop the Grindelwald storyline and how Dumbledore will be made. Moreover, I'd like to support Claudia Kim, which I loved very much in Marco Polo and that I think deserves more and more significant roles in Hollywood. I would also like to hope that Nagini's character is well written and handled.
But the long list of wasted potential that Rowling has drawn up is keeping my wallet closed for the time being.
Cover image from Business Insider