Dear J.K Rowling,
Nobody asked for this.
For those of you who missed the new posters for the tepidly anticipated Fantastic Beasts follow up, Nagini is now a woman.
Nagini, Voldemort’s right-hand snake and eventual Horcrux, now has a new backstory, in that she is an Asian woman snake shapeshifter (let’s be honest, all the magic stuff sounds a bit silly when explaining, just go read the official explanation).
This is all clearly a gambit to have more diversity in the Potter universe; in terms of East-Asian representation, the books are pretty slim, featuring one Asian character literally called Cho Chang—it’s the equivalent of a white character being called Johnson Smith or Whitey McWhite. Some have had quibbles with her character eventually being turned into a pathetic sad sack after the death of her boyfriend Cedric Diggory which, you know, fair enough, but her characterisation seemed pathetic rather than sympathetic.
But not to worry Asian people! We’ve seen how much you love portrayals of Asian people as fully fleshed human beings in films like Crazy Rich Asians and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, and JK is at it with the perfect solution.
She’s a snake!
The ethical ramifications of having one of two Asian characters in the entire Harry Potter universe being the literal snake of a literal Nazi is absolutely bonkers. They’ve taken the “Sexy Dragon Lady” trope and stretched it to its limit. This is obvious bullshit, but what’s worse is JK’s insistence that she’s been holding onto this secret for the past 20 years.
If that’s so, why not allude to it earlier in the series? Why give the South Korean woman, who was found in the Albanian forest, an Indian name? Don’t act like this has all been part of the plan, just admit that you’re making shit up as it happens while playing diversity bingo. I shouldn’t have to spell out why making an Asian woman eventually become a subservient slave to a white man is a huge, huge, issue; it further portrays the stereotype that Asian people are submissive to the superior white people; Voldemort is dependent on Nagini for his survival, he literally put a shard of his soul inside of her, and yet throughout the books, there’s no indication that she’s a human who is consenting to any of this.
“But at least it’s more diversity right?”
I mean, sure. Fantastic Beasts was criticised for having a largely white cast despite being set in 1920’s New York, so I *guess* this is an improvement, but it sucks that people of colour have to choose between literally no representation on screen, or racist caricatures and stereotypes. The reason that films like Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther were so popular was because they showed people of colour as people first. No racial stereotypes, no appropriation or exoticism, it just showed Asian people and Black people living their lives as people of colour do.
The Harry Potter universe is rife with racist symbolism and allegories; the Death Eaters are thought to be Nazi’s who are fighting for racial purity. That’s why it’s a shame that JK Rowling is appropriating the PoC struggle without acknowledging us. You don’t get woke points for saying that racism is bad, but only when it’s to magical creatures that don’t exist.
Some people were quick to praise JK when in The Cursed Child, Hermione was portrayed by a black actress. Obviously, this was great; as a woman of colour with frizzy hair and giant teeth, I massively related to Hermione when I was a kid. But even naive 8 year old me knew that she was white. She was obviously a JK self-insert, and whenever there was a person of colour, she went out of her way to signpost this. Yes, we get it, the Patel twins are brown, brown people who wear sari’s to the Yule Ball and that’s all I get. Yes, Cho Chang
is quite clearly East Asian in case her two East Asian surnames weren’t obvious enough. Black Hermione was a fan theory that’s been circling around the fansites for years, and for JK to take credit for this by claiming that she didn’t make Hermione’s race explicit in the books, so sure, she could have been black, is pretty weak. If Hermione were actually black, she’d have a more visceral response to being called a Mudblood.
You could point to Dumbledore being gay as a sign of diversity in the books, and I guess if you read between the lines, there is some queerness there, but they’ve completely wasted an opportunity for diversity by not really using this as a character trait in the movies. Are we not at a point where we can have gay characters actually be gay in movies, instead of LeFou’s “explicit” too hot to handle “gay stare”, or Jude Law subliminally (but not really because #nohomo) being in love with Johnny Depp. (Which, ew, why are we still okay with Johnny Depp being in things, it’s 2018 and he’s a wife beater who looks like someone stepped on him when they were moulding the playdough).
It’s 2018 and people of colour are killing it. We’re superheroes, we’re romantic leads, we’re indie darlings, and we should expect better than being retconned as a snake.
Nobody asked for this.