The final trailer for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald contained a jaw-dropping character reveal that has some Harry Potter fans fuming. As it turns out, one of the prequel franchise’s “new” characters, played by Claudia Kim, is actually a familiar villain from the original series: Voldemort’s evil snake companion Nagini. Author and screenwriter J.K. Rowling tweeted that she’d been sitting on this secret “for around 20 years.” But social media skeptics say that Nagini’s shocking past as a Korean woman seems highly implausible and possibly racist.
Jkr: I’ve known Nagini is a woman for 20 years
Literally everyone: pic.twitter.com/cdd206PUTO
— andie ☆ (@ahstanoka) September 26, 2018
JK Rowling saying she keps the nagini thing a secret for 20 years is just like when you have an argument and think of a comeback an hour later
— jocelyn (@jocelynseip) September 26, 2018
A brief primer for Muggles with fuzzy memories: Nagini first appeared in the film Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as Voldemort’s giant pet snake and de facto attack dog. In later films, we saw the snake attack Harry and kill Severus Snape; we also learned that she was a Horcrux, meaning a hiding place that contained a piece of Voldemort’s soul. Nagini was ultimately beheaded by underdog wizard Neville Longbottom.
Now, in the Fantastic Beasts revisionist version of the Potterverse, Nagini is a Maledictus: a human woman carrying a blood curse that transforms her into an animal. We see her in the trailer as a shape-shifting circus performer in the 1920s, played by South Korean actress Kim.
so nagini is an asian woman trapped in a snake body, enslaved by an evil wizard who embeds his soul into her body, and is eventually murdered by a white boy?
you know what, that tracks with post-published HP jo rowling.
— lindsey romain (@lindseyromain) September 26, 2018
Fans are picking up on a few problems with this change. First, there’s the issue of representation: Nagini is only the second significant Asian character introduced in the Potterverse, and we know that her fate involves being the murdering pet reptile of a wizard who believes those without “pure blood” should not live. This plays into a couple of nasty stereotypes about Asian women often scene in Hollywood films: the sinister, exotic “dragon lady” and the submissive, voiceless sex object.
“Let’s retroactively turn a woman of color into a literal object owned by a white man inspired by nazis.” https://t.co/JYTQK6YFss
— Bad Janet™️ (@CharlesPulliam) September 25, 2018
apparently Nagini is a Cursed Asian (idk; a Sanskrit name for a Korean character??) Female Animagus enslaved (dehumanized) by Voldemort (White Supremacist), written just to be killed by at the end of the story. pic.twitter.com/hm4HQG3lg1
— Jiel (@jazLei_pchan) September 26, 2018
J.K Rowling is trash and I’m sick of it. Nagini is apparently an East Asian woman.
If you don’t see anything racist about an asian woman being the pet of a white man—who is basically magic hitler, I don’t know what to say. pic.twitter.com/QeJxZCWeym
— (@kruxila) September 25, 2018
The fact that the novel portrayed Voldemort milking Nagini for her poison only makes it ickier.
“Nagini is an Albanian snake”
“Nagini is actually a cursed human”
“A cursed WOC, in fact!”
“Played by a Korean!”
“Was in a circus! Voldemort’s pet snake!”
–So Evil White Guy’s pet is a WOC?
“I kept this secret for 20 years!”
–… *opens book* pic.twitter.com/mu8L5ZZAol
— Sky♠ (@blackcatblue9) September 26, 2018
“nagini is actually an asian woman who is repeatedly milked by the dark lord and then killed” sounds like the sort of thing you’d see while testing a rowling retcon bot before deleting the entire thing in horror
— shameboy advance (@failnaut) September 26, 2018
Others are questioning the cultural and historical context of Nagini’s being Korean — in light of both prejudice against Asian-Americans in the ’20s and the fact that Nagini is a Sanskrit (read: Indian, not Korean) name.
Fantastic Beasts is happening in 1926, which is when we lost our country to Imperial Japan. It’s hard to believe she did her homework to represent Koreans of that time. It’s the same insensitive author who, in Harry Potter, named the only East Asian in the whole series “Cho Chang pic.twitter.com/jhTJw0kOfZ
— skimcasual (@skimcasual) September 26, 2018
So Nagini the snake…is a Korean witch…that lived in Albania with a Sanskrit name…that’s an animagus??
This ain’t it
— virghoe (@serpentbrownie) September 26, 2018
Someone tell me why Nagini was chosen to be a cursed Korean woman when Nagini sounds like Naagin, the snake people from Indian mythology, and why nobody thought to consider the Indian War for Independence taking place at that time, where I can see curses flying and going wrong.
— Priyanka Bose (@mspriyankabose) September 26, 2018
JKR writing UK worldbuilding: expert instinct for subtle class divides.
JKR writing US worldbuilding: wizards don’t have muggle racism. it’s just coincidence that the heroes are white & all the black people evaporated. no i don’t know what they did about slavery. next question.
— Gavia Baker-Whitelaw (@Hello_Tailor) September 26, 2018
Rowling did have a response to name-based critiques of the character’s ethnicity. (For another take, here’s a thread looking at the character from a Korean perspective.)
The Naga are snake-like mythical creatures of Indonesian mythology, hence the name ‘Nagini.’ They are sometimes depicted as winged, sometimes as half-human, half-snake. Indonesia comprises a few hundred ethnic groups, including Javanese, Chinese and Betawi. Have a lovely day
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) September 26, 2018
Others have defended the relationship of Voldemort and his snake as one of equals, not a master and pet (which — we never saw the snake ordering him around, but OK).
Hmmm, not sure I agree with this argument. Nagini was no more a servant than his Death Eaters and got treated far better and tbf if Voldy was ever to have a best pal it would have absolutely been her. https://t.co/p7NiOsnNYM
— Hanna Flint (@HannaFlint) September 26, 2018
But then there’s the question of poor Neville Longbottom. Does this reveal ruin his snake-killing moment of triumph?
— An (@FarhanCAe) September 26, 2018
— nimerouno ennis (@corevanadium) September 26, 2018
Then there are the fans who are just growing weary of big prequel reveals with zero foreshadowing.
“The millenium falcon is powered by the consciousness of an android woman that had her own personality!” – said solo
J.k rowling shakes.
She opens her mouth.
“Nagini has been an enslaved asian woman being milked by voldemort and eating the bodies of his victims for 10 years!”
— hulk bot @ Champions (2016) (@hulknaps) September 26, 2018
Still others are simply trying to get over the shock of learning that Nagini is a person.
The moment I heard ‘Nagini’ in the trailer…….. pic.twitter.com/6g08zCImL3
— ss (@suhailahdeqla_) September 26, 2018
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald opens in theaters on Nov. 16.
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