Fantastic Beasts & Invisible Diversity in the Harry Potter Series

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For a body of media that seems fixated on different avenues of oppression, the Harry Potter series is seriously lacking when it comes to actual diversity and oppression that doesn’t revolve around magical beings. Seriously, just about everything’s a metaphor for some form of oppression or some facet of a marginalized identity.

If you’re looking for allegories about human rights and racism shown through a lens of magical humans and magical species, cool. That’s what you’re getting.

If you’re actually looking for nuanced interpretations of how race, power, and privilege intersect and affect each other in a world of magic, maybe look somewhere else.

J. K. Rowling’s world isn’t going to be it.

When we first heard that they were making the adaptation for Fantastic Beasts back in 2013, I was excited.

For about an hour.

Within that time of thinking about how much I love that period of creativity and Black excellence and how introducing magic to that time period, I realized that we probably weren’t going to get any of that. So I had actually written off JKR’s “Fantastic Beasts” adaptation as potentially un-diverse from then.

I even wrote my own take on magical communities during the Harlem Renaissance because I figured that the canon we’d be getting when the movie came out would be championed by and centered on white actors and characters.

We’re dealing with both the unbroken whiteness of Hollywood and JKR. Let’s face it: JKR’s works lack poignant and notable diversity within the confines of the text and its film adaptations. She’s a writer who shaped much of our childhoods (if you’re in your twenties, at least) but at the same time, she legitimately sucks at including diverse characters in her works.

Out of seven books, eight films, a couple of tie-in books, and Pottermore, can you really say that her creations are diverse? There are only a handful of characters who are described as being characters of color in the book and who get dialogue. That’s it. That’s… bad.

Offhand, I can only think of eight:

Cho Chang.

Padma Patil.

Parvati Patil.

Kingsely Shacklebolt.

Angelina Johnson.

Lee Jordan.

Dean Thomas.

Blaise Zabini.

Seven books. Eight characters of color.

Okay. I mean, that sends a message doesn’t it?

With all of the work that JKR put into the series and how she’s gotten family trees down that go back to the eleven hundreds, the one thing she didn’t really think about is diversity in her books. It’s just not something that seems to be on her radar as a writer which is terrible, but something that people who’ve read her books and tie-ins would know.

So I’m not actually surprised that the Fantastic Beasts adaptation isn’t likely to be diverse. It’s not what JKR’s works are known for and she’s got Hollywood behind her and they’re unlikely to demand diversity either. (Which is so weird because we have proof about how diverse movies and shows make bank!)

What is surprising is this ridiculous comment that Fantastic Beasts Producer David Heyman gave to Entertainment Weekly about diversity in the film:

“Like all of Jo Rowling’s works, [Fantastic Beasts] is populated with a variety of people, and that will be the same in this series over the course of the films. There will be people of various types of ethnicities. In New York in the 1920s, there was a segregation between white and black; the neighborhoods were largely separate, and that is reflected in [the film]. But the wizarding world is a much more open and tolerant society where people of color and different ethnic backgrounds exist harmoniously together. There are people of color filling this world in an organic way.”

Um.

Okay.

I actually don’t even know where to start with this because there’s so much that’s wrong with this comment.

First: the core casts of both the Harry Potter series and this movie are all played by white actors. Characters of color basically don’t get to speak. (Welcome to Night Vale actor Dylan Marron and overall awesome person actually shows us that throughout the entire film series, characters of color get about six minutes of dialogue. That’s for the full eight movies.)

JKR’s worlds may well be populated by characters of color, but they certainly don’t get to even get close to the main characters. And in a world where I would have an easier time of finding a scene where a non-human character has dialogue than a character of color, that’s bad.

What’s also bad is that Heyman is trying to pull the “historical accuracy” card to excuse erasure. We saw this with the Agent Carter fandom & Tamora Pierce wading in to defend the show’s very white 1940s setting. We see it every single time that something is set prior to 1965. Historical accuracy to these people means that regardless of the plot (be it superheroes, aliens, or the supernatural), people of color can’t exist.

And we’ll see it again because these people don’t care that they’re creating worlds where readers and audiences of color can’t see themselves or characters that look like them. They’ve done the basic research and stopped at segregation because it means that they don’t have to do the work or give actors of color strong roles to perform in.

Nathan Stewart-Jarrett

Oh look, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, a Black & British actor that could’ve played Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts.It sure is good to know that historical accuracy experts were there during the casting consideration process to keep him from playing a wizard.

Producers like Heyman are making the very active choice to look at a world where people were separated from one another due to racism and decide that the stories that they were going to tell focus on whiteness as an institution.

Heyman mentions that “there was a segregation between white and black [within the context of the time period]” as if that excuses the fact that so far, none of the cast members we’ve heard of in the main body of the film are actors of color.

Here’s the thing that has everyone so very mad: It’s not historically accurate to show this super white New York at any time after like the early 1800s.

New York was a hub of immigration not just for Europeans, but for a lot of other people. These people came from all parts of the world and they & their descendants deserve to be represented as more than afterthoughts or background characters in these overwhelmingly white stories.

And okay, let’s talk about how whenever Hollywood producers refer to the presence of diverse characters as happening in an “organic way”, it’s code for “it’s more natural for [wizards/vampires/captain America] to be in this universe and time period than characters of color in main roles so don’t expect to see many POC”.

It’s such obvious coded language and lazy thinking on top of that.

Why would you set a movie what was one of the most amazing periods for Black American excellence in history and then not have a single actor of color in the core cast?

Why is that a thing?

Why does JKR never seem to step up and fight for active diversity in her stuff?

She’s not Fleming or Lovecraft. Her time, the time where she’s writing is diverse and she cares about her readers enough to defend and support them. At the same time though, she hasn’t figured out how to turn on diversity into the stories she writes or the movies that Hollywood makes of them (and by now, she has more clout than she had before)?

I’m not going to see Fantastic Beasts for a whole host of reasons (with the diversity issues and its setting at the top) but you know what?

I do want to know how long that movie will be if only actors of color get to speak.

Because I’m betting that it isn’t going to be very long.

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About Zina

Zina writes about comics, nerd history, and ridiculous romance novels when not working frantically on her first collection of short stories and complaining about stuff. One day, she'll settle down and write that novel.
This entry was posted in Book Talk, Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Fantastic Beasts & Invisible Diversity in the Harry Potter Series

  1. lkeke35 says:

    I had absolutely no plans to see it either. I’m heartily sick of Hollywood and its various writers using the “organic” excuse, becasue to me, that s just being lazy. It basically says, “I got mine. Now you wait for what I feel like giving you.”
    There isn’t any diversity in the books. No disabled, LGBTQ, no PoC. Just allegories and frankly I’m getting tired of racism being shown in movies, through allegory. Until they put some PoC in these fantastical films, they’re not getting a penny out of me. (It’s okay. I got the hookup.)

    Like

  2. hollyq says:

    I”ve never been a Harry Potter fan, so I have no interest in this anyway, but I definitely would see it if it explored the Renaissance. It’s such a huge opportunity lost, because the Jazz/Blues subculture was quite “organically” accepting of things like LGBT and people with disabilities, and race mixing was not uncommon (most of what I’ve learned about the HR comes down from family — not sure what textbooks say). Where else would socially unaccepted wizards in the 1920s go?

    Like

  3. I just want to applaud and kiss this post so hard. I wish I had something useful to say, but really just damn. (Mostly because otherwise I’d be ranting so hard about how historically inaccurate it is to say that “everything was so segregated so lol no black ppl” when, like, where do you think white people were getting all their new stuff from? They weren’t creating it!)

    Like

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