Note: I absolutely wrote the wrong title down initally because I am a space case. Deal with it.
I went and saw Fantastic Beasts this past week.
Considering that my video review is almost an hour long, obviously it inspired a whole host of grouchy thoughts on my end. Mainly that the film’s beautiful cinematography and the way that the magical creatures first brought to our attention in Rowling’s 2001 magizoological textbook are brought to life on the big screen don’t make up for barely unbroken whiteness, Rowling’s misuse of Native cultures in and out of the film, and what reads to me as a really shitty narrative about abuse survivors.
I fell out of love with the Harry Potter series pretty early on. I liked the idea of the franchise and owned all of the books at one time or another, but with every new tidbit that Rowling revealed about her characters and the world that they lived in, I found myself increasingly disenchanted. This is all thanks to Rowling’s constant need to express regret for everything except how lacking her works were in diversity and her new material which contains things like confirming/canonizing her “lycanthropy as a stand-in for AIDS/HIV” stance or the way she views Native cultures as a monolith while misrepresenting and misusing Native peoples and cultures.
I watched Fantastic Beasts specifically because I wanted to check the film out and provide an honest opinion of it. I did go into it expecting to hate two specific things (the lack of diversity and Johnny Depp) but I was surprised at all the other things that made me annoyed or uncomfortable throughout watching it.
Note: If you’re unfamiliar with the critical slant I tend to take when watching films, understand that this isn’t going to be a review where I say super goopy things about the film. I think I say one and a half nice things about it and they’re not very nice at that. So be prepared for a rather caustic look at the thing you probably love!
Notes, clarification, warnings, and links to thing you might want to read are under the cut!
- SPOILERS. I mean I literally spoil the entire film in this video.
- Mention of transmisogyny as it relates to me mentioning Eddie Redmayne playing a transwoman in The Danish Girl both in the video and in the Notes section below.
- Physical and emotional abuse and manipulation
- Discussions of heterosexism inherent in portraying queer male characters as predators towards younger men
- Child abuse
- Discussion of general racism but also specifically mentions and links to Anti-Black and Anti-Native racism inherent in erasure and appropriation
- I also mention queer subtext and language as it relates to Devin Grayson’s writing in Inheritance that kind of uses the language of romance novels and erotica when fleshing out the relationships Dick Grayson has with older men.
Notes and Clarification
- The creature going around killing people is called an “Obscurial” not whatever the hell I called it.
- Fun fact: The films’ 1926 Manhattan setting means that Rowling was writing a story set during the heart of the Harlem Renaissance and chose to ignore how significant that period was.
- When I reference Zoe Kravitz basically not being used in the film aside from what I fear will be her future role as a “wrong choice love interest” (see the link to my post on women of color as wrong choice love interests below), I call Porpentina a “nice white lady” which is… incorrect as the character is Jewish (“Goldstein” and I’m not sure how I missed them actually saying/showing her name argh) and therefore only has conditional access to Whiteness. So I just wanted to mention that here and apologize for any discomfort my statement may have caused.
- The Eddie Redmayne movie I currently (and will probably always) dislike him for participating in is The Danish Girl where he played Lili Elbe who was a transwoman and should never have been played by a cis actor or actress.
- Technically, the way apparition works isn’t a retcon. It works the way it always has in the films, but that’s not really how it works in the books. And I am bitter.
- At about 30 minutes in there is a loud noise and it will probably make you jump the way I did.
- The thunderbird, used as a sort of deus ex machina in Fantastic Beasts, hails from many different Native American cultures including Algonquian and Ojibwe mythology. The fact that, as far as I can tell, no Native characters appear in this film but a thunderbird does… It’s yet another problem.
- Debbie Reese launched the website “American Indians in Children’ Literature” back in 2006 and has been using her voice to bring awareness to the portrayal of Native American cultures in media. She’s kind of my hero. I link to her specific masterpost of Native readers and writers talking about Rowling’s missteps in “Magic in North America” down in the Required Reading section.
- Dr. Adrienne Keene, another important Native voice and one who hails from the Cherokee Nation, also had a thing or two to say about Native representation in Rowling’s most recent work. I link to two pages on her “Native Appropriations” website down below.
- I don’t remember if I went back and talked more about how Seraphina Picquery was used in the text but I have issues with how Rowling and Yates have positioned a Black woman in power as kind of… useless and angry and unwilling to listen to what the protagonists say. It feels a lot like how fandom portrayed Nick Fury in the MCU only it’s their canon.
- I just want to mention that there’s a Goblin who is coded as Black in this movie. For no reason. Aside from a reminder that Black women exist only for entertainment (a la Agent Carter who had the character go to a Black nightclub where the only Black woman with lines was singing them…)
- I initially simplify what abuse is in Rowling’s canon for the sake of sounding pithy, but I just want to stress that it’s not just that Voldemort’s parents didn’t love him, but that he was mistreated and seen as unloveable by everyone. In the same vein, his mother was too. So was Snape. And Rowling explicitly points out that a lack of love (neglect) is abuse that makes these characters turn into monsters. Harry is the only example because a) his abuse is kind of over-looked by the canon and b) his parents’ love in death is what saved his life so he has essentially the specter of their love hanging over him.
- I poorly quote Mikki Kendall (another one of my heroes) but here’s the shirt/quote I was referencing: “You can believe in DRAGONS, but NOT in DIVERSITY?!“
Scene Numbers (referenced in the review):
- Scene 7: This is where we get the first mention of the Barebone children and confirms that Credence is an adult. (Mary Lou’s three adopted children, adults Credence and Chastity, and Modesty (an eight-year-old girl), hand out leaflets. Credence appears nervous and troubled.)
- Scene 42: Where we first see Credence and Percival Graves interact and we get the first hint that the “relationship” between the two has certain undertones (The Woolworth Building looms ahead. Credence glances toward it with a hint of longing. Graves stands outside, watching Credence intently. Credence spots him, hope flickering across his face. Utterly enthralled, Credence moves across the street toward Graves, barely looking where he’s going—everything else is forgotten.)
- Scene 79: The entire scene shows another set of interactions between Credence and Graves that has really really queer connotations. I mean I talk a lot about queer coding like in my life but I think this wasn’t queer coding or even necessarily subtext. It wasn’t good – or actual – queer representation but it’s interesting to note that the scenes are played out in the text as having this specific air to them where you get scene directions like the following: “Graves slowly backs away, stroking Credence’s neck. Credence keeps his eyes closed, longing for the human contact to continue.” and “Credence is unsure, both nervous of and attracted by Graves’s behavior. Graves rests his hand on Credence’s heart, covering the pendant.“
- Scenes 93-97 shows the reveal of Graves’ ulterior motives, his disdain for Credence once he feels that he no longer needs the young man, and his general dickishness.
The neck touch:
Referenced or Required Reading
Other People’s Writing
Native People Respond to Rowling (link from Debbie Reese’s website)
“Magic in North America”: The Harry Potter franchise veers too close to home (Dr. Adrienne Keene’s site)
“Magic in North America Part 1: Ugh.” (Dr. Adrienne Keene’s site)
DC Universe: Inheritance by Devin Grayson
Fantastic Beasts is Not So Fantastic with Diversity by Clara Mae
Fantastic Beasts And How To Be Ableist When You Find Them by Ada Hoffmann (added 12/3)