J.K. Rowling is once again under fire for making a significant change to a pre-existing character in a Hollywood adaptation of her beloved Harry Potter series.
On September 25th 2018, Warner Bros. released a new trailer for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the latest upcoming entry in the Harry Potter extended universe.
While returning characters, such as Newt Scamander (portrayed by Eddie Redmayne in the film), Tina Goldstein (Katherine Watson), and Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) are featured in the trailer, some viewers took issue with the depiction of the character known as Nagini.
In the original Harry Potter series, Nagini is a female circus performer who suffered a family curse which eventually transformed her into a snake, after which she became an ally and tool of the series’ main antagonist, Lord Voldemort. Previously, Nagini had never been depicted as human, but in the upcoming prequel feature film, her human form will be portrayed by South Korean actress Claudia Kim (whose past credits include Dr. Helen Cho in Avengers: Age of Ultron and Khutulun in the Netflix series Marco Polo). However, many fans of the series saw this casting as insulting, misogynistic, and even racist:
I feel like this is the problem when white people want to diversify and don’t actually ask POC how to do so. They don’t make the connection between making Nagini an Asian woman who later on is the pet of a white man. So I’m going to say it right now. That shit is racist.
— Ellen “Call Me General” Oh (@ElloEllenOh) September 25, 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
jkr saying nagini is a woc is making me cry because it sounds exactly like those shitposts like ‘jkr comes forward and says [background character] is [a minority]’ except it’s REAL
— nessie ⚢ (@lgbthors) September 25, 2018
In the wake of this backlash, famed author of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling, addressed the controversy on her Twitter account in a response to another Twitter user:
@jk_rowling listen Joanne, we get it, you didn’t include enough representation when you wrote the books. But suddenly making Nagini into a Korean woman is garbage.
Representation as an afterthought for more woke points is not good representation. https://t.co/UIrR7yiKQD
— Jen Moulton (@J_A_Moulton) September 26, 2018
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
However, this response was not satisfactory for some fans, who saw the response as proof of further ignorance and racism from the author:
JK Rowling: Nagini is drawn from Indonesian mythology…
Asian person: Er it’s Indian actually…
JK Rowling: …and that’s why she will be played by a Korean woman.
Asian person: that’s not in Indonesia. Or India. Where the mythology comes from. Let’s look at the map again JK
— Congolesa Rice (@judeinlondon2) September 27, 2018
Now the fact we got is that Nagini supposed to be a myanmar snake with indian name that found in albania and based on indonesian mythology but played by korean
— de/DWI/cated fanboy (@DedicatedFanboy) September 27, 2018
One of the main arguments being brought up by those against the casting is discrepancy between the origin of the Nagini concept and the race of the actress portraying her. Many argue that since the Nagini have ties with South East Asian religion and mythology (where the Naga are divine or semi-divine entities that can occasionally take on human form), an actress representative of these regions should be cast, rather than a South Korean woman.
However, Nagas are also very prominent in Buddhism, a religion practiced prominently in South Korea (where Buddhism, as of 2015, is practiced by over 7.5 million people). The Buddha himself was protected from a fierce storm by the seven snake heads of Naga Mucalinda, shortly after his enlightenment, in a well-known Buddhist legend. The Naga is not a concept exclusive to a specific region or peoples, but rather appears in the legends of multiple cultures in similar, yet significantly distinct depictions.
In fact, the role of Nagini was originally offered to Indonesian actress Acha Septriasa. Septriasa recently revealed that, though she had received communication from casting director Fiona Weird indicating that she had been offered the role of Nagini, Septriasa voluntarily declined the role due to the fact that she was 7 months pregnant with her daughter, Brie. After this polite decline, Kim was eventually chosen for the role.
View this post on Instagram
Ketika mengandung Brie di usia ke – 2 bulan, di siang hari aku mendapat sebuah email dr Casting agency di London, sebuah kesempatan yg langka email yang masuk itu panggilan casting dari casting director Fiona Weir yang mencari talent untuk film yang di beri judul sementara " voltaire " strictly confidential . script datang dalam sebuah portal yang bisa di download hanya dalam 2 jam saja, dengan menggunakan password yang mereka bisa confirm dari email si penerima saja, tulisan terms and condition nya pun lengkap dengan tanda tangan calon pembaca script, tertulis screenshot is forbidden will automatically logged out. Saat itu peran yang aku baca sebagai Natalie berdialog dengan Charles, berada di rooftop kota paris, sebuah karakter yang rapuh yang bisa menjelma menjadi siluman. Hahahahah agak clueless sbenernya karakter fantasy apa ini? Setelah casting dari bulan Februari sampe April, bulan Juni baru di berikan kepastian apakah role yang selama ini dimainkan itu. Dan ternyata .. *drumRoll* It's a Fantastic Beast : The Crime of Grindelwald. Sebagai maledictus, The snake beast . Dengan kondisi hamil menuju 7 bulan, Kesempatan itu terlewat dengan datang nya Brie ke dalam hidup ku, harapan ku, semoga mimpi itu akan datang kembali suatu saat nanti, datang dari seluk beluk rahasia Nya, yang menyapa lewat keajaiban- keajaiban. #herestotheonesWhodream #foolishhearts Banyak orang yang bilang dalam meniti karir itu, Tidak hanya butuh tampang, bukan hanya bakat, bukan hanya beruntung, tapi harus Tepat, tepat dan spesial , kesempatan itu datang once in a Life time. Or they Gone, just like the wind blows.
In this Instagram post (posted and presented in the original Indonesian) dated April 9, 2018, Acha Septriasa reveals that she was the initial choice to play Nagini, but had to turn down the role due to how far along she was in her pregnancy. She does lament that she had to decline the role, but states that she hopes the opportunity to play the character may come again.
Rowling and Kim are not without their supporters, including women and men of Indian and Indonesian cultures, who have expressed their disappointment at the unnecessary outrage targeting Kim and have defended the casting:
Imagine being Claudia Kim, excited to be playing one of the most iconic, symbolic characters in Potter-dom, and coming online to see… this. She has continuously expressed excitement to be playing this character and to give Nagini depth. Way to completely victimize her. Not cool
— 🏳️🌈 zack is revising (@zackdigi) September 25, 2018
— Serendipiteedee (@serendipiteedee) September 25, 2018
I don’t understand why people are hating on @jk_rowling Nagini could have been of any ethnicity and it wouldn’t have mattered. And I am actually really excited that Nagini is a Maledictus!
— Raam Prasath (@Raamsterr) September 27, 2018
The thing I don’t get with this whole Nagini racism shit is… what woulf you rather they have done? Say “Sorry Claudia, we can’t give you this role, because you’re Asian.”?? Because I’m sure that would have gone down well… 🙄 #ClaudiaKim #Nagini
— A girl has no name. (@Emmatticus) September 27, 2018
Actually, Naga is the sanskrit and Pali word for a deity or class of entity or being that can take the form of a large snake. Nagini is the female counterpart of that. Yes it may take place in Britain but doesnt mean she couldnt have pulled stuff from other cultures. (Cont.)
— Jen (@thesithhippie) September 25, 2018
Basilisk is Greek origin, hippogriff is italian, and many creatures were actually borrowed from other cultures so whose to say she didnt name Nagini for that reason. To say that this takes place in Britain that’s fine but Nagini met Voldemort in Albania so sorry not Britain honey
— Jen (@thesithhippie) September 25, 2018
This is not the first time Rowling or the production of The Crimes of Grindelwald have come under fire for characterization and casting decisions. Rowling has a history of revealing information, after the conclusion of the Harry Potter series, that drastically changes a character’s respective characterization, such as her revelations that Remus Lupin’s lycanthropy was a metaphor for HIV, Ron and Hermoine should never have ended up together, and the controversial declaration that Hermoine was black. The Crimes of Grindelwald and Rowling herself have also received vocal criticism for the casting of Johnny Depp as the titular Grindelwald in the wake of domestic abuse allegations made by Amber Heard and for director David Yate’s comments that Dumbledore will not be ‘explicitly gay’ in the upcoming film (Dumbledore’s sexuality was one of the first post-Harry Potter revelations by Rowling, and more well received by fans than subsequent revelations).
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald will release on November 16th, 2018 with Claudia Kim portraying Nagini.