Famed author J.K. Rowling is the creator of the series that I personally grew up and fell in love with; as an aspiring writer, I was amazed by the world of Harry Potter, from its vivid description of Hogwarts to Rowling’s creation of a completely new sport. Yet, detail is a tricky feat, especially regarding representation, and it is imperative for authors to include details of diversity within their texts in order to reflect the true face of society without trying to fulfil a quota.
However, representation is not something to celebrate if it is detrimental to the groups that it should be aiding. The quote, “any representation is good representation” fails to address the constant stereotyping and exoticizing of minorities seen in Hollywood. On November 15th, the latest Harry Potter film, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindewald, will be released, in which JK Rowling and the Harry Potter franchise make yet another mistake by casting Claudia Kim, a Korean actress, as Nagini—otherwise known as Voldemort’s snake. This raises important questions of representation, diversity, hypersexualization. The root of the problem is centered in the Eurocentric World of Harry Potter, illustrating a larger, international problem in a book that is supposed to be “diverse” and “inclusive”.
Here’s some context for those who aren’t “Potterheads:” Nagini is Voldemort’s snake who commits various atrocities in her master’s name, as she is tied to him (not necessarily by choice). Casting an Asian woman in this role poses many questions regarding casting people of color, using the excuse of “representation” to fill a quota usually accompanied with stereotypes and fetishes. Neither J.K. Rowling nor the casting directors fully considered the history of fetishizing women of color, especially Asians, when casting the role for Nagini. Despite this lack of thought for Nagini’s role in the historical context, J.K Rowling defense of Nagini’s character by claiming that she was based off an Indonesian Myth further highlights her insensitivity to Asian cultures.
Throughout time, Asian women have been perceived as “exotic”, “docile”, and “submissive,” especially in white media. Asian actresses are usually assigned to fulfill a stereotypical role where they submit to a man sexually or domestically. This phenomenon has even infiltrated our society through the creation of dating sites geared for fetishizing and dating specifically Asian women. As a result, Asian women are rarely seen in any roles where they have some position of power or multidimensional character script, further emphasizing the problem of casting a South Korean woman for the role of an Indonesian Folklore. As said by Wear Your Voice, an intersectional feminist publication, “She’s literally objectified by being turned into a man’s physical possession.”
Objectification isn’t the only problem in this messy situation. Asian women are more likely to face sexual violence, harassment, and domestic violence from their intimate partners. If major blockbuster movies like “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” pushes characters that further perpetuate stereotypes dangerous to Asian women, they normalize the idea of Asian females in submissive roles. To say that Nagini is an Asian woman, is to be oppressive towards a whole culture, which further stimulates racism in which white people hold the power (in this case, implicit-racial and gender superiority).
Despite this, the “Harry Potter” and “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” series have been classified as “diverse” and “inclusive” since the launch of the first Harry Potter book almost twenty years ago. Dumbledore was later characterized as gay while the actress portraying Hermione in “The Cursed Child” was black.
Conversely, her books never include any explicit details of diversity. She never depicts Dumbledore as gay in any of her works; rather she did so much later in an interview. Even when she has the chance to include positive representation, Rowling falters, as she has stated that Dumbledore’s sexually will not be included in the upcoming movie. Moreover, J.K Rowling has never described Hermione as black until criticism arose about her being cast as black in “The Cursed Child”. J.K. Rowling’s inability to include any representation until the last minute as well as her consequent lack of transparency causes us to question her true intentions and whether she actually supports true diversity.
Nothing will ever take away my admiration for the world of Harry Potter when I was young, but when there is a stereotype pervading a widely acclaimed series, it is time for us to stand up. The power of the pen should provide a voice for the underrepresented, not detract from them.