What's all the fuss about Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald's take on Nagini?
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald‘s final trailer delivered a reveal that was designed to delight Harry Potter fans – only it didn’t quite work out as planned.
While the reveal that Claudia Kim’s mysterious character was none other than Voldemort’s pet (and Horcrux) Nagini was well received by many fans, the negative response from others overshadowed the twist.
It’s a controversy that’s likely to linger until the movie comes out next month, so we thought we’d delve into it – and the current reactions – to explain just why Kim’s casting as Nagini has caused such a fuss.
To understand the negative reaction, you have to go back to what we know of Nagini from the Harry Potter books.
Nagini was introduced in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire when she ate the body of “old muggle caretaker” Frank Bryce. This was one of several murders that Nagini assisted Lord Voldemort in committing. Sometimes Voldemort wasn’t even directly involved and just let Nagini loose on his unfortunate victims – most notably Severus Snape.
Voldemort and Nagini had a close relationship and as a Parselmouth, Voldemort could talk to her, but don’t let that fool you into thinking they were friends. Nagini was very much his property: he used her to keep his strength up by getting Wormtail to milk her for her venom.
Conveniently, we actually know very little about Nagini before the events of Goblet of Fire and since Voldemort inhabited snakes’ bodies in Albania after failing to kill the infant Harry, we just assumed that Nagini was one of those snakes. However, it’s from this grey area about Nagini’s past that the controversy stems.
JK Rowling insists that the fact that Nagini was actually a Maledictus (according to official site Pottermore, “a carrier of a blood curse which will ultimately destine them to transform permanently into a beast”) in the pre-Harry Potter era is a secret she’s been holding for “around twenty years”.
That hasn’t stopped some fans of accusing the author of retconning Nagini’s origin, and branding the casting of an Asian actress ‘racially insensitive’.
The basis of their complaint is that Nagini is a cursed character who eventually becomes a snake and slave to Voldemort or – as author Ellen Oh put it – becomes a “pet of a white man”. What’s more, that “white man” is a character that was partly inspired by Nazis.
Linguist and author Jen Moulton argued that, “suddenly making Nagini into a Korean woman is garbage”, resulting in Rowling’s sole defence (so far) of the casting of Kim as Nagini.
“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,” she wrote.
Little did Rowling know that this would only open the casting up to even more criticism as author Amish Tripathi – who literally wrote a (fictional) book on the Naga – explained that the Naga mythology “emerged from India”.
“It travelled to Indonesia with the Indic/Hindu empires that emerged there in the early Common Era, with the influence of Indian traders and Rishis/Rishikas who travelled there. Nagin is a Sanskrit language word,” he explained.
So some of the criticism also comes from the fact that even though Rowling (incorrectly) thought the Naga mythology originated from Indonesia, the movie didn’t cast an Indonesian woman as Nagini, but instead cast a South Korean actress. Then again, we imagine that this would have still led to the initial controversy over the whole ‘Nagini becoming Voldemort’s pet’ issue.
It’s worth noting that the controversy has all stemmed from one trailer and for all we know, the movie could justify Kim’s casting as Nagini, as well as provide a fitting backstory to the character even with her dark future.
“I think it would be so interesting to see another side of Nagini,” Kim recently said. “You’ve only seen her as Horcrux. In this, she’s a wonderful and vulnerable woman who wants to live, she wants to stay a human being and I think that’s a wonderful contrast to the character.”
Her co-star Ezra Miller added: “Claudia Kim is a living god. You’re about to get your head blown off. There’s going to be a venom in your veins that you’ll feel just like love. Prepare yourselves for Nagini. This is a tragic and beautiful story that in some ways we already know the end of.”
Eddie Redmayne has been teasing a twist no Harry Potter fan will see coming in the Fantastic Beasts sequel, so who knows, maybe it’s one involving Nagini…
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald will be released on November 16.
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