The final Crimes of Grindelwald trailer was released this week and the latest buzzword around the internet is Nagini.
Potter fans all remember the infamous snake sidekick to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. She was also Lord Voldemort’s last and closely protected Horcrux. So, when the whispered name accompanied a beautiful woman transforming into a snake during what appears to be a circus act, it should have been a moment of excitement for fans. Unfortunately, not all were as excited about the reveal as might have been expected.
According to the latest trailer, and confirmed by J.K. Rowling herself, Nagini is a Maledictus: a human woman carrying a blood curse that can transform into an animal (snake in this case) and will ultimately make that transformation permanent when the curse matures.
They’re different conditions. Maledictuses are always women, whereas werewolves can be either sex. The Maledictus carries a blood curse from birth, which is passed down from mother to daughter. https://t.co/wYfvPeQFRW
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) September 25, 2018
Author and screenwriter J.K. Rowling tweeted that she’d been sitting on this secret “for around 20 years.”
Only for around twenty years. https://t.co/gZadgWVREN
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) September 25, 2018
I don’t know about you, but I can’t keep a secret that long. Kudos J.K. you are a true master!
In the trailer, we witness Nagini as a shape-shifting circus performer in the 1920s, played by South Korean actress Claudia Kim.
Ms. Kim, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, said:
“You’ve only seen her as a 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… She does feel sometimes it’s not controllable … She is bound to [permanently] transform at some point to a beast so she feels this pressure that the clock is ticking.”
As a fan of the series myself, both books and film, I enjoy the connective tissue that J.K. Rowling is employing, making sure we see plenty of familiar characters and their backstories. Given that Witches and Wizards in this world live longer than their Muggle counterparts, it is believable that Nagini could be around for all the events of Grindelwald, and exciting to see how she plays into it all.
In the interview Claudia Kim gave to Entertainment Weekly, she reveals a few tantalizing details.
“Expect Nagini to befriend fellow a fellow outcast who has transformation issues of his own — the fugitive Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), who has run off and joined the circus after wrecking havoc in Manhattan in the first film … these two broken souls are able to form some kind of friendship within the circus. Credence is special to her because he encourages her to use her power.”
Learning that Nagini had a troubled past (as actress Claudia Kim revealed in her interview) one can easily accept her character being sympathetic toward those who help and encourage her during these dark times. Even if those people might serve the dark side. So, when I saw the trailer I responded with appropriate enthusiasm.
The response via social media, however, has been quite polarizing. Rather than focusing on learning Nagini’s origin story, fans took to the internet focusing on their shock of potential racist implications relating to the choice of actress ethnicity.
“Let’s retroactively turn a woman of color into a literal object owned by a white man inspired by nazis.” https://t.co/JYTQK6YFss
— Bad Janet™️ (@CharlesPulliam) September 25, 2018
“nagini is actually an asian woman who is repeatedly milked by the dark lord and then killed” sounds like the sort of thing you’d see while testing a rowling retcon bot before deleting the entire thing in horror
— shameboy advance (@failnaut) September 26, 2018
Nagini was a human-eating snake that Voldemort kept around but come Fantastic Beasts it’s all “forget everything from harry potter, because well actually Nagini is an Asian woman”
— skim????casual (@skimcasual) September 26, 2018
The root argument seems to be that a woman of color is being used in such a subservient role. I can understand that to a point. We live in an age where women are trying to level the playing field and feel that showing negative stereotypes resets the board. But, not everything has to be a social or political statement.
I’m quite sure that when author and screenwriter, J.K. Rowling chose to write Nagini this way, she was doing it with the hope of giving her Wizarding World fans what they want, backstory, history, the key elements to making a character feel more real to the readers/viewers.
As an author myself, I do the same, focusing on interesting bits of the character and how they fit into a world. It is never done with the intention of polarizing the fan base. I’m reminded of the English teacher analyzing a story meme. The curtains were blue. Nothing more.
I truly believe the same applies to Nagini. She is not meant to be a racist stereotype. She’s just a character with a troubled past, living with a curse, hoping to find her place. And unfortunately, we know where that place ends up being. Not all characters get a happy ending.