Is casting a Korean woman as a magical snake lady racist? That’s the important question that’s been sizzling up social media over the last day or so.
The controversy stems from Wednesday’s final trailer for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, which confirmed a long-held fan theory that Claudia Kim’s serpentine character glimpsed in the original cast photo was the human form of Voldemort’s pet snake Nagini. That’s proven to be the case, and the revelation has kicked up one hell of a stink.
J.K. Rowling explained that Nagini is a ‘Maledictus,’ a woman whose family has been cursed with the affliction of the female members eventually being permanently stuck as an animal. But fans quickly criticized the author for making one of the few non-white characters in the franchise evil, part animal and destined to end up as someone’s pet (and, uh, milked).
Here’s a sample of the arguments, together with Rowling’s defense that she’s simply drawing on ‘Naga’ mythology:
So Nagini the snake…is a Korean witch…that lived in Albania with a Sanskrit name…that’s an animagus??
This ain’t it
— virghoe (@serpentbrownie) September 26, 2018
"Nagini is an Albanian snake"
"Nagini is actually a cursed human"
"A cursed WOC, in fact!"
"Played by a Korean!"
"Was in a circus! Voldemort's pet snake!"
–So Evil White Guy's pet is a WOC?
"I kept this secret for 20 years!"
–… *opens book* pic.twitter.com/mu8L5ZZAol
— S♠️☂️ (@blackcatblue9) September 26, 2018
I have no words for how disgusted I am by the whole Nagini thing. To have a creature depicted as no more than a beast revealed to be a PERSON, a WOMAN, is bad enough, but for her to specifically be an East Asian woman?
Bad look. Bad fucking look.
— JY Yang ✍? (they/them) (@halleluyang) 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
While I don’t think Rowling’s being intentionally racist, she’s often on some pretty thin ground when it comes to this sort of thing. Lately, she’s been campaigning against perceived antisemitism in the British Labour Party, which is a bit rich from someone who created a race of greedy, hook-nosed goblin bankers.
Then there’s the weird ‘we love being slaves’ thing going on with the House Elves, with Hermione’s efforts to liberate them through SPEW a constant source of amusement for the other characters. Rowling’s also facing a barrage of criticism for casting wife-beater Johnny Depp as Grindelwald in the upcoming movie, so this furore is probably the last thing she needs right now.
Is casting a Korean woman as a snake lady racist, though? Honestly, I’m not sure (if you are, please let us know in the comments section). Whatever the case, I doubt this tiff will affect Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald‘s box office prospects, as it’s the most anticipated release of the Fall and is all but guaranteed to clean up. I’ll certainly be there, regardless of the (potentially) racist snake lady.