The Fantastic Beasts controversy continues

Fans are outraged over the racist casting of Nagini

More stories from Rebecca Mennecke

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Claudia Kim is set to play the human form of Nagini in the next Fantastic Beasts movie.

The controversy continues in the universe of J.K. Rowling’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” with the supposedly racist casting of South Korean actress, Claudia Kim, as Nagini, Voldemort’s heinous pet sidekick.

Many are outraged at the casting in the second film, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.” Fans are calling it yet another one of Rowling’s last-minute diversity additions, not unlike the one she was accused of in the first Fantastic Beasts film — Albus Dumbledore and his identity as a gay man — or from “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” with Rowling’s last-minute admission that Hermione could be black because her race was never specified to be white. Nonetheless, many said they think it’s extremely offensive how Rowling cast a woman of color to the role of a submissive pet.

Rowling fired back to the criticism on Twitter about the issue, saying:

“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.”

Rowling seems to be indicating that it makes sense to have Kim be Nagini, since her culture reflects the snake’s origins. But, because Kim is one of the franchise’s few women of color, it’s significant that she is being portrayed, as Mili Mitra from The Washington Post said, as “a white man’s pet.”

I’ll be truthful here. I have mixed feelings on the issue. (So, sue me.)

On one hand, fans are going a little overboard here. If we cast Nagini as a white woman, fans would be outraged a snake is portrayed by a woman — a man’s pet. If we cast her as a white man, it would be inaccurate because Nagini is a female snake. If we make her any other race, it would be equally as offensive as with Kim’s casting. People writing the script can’t win with making Nagini any race.

I mean, in my opinion, I’m not sure Nagini should even be a Naga creature — or a snakelike fantastic beast that is capable of transforming into a human at will. There is no indication in any of the books that Nagini is remotely anything but a snake, so I think it’s weird to make her something more. So just keep her a snake — problem solved.

But, on the other hand, people are absolutely right to be upset. There are so few people of color in the films that the people who are of color make an impact. And the narrative being told for people of color currently isn’t a good one.

I think Claudia Kim will make a phenomenal Nagini, but it really makes me wonder why there aren’t other people of color in the film. Why are the two leading characters, the sidekick Jacob, feminine heartthrob Queenie and even the villain Grindelwald all white?

I think an easy way to add diversity would be to consider people of color in leading roles. (What a novel concept, right?) Of course, this isn’t something that should just be tossed in as an afterthought. This should be a careful decision where directors choose talented and qualified actors — of which there are many — who fit the role and story well.

It may not solve the Nagini crisis, but it at least solves the main issue at stake: underrepresentation — and poor representation — of different races on the big screen.

Mennecke can be contacted at [email protected]