Nagini and Asian actors in Hollywood

Elisabetta Pulcini discusses the latest Fantastic Beasts controversy and argues that fans deserve more

Elisabetta Pulcini
31st January 2019
Image: YouTube

All too familiar controversy has met the release of the final trailer for ‘Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald’. An important revelation sparked fan’s outrage: Korean actress Claudia Kim will be playing a Maledictus, a cursed wizard that unwillingly transforms into Nagini, Voldemort’s snake from the Harry Potter movies.

Relegating this character to being the tragic backstory of an evil snake would not necessarily be a problem, if Kim wasn’t one of only two BAME actors in the whole movie. This casting choice hits a sore spot in Hollywood’s lack of inclusiveness, and once again showcases the lack of sensibility in this production: the movie fails to make up for the lack of diversity, by being completely devoid of inclusiveness.

This is not the first time this production has encountered a controversy like this

The symbolism of the snake has also drawn criticism, as some connect it back to the ‘dragon lady’ stereotype. Although Rowling has tried to justify this by pointing to the East Asian origins of the mythological creature which inspired her, the demands of the audience are changing from mere diversity to meaningful inclusion. Two 2018 movies in particular are at the forefront of the inclusion of Asian actors, ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’. While both these movies are diverse in the wider context of Hollywood, their importance stems from their inclusion, which is presented in different ways: in the first one, race is at the forefront of the characters identity, but it is explored in an interesting and sensible way, due to the movie’s meaningful message about race and cultural identity; in the second movie, the protagonist is a normal girl with a flashed out personality, and her race is never does not drive her actions. In comparison to these two movies, Rowling’s clumsy attempts to diversity simply appear tone-deaf and outdated.

The nature of the character itself, who has been under heavy scrutiny by fans, raises issues when taking in consideration the history of representation of Asians in Hollywood. The stereotypes that come to mind vary from the overtly racist and offensive Mr. Yunioshi in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, to the more common archetypes used to portray Asian women: either that of the whiz tech rebel; or the much more common exotic and submissive object of desire. Claudia Kim’s character fits the second stereotype with alarming accuracy: she is silenced every time she transforms into a snake. She is victimized by her illness. But worst of all, she is almost not completely human, as her identity and her conscience disappear when turning into a snake.

This is not the first time this production has encountered a controversy like this. Both the casting of Johnny Depp and the decision to not make Dumbledore openly gay have drawn harsh criticism by fans, who accused Rowling of wanting to appear progressive without actually having to take any of the risks. In fact, while the casting of a BAME actor might have been enough years ago, today audiences demand and deserve more. After getting a glimpse of what true inclusion of Asians can be like, fans are not willing to accept the only Asian woman in the movie being dehumanized and made into the pet of a Nazi.

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AUTHOR: Elisabetta Pulcini
Film Editor 19/20 and Law (LLB) graduate. An Italian passionate about journalism and the law: always up for a debate. @ElisabettaPul

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