While J.K. Rowling may have done a good job portraying both Muggle and wizarding England, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them does not do such a great job at portraying the American magical and No-Maj world. There are so many inconsistencies with the reality of American history that even though I enjoyed the movie, it made things fall kind of flat and seem very confusing.
Spoilers for the movie below!
The first thing that really did not make sense to me was the attitude of the wizarding community toward the No-Majs. In Fantastic Beasts, nonmagical people and wizarding people are entirely segregated, to the extent that the wizards and No-Majs aren’t allowed to interact or even get married. This comes from a law in the magical community called Rappaport’s Law, which is quoted on Pottermore: “In 1790, the fifteenth President of MACUSA, Emily Rappaport, instituted a law designed to create total segregation of the wizarding and No-Maj communities.” By the time the movie begins the segregation is to the point where Queenie acts as if Jacob is the first No-Maj that she has ever seen or spoken to, yet the only exclusively magical areas we see are the speakeasy and the MACUSA headquarters. If they’re so separated, why don’t they have more exclusively magical places in which to hang out? Where’s their Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade? The American wizards also seem to lack the outright ignorance that the British wizards had in the Harry Potter series. They wear normal Muggle clothing and don’t seem to be confused by specifically Muggle things like the Weasleys often were in the Harry Potter series. For a society that Newt claims is more segregated from the non-magical world than the European one, the American wizards certainly seem to have far more knowledge of the No-Maj community.
My other issue is, how does MACUSA even enforce this segregation, especially considering that the large majority of American society is comprised of immigrants? I have to assume that the wizarding community is that way as well, considering that the majority of the wizards we saw weren’t Native Americans. This means you have wizards entering the United States with totally different attitudes toward nonmagical people—even Newt called America’s beliefs backward. What if wizards from Russia or China immigrated to the United States and were already married to someone who wasn’t magical? Would they be denied entrance into the country because they were already married? It’s hard to shake cultural traditions you have been taught your whole life. If you were an immigrant from a country where marrying nonmagical people was okay, or one where the wizarding community was a little more integrated with Muggles, then you’d probably have a hard time following the rules in America simply because you wouldn’t view it as necessarily a big deal. I also didn’t see any evidence of MACUSA enforcing these rules. The whole movie we see Tina, Queenie, and Newt with Jacob and no one has any idea until Tina basically turns them in. And at the end of the movie Queenie starts engaging with Jacob again. Though it’s implied that she’ll keep her magic a secret, her interaction with Jacob in general is supposedly forbidden, yet we don’t see any Aurors coming out to stop her.
Then there is the issue of Muggleborn children and how they would be approached by the American wizarding community. I’ve already talked about some of the racism and sexism that is inherent in this here. So instead I want to discuss the issue of obscuruses and Squibs. In the movie the characters claim that there weren’t that many obscuruses, but realistically if the No-Maj world and wizarding world were so separated, there would probably be a lot more instances when the No-Maj parents didn’t understand anything, or when hardship affected children’s lives, whether that’s because they were abused or simply had to deal with an extremely racist society all their lives. There seems to be no way to reach out to or help these children. We saw very clearly that England has a way to track Muggleborn children and reach out to them. But American Muggleborn wizards seem to be left to fend for themselves. We see this clearly with Credence, who is an obscurus who looks to be in his late teens: no one even knew that this magical child was ever born. We’re led to think Credence is a Squib at first. In the Harry Potter book series, we see that the magical community may look down on Squibs, but Squibs are still aware of the magical world and even in some cases they are given a space in the community. Credence is thought at first to be a Squib and then, what? He is just left in an abusive environment because he’s not magical, so it’s not the magical community’s problem now? In fact, when Tina tried to reach out to help him out of this unbearable situation, she was the one who was viewed as in the wrong. She lost her job, every No-Maj’s mind was wiped so things went back to how they were before, and Credence was just abandoned. That’s just awful.
Before Fantastic Beasts and Pottermore, I often speculated what other magical communities in other countries were like, and because I am American I specifically thought about what the wizarding world would be like here. I always assumed that America would be very unique given the blending of immigrant wizards with different beliefs and practices, and because of that I always sort of assumed it would be a lot harder in the United States for wizards to be as segregated as they were in England. I imagined that witches and wizards went to public schools with Muggle children, but were taught magic at home, or that churches and community centers were disguised to look like normal Muggle places on the outside but were actually a center for magical communities in their area to gather that was separate from the Muggle world. This would just fit so much better with American culture and would make the feel and setting of the story more unique. Instead, it just feels like the whole of America is the fucked-up discount version of everything in the original Harry Potter series.
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I wonder if the movies will be building up to something in which the community you envisioned will come to pass toward the end of them, to coincide with the more modern period concurrent with the previous books/etc. (or at least the parental generation of them).
On the one hand, I can see why the No-Maj segregation takes place: if women and People of Color are to have any rights and recognition, the society in which they exist has to be quite separate from the mainstream society that does not recognize those rights and has no qualms about enforcing that non-recognition…and thus there would be little to recommend interacting with it, at least for many non-privileged people, and also for those in the wizarding world that would see such ideologies as unjust and lacking in vision.
On the other, though, it really does illustrate rather inconsistent world-building in many ways…
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