When you are as obsessed with Harry Potter as I am, you start to notice some of the overarching worldbuilding issues that affect the characters you love so much. One big issue is definitely the Statue of Secrecy, which has been the cause of a lot of conflict in the Harry Potter universe. The Statute of Secrecy makes it so that all wizards have to hide themselves and their magic from Muggles. However, there are a lot of problems with this, and Grindelwald certainly seemed to have a point about the Statue of Secrecy at the end of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. In the video below, Grindelwald (still disguised as Graves) states that the Statute of Secrecy is a law that “has us scuttling like rats in the gutter, a law that demands we conceal our true nature, a law that directs those under its dominion to cower in fear lest we risk discovery. I ask you, Madame President, I ask all of you, who does this law protect, us or them?”
Grindelwald’s words seem to ring with a terrifying truth in that moment after the death of Credence, a charge that none of the other wizards present truly seems to be able to answer. Granted, Grindelwald’s plans to take over the world and enslave Muggles are neither good nor reasonable, but I can certainly see why he seemed to draw a larger following than someone like Voldemort. The Statute of Secrecy makes it so that wizards really can’t do much to help Muggles or even help themselves. It definitely causes issues with the worldbuilding in the series as well, and it would be beneficial to have a character who could better show the complexity of this issue.
Despite how little sense it makes to me, J.K. Rowling has established that wizards are not prejudiced in the same way that Muggles are, meaning that wizards could care less what race, ethnicity, sexuality, or gender you are; rather, wizards discriminate based on things like blood status, magical ability, and species. However, I have discussed before how this causes some issues in the worldbuilding, because if wizards didn’t participate in the same discriminatory policies as Muggles, then they more than likely stood aside and did nothing about some truly awful events in history just because they didn’t want Muggles to know about their existence.
This strict stance on keeping Muggles unaware of the existence of the magical world not only means that pureblood wizards can’t help Muggles escape atrocities, but it also puts Muggleborn or half-blood wizards who personally know, are related to, or live with Muggles being persecuted in the extremely awkward situation of not being able to use their magic to help. And in societies with less secrecy restrictions, this did become an issue. Ignoring for a moment the racism inherent in JKR’s interpretation of Native American wizards, we see that some wizards in Native tribes were open about being wizards and were accepted. While that was clearly not the case with all tribes, it certainly seems like wizards and Muggles were more open and integrated in Native society. However, when the European Muggles and wizards came to America and the Muggles started to attempt to wipe out Native peoples, this soured the relationship between European Wizards and Native Wizards. On Pottermore it says:
Not only had conflict developed between the immigrants and the Native American population, which struck a blow at the unity of the magical community, their religious beliefs made them deeply intolerant of any trace of magic.
This is all that is said about the conflict between Native Americans and European colonists, and I have to wonder if the debate was over how the European wizards stood aside and let Native wizards and Muggles alike be killed, or even if European wizards actively tried to stop the Native wizards from using magic to protect themselves and others.
According to the Harry Potter wikia, the International Statute of Secrecy wasn’t signed until 1689 and wasn’t official until 1692. That’s a lot of time before and after Native peoples were being persecuted. However, since most of the wikia page focuses on Europe, we don’t know how other nations reacted to this. Maybe it wasn’t made official immediately, because wizards from certain ethnic groups were arguing that it would do them more harm than good, as would certainly seem to be the case with Native American wizards who were actively fighting the genocide of their people. If this is the case, then Grindelwald’s point that the International Statute of Secrecy helps the Muggles more than it does the wizards certainly seems valid.
Furthermore, after the International Statute of Secrecy takes effect, it seems to be to the detriment of wizards more than Muggles. Think about it: if a wizard harms a Muggle, they are arrested and jailed by wizards. Whether the Muggle realizes it or not, as long as the wizard is caught, that Muggle will receive justice. But nothing happens when it’s the other way around, and we see that through a variety of characters. Ariana Dumbledore is tortured by Muggles, driving her insane, but nothing can ever be done about those Muggles due to the International Statute of Secrecy—it’s not like the Dumbledore family can ask for them to be arrested. So Dumbledore’s father hunts down those Muggles and kills them, but then he is arrested by the wizards and sent to Azkaban for it. While I don’t condone murder as a form of justice, you can certainly see why Dumbledore’s father viewed it as the only way. Ariana never gets justice; she is irrevocably harmed and loses her father as well.
A similar situation occurs with Credence, who was abused by his adopted mother and taught that magic and wizards were evil, causing him to become an obscurial. Unable to control his immense powers, he lashes out at people and exposes the Wizarding world, even killing several Muggles. Despite the fact that Credence was an abused wizard who was somehow never discovered by other wizards and is unable to control his magic, the government orders that Credence be killed for killing Muggles and breaking the Statute of Secrecy. While Credence did kill people and break the law, there is no attempt to take into consideration Credence’s circumstances or his inability to control himself. So the Muggles who were killed by Credence receive justice, but Credence doesn’t receive any. When Tina notices earlier in the movie that Credence is being abused and uses magic to help him, she is punished for exposing magic to Muggles, but Credence’s abuse is allowed to continue. The wizards don’t care about what happens to him because they assume he is a Muggle, and Tina is punished for helping an abuse victim.
I certainly can understand why the wizards decided to create the Statute of Secrecy. The series would probably be a lot more like X-Men without it, with Muggles fearing the power wizards have. But at the same time, the Statute of Secrecy prevents wizards from helping Muggles who are in need, whether from global genocide or domestic abuse. It also allows Muggles to get away with harming wizards without much consequence unless wizards want to go to Muggle authorities. As these wizards barely know how anything Muggle works, it seems unlikely that these attempts would be successful. The contrast is stark enough that there is even a popular fan theory speculating that there was a Muggle versus wizard war, which the wizards actually lost, so they were forced into seclusion and secretly lived under the thumb of the Muggles. I doubt that is the case, but the fact that it exists shows the issues with how the Wizarding world operates, especially in regards to the Statute of Secrecy.
While Grindelwald’s beliefs about taking over and making Muggles slaves is evil and awful, I can certainly see why some wizards would be drawn to his worldview. It would be interesting if the Fantastic Beasts movies would show us a character who is more middle-of-the-road; someone who doesn’t care for how the Statute of Secrecy works, but also doesn’t like Grindelwald. Personally, I think Newt would fill that role really well, as he seems to care only a little about hiding from Muggles and definitely seemed to dislike the idea of obliviating Jacob, in addition to being very critical about America’s stricter laws regarding interaction with Muggles. A lot of fantasy stories deal with issues in terms of black and white, so it would help the problems with this worldbuilding for Newt to view the issues with the Statute of Secrecy as more of a gray area. Hopefully that is something we will get to see in future movies.