Oh, My Pop Culture Westboro: Fantastic Beasts and Magic as Metaphor Instead of Genuine Representation… Again

I enjoyed 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie, though like Lady Geek Girl, I felt it had a lot of logical issues and problems with racial representation. The film didn’t have much in the way of religious or LGBTQ+ representation either… but it did have metaphors for them. Which—do we even have to say it anymore?—is not enough.

We’ve called out the Harry Potter series before for using magic and various conditions in the wizarding world as a metaphor for different kinds of oppression in the real world, such as lycanthropy as a metaphor for AIDs and discrimination against non-purebloods as a metaphor for racism. The problem with these metaphors is that readers might not make the connection to the real-world problem, so in order for them to really have impact, there should be examples of the real-world issue too. For instance, the series could have featured more prominent characters of color who experienced racism in the Muggle world in addition to discussions of blood “purity”. Instead we got a cast of all white protagonists, with characters of color getting very little development.

J. K. Rowling makes no secret of her support for social justice causes (just look at her Twitter feed!). In fact, she’s totally fine with headcanoning Hermione as Black and applauded the casting of Noma Dumezweni, a Black woman, as Hermione in the Cursed Child play, and racebending Hermione helps to relieve some issues about her Muggleborn blood status acting as a stand-in for discrimination rather than discussing any real-life discrimination. But real-life discrimination is still not discussed in canon. You would think that maybe Rowling would have listened graciously to some of these criticisms about hiding real-world issues behind metaphors that not everyone is going to get, and would have worked harder to avoid them in her next work. What is that next work? Fantastic Beasts. Did she listen? Nope. Instead the movie gave us a new metaphor to grapple with: obscurials as coded LGBTQ+ children repressed by overzealous religious families, in this case represented by the Second Salemers. And it isn’t pretty.

Spoilers for many aspects of Fantastic Beasts below the jump!

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The Case for a Gay Romance in the Fantastic Beasts Sequels

Despite the Johnny Depp of it all, I’m still excited to see Grindelwald as a character in the Fantastic Beasts sequels and to see if they expand on the relationship between him and a young Dumbledore. Part of Grindelwald’s depth comes from their relationship; the two were extremely close and basically planned to take over the world together until a fight between Grindelwald, Dumbledore, and Dumbledore’s brother ended tragically in Dumbledore’s sister’s death. This caused a rift between the two, and Grindelwald struck out on his own, while Dumbledore attempted to delay his confrontation with Grindelwald after Grindelwald started to seize power in Europe.

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I previously believed that Albus and Gellert were confirmed to have been in a relationship, and so when I heard that Albus’s sexuality would be explored in future Fantastic Beasts films, I assumed that would include their relationship. But while researching this post, I discovered that J.K. Rowling never believed that Grindelwald reciprocated Dumbledore’s feelings, and in my opinion, this really takes away from the complexity of the character. Furthermore, if their relationship became a major focus in the movies, it would be huge. Queer main characters whose relationship is at the forefront of the story and not playing second fiddle to the main straight couple would be major representation.

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Magical Mondays: Food as Comfort and Craft

Pictured: most likely me when someone tries to explain this. via PopKey

Pictured: most likely me when someone tries to explain this. (via PopKey)

One of the biggest mysteries of this season in my eyes is “how in the world have the Harry Potter films become a Christmas/holiday tradition?” Sorcerer’s Stone came out in November back in 2001, but the timeframe doesn’t instantly make a film a Christmas classic. Sure enough, though, every December I can turn the channel to ABC Family (or whatever it’s called now) and find each and every Harry Potter film nestled snugly in between other classics such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Polar Express. While this mystery may never be solved in my eyes, it got me thinking about a certain facet of the Harry Potter series that, in all its exploration of magic, seems to be woefully underutilized—a fellow holiday tradition, food.

Fans of course remember the grand banquets during the sorting ceremonies and have fond memories of the pumpkin pasties and the chocolate frogs available on the Hogwarts Express, but all things considered, wizard food remains strangely mundane compared to Muggle food. Stranger still is how it seems that, in general, the more realistic the story, the more magical its food seems to be. Yet in a way this makes sense; these seemingly at odds representations of the magic of food serve to reinforce what the characters are looking for in their respective stories.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: The Legacy of Christian Paternalism in the Harry Potter Universe

As long as there has been racism, people have been trying to justify it to themselves and others. Unfortunately, all too commonly, religion has been a prime factor in these justifications. While the Atlantic slave trade was just beginning, before slavery was made hereditary, slavery was justified by the simple fact that slaves weren’t Christian. Worse—they didn’t even know about Christianity! It was obviously necessary to capture them all and take them under the loving wing of white overseers in order to educate them about the Lord and Savior, right? Jesus did say to go and make disciples of all men! And otherwise they wouldn’t be able to get into heaven! And Christian salvation was just the first perk in a long line of awesome things slaves got for being slaves!

Yeah, that was my sarcasm voice.

Slavery is rampant in the Bible. The Hebrews were God’s chosen people, and they had slaves. Not only did they have slaves, but God must have approved of them doing it, because He gave them specific rules in Deuteronomy and Leviticus on how to do slavery the Yahweh way. In the New Testament, in St. Paul’s Letter to Philemon, Paul doesn’t so much reject the idea of slavery as he recommends that slaves and their masters maintain an imbalanced system of mutual respect, e.g. slaves should be obedient to their masters, and masters should repay that obedience with compassionate lordship. (Sounds a lot like what he had to say about marriage, so, uh, yikes on that one, dude.)

In the beginning, God created a bunch of stuff, including Adam. In both of the Creation stories included in Genesis, part of the myth involves God granting dominion over the earth and all the creatures He created to Adam, to hold in stewardship. As nonwhite peoples, in particular Black Africans and brown Native Americans, were seen as lesser, subhuman, and savage by white colonialists, it was easy to argue that this sense of God-given stewardship, this paternalism by divine right, should extend to include these other races. (The troubling principles of social Darwinism later lent pseudo-scientific credence to these arguments.) Instances of cultural genocide like the Trail of Tears, the doctrine of manifest destiny, and the Indian Residential School System were all in some way justified by the God-given belief that the white man had authority over how these “lesser races” should be living their lives.

Now, this is all horrifying and unpleasant to say the least, but what does it have to do with geeky stuff? Well, this Christian paternalist mentality is front and center in the Harry Potter universe, with the serial numbers filed off just enough to make it kind of secular.

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House Elves & Racism or Discussing Racism, but Not Really

So I’m not gonna lie, I absolutely loved Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but I was probably more critical of this movie than most other movies I’ve seen recently. I tend to hold the Harry Potter franchise to a higher standard because I love it so much. In essence, the Harry Potter franchise, like many others, has always been incredibly problematic; I was just too young and privileged to notice this when I first started reading the books. I’m now an adult watching Fantastic Beasts, and there are still aspects in the worldbuilding that we at this blog have criticized before and that others have criticized as well, so it’s a wonder that J.K. Rowling—or even Warner Bros—hasn’t attempted to fix some of these issues yet.

There is plenty to discuss about the recent movie, but today I want to focus on the house elves and how they were a stand-in for the period-era racism that Black people faced (but, you know, there weren’t actually any Black people in the movie). Once again, the Harry Potter franchise finds itself discussing racism without actually discussing racism.

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Representation Requires Characterization: Why Your Black Leader Is Not Revolutionary

Sometimes talking about diversity in media seems like a really bad game of “spot the minority.” Countless TV shows and movies have had just one visible person of color in their casts, if at all, and we’ve currently reached the point where a number of movies have one white woman and one Black man and are content to call that “diversity.” Whatever little progress we’ve made, it’s become clear that even if we include people of color in our stories, we’re still not dedicating ourselves to telling their stories.

If there’s a token minority in a story, it used to be that they were the villain or helpful sidekick; nowadays it’s more likely that they are the leaders of the group. At first glance, that sounds like a good thing—showing that people of color can be competent in places of authority can only be good, right? Maybe so, but we inevitably see a large number of Black leaders, not Asian or Middle Eastern or Latinx leaders, and, again inevitably, these Black leaders are often the only Black characters or characters of color in the story at all. This phenomenon ties into a number of tropes and poor writing choices that highlight the insidious problem of having your single solitary Black man or woman be the boss or leader for your ultimately white protagonists.

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Definitely an example here.

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Fanfiction Fridays: Cho Chang and the Jasmine Code by xenokattz

A couple months ago, I recced a fic called Where My Thought’s Escaping which was about Harry Potter‘s Cho Chang. It focused on worldbuilding, the international wizarding community, and Cho’s perspective as someone who was simultaneously part of the war with Voldemort and outside of it; and it was the first time I’d ever seen anyone attempt to engage with Cho’s Chinese heritage, let alone with Cho as a character. It was a pretty well done fic, and if that was the only fic we’d ever get about Cho, I’d be pretty pleased. Fortunately for me, though, some fanficcers are intent on giving Cho more screentime than she got in the books or the movie, and today’s fanfic is another great fic starring Cho Chang.

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