Originally published September 26, 2018
With yesterday’s release of the final trailer of the upcoming FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDLEWALD, it was revealed that Claudia Kim – whose role has been previously known only as “The Maledictus” – is playing Nagini; the snake that eventually would go on to become the pet and one of seven Horcruxes of Lord Voldemort in the HARRY POTTER series. In FANTASTIC BEASTS, we see Nagini as part of a traveling circus act, where her blood curse is on full display as she transforms back and forth between being a human and a snake.
Since then, there’s been a mixed reaction to the reveal. While some love the fact that Nagini has been given a past, others are angered by the fact that the one Asian woman in the entire cast is playing a character that turns into a snake, and who, down the line, become a pet to the Dark Lord, with no good outcome whatsoever.
For those who aren’t familiar with the HARRY POTTER universe, as far as the characters go, it’s similar to that of the characters found in the STAR WARS universe. You can look up any character – whether it be a major character or a minor one – and there’s a good chance that you’ll find a 1,000-word Wikipedia article about them. HARRY POTTER author and FANTASTIC BEASTS screenwriter, J.K. Rowling, creates backstories for practically every character you meet, and so the fact that Nagini now has one is not too surprising.
Now for those who have a vague familiarity for the HARRY POTTER universe, there’s a chance that you might be wondering, Well, what is all the fuss about? Weren’t there white characters in the original series that could turn into animals? Technically yes, but the circumstances between those characters and Nagini differentiate greatly. How? Strap in now for a crash course:
An Animagus is a witch or wizard who can turn back and forth between a human and an animal by choice. Examples of characters who can perform Animagi (which is the name of this power) include Sirius Black, Professor Minerva McGonagall, and Peter Pettigrew.
Nagini is not an Animagus, but rather a Maledictus. Malediction is a blood curse that is genetically passed from mother to daughter. Their ability to turn into animals is not something by choice, and eventually, they become said animal permanently.
Got it? Good.
So maybe it makes sense now how problematic the writing is for this character. It changes everything we previously knew about Nagini, and not for the better. With Kim in the role, as the only Asian character in the entire film, audiences will see an Asian woman exploited for a blood curse she as no control over, who will eventually go on to be the pet snake for an evil white man, who will objectify her further by making her a Horcrux (please read here if you don’t know what that is), and eventually gets beheaded by another white guy – Neville Longbottom – for the greater good. Oh, did I mention that Nagini is also fed the bodies of Voldemort’s victims? So there’s cannibalism to toss in as well.
This decision to make Nagini originally a human ironically only dehumanizes her to no end, and this isn’t even Rowling’s first time with improperly writing a non-white character. From Harry Potter’s first crush Cho Chang, to her equating Native American folktales and legends with the lore of her world, diversity and proper representation has never been the strongest element when it comes to her writing, and this is becoming something that is not going to be acceptable any longer; especially with more FANTASTIC BEASTS films in the works.
If Rowling wants this world of hers to stay relevant as it continues to expand, she needs to make wiser decisions about the characters she writes. As much as she wanted to give Nagini a history, she’s instead given us an Asian character whose humanity is destroyed over a long period of time.