"FANTASTIC BEASTS" And My Thoughts Over The Controversy Around CLAUDIA KIM'S Character "NAGINI"
A few days ago, I had the opportunity to check out an advanced screening of the next installment of “FANTASTIC BEASTS” : “CRIMES OF GRINDEWALD”. Set in the Harry Potter universe of magic, it focused on the Ministry of Magic’s bid to prevent the plans of Grindewald as he plans to mobilize pure- blood wizards to take over and rule all non-magic beings. As a film itself, I thought it was an enjoyable film, filled with everything you would expect coming out of the HARRY POTTER franchise.
However, I did feel there were gaps in terms of explaining some of the origins of the new characters and it failed to give backstories to many of the characters. It almost felt a little rushed to get to the “action” scenes of the film, rather than provide context and depth. It definitely wasn’t a shining light compared to all the other films under the HARRY POTTER franchise. So I will leave my review here and just state that it was enjoyable and entertaining, but definitely not as thought provoking and as contextual as the first film of this trilogy: FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM.
Now, there has been so much talk and discussions in the media and over social media about this film, and how it doesn’t compare to the rest of the franchise. There is also lots of controversy over the character of “NAGINI”, who was played by Korean actress CLAUDIA KIM. First of all, fans are riling over her origins, and how she came to be in this world, where she came from and how is she cursed to eventually some day becoming a pet snake permanently. It was as though she kind of just randomly appeared in the circus ( which is how she formed her relationship/friendship with Credence). And how she later becomes Lord Voldemort’s pet snake/Horcrux ( in the Harry Potter series), well there really is no linkages/connections to that.
But what is even more interesting is that the addition of Kim’s character “Nagini” was hidden in secrecy up to 2 months before the film was to be released. Originally, the character to be introduced was meant to be “Maledictus,” a witch which, according to the fan site Pottermore, is “a witch who carries a ‘blood curse’ that ‘destines her ultimately to transform into a beast.” Throughout the “Crimes of Grindewald”, “Nagini” serves basically as a loyal supporter/friend/follower of Credence who is still in search of his identity and who he actually is. There is not a lot of depth to her character, asides from her being able ( for now) to turn into a snake and then turn back to her human self.
The controversy around her character is that Kim is essentially playing into negative Asian stereotypes, and when it was announced that the character “Nagini” would be played by a South Korean actress and that this was the character destined to become the pet snake of a white male villain, the Twitterverse started to talk about how this does not perpetuate anything positive for the perception of Asians and of Asian women. Essentially we are “slaves to the white man”.
“Those who will not hear one single bad word against their fave and those who recognize that she is human and as problematic as any of us can be if we don’t learn from our mistakes,”
“We have to consider the type of representation we are getting,” she added. “I’m of the mindset that no representation is better than bad representation because bad representation has far-reaching negative ramifications. But I know that there are some who believe bad representation is better than none.”
I agree with what Oh states in terms of the racist tropes to have an Asian woman play ‘Nagini”. For far too long have we Asian women been used by the white establishment to appear meek, subservient and always working to serve the white man. I definitely see what the controversy is about. However, I do want to offer some thoughts over this saga, but before I do that, here is how Kim reacted to the controversy:
“When I found out that I’m playing Nagini, I thought it was meaningful because it’s an important character in the ‘Harry Potter’ series,”
“‘Harry Potter’ is a franchise film with many Caucasian actors, so I thought many Korean viewers would be happy.”
She added that she is “looking forward to viewers being satisfied and the controversy fading away once the film premieres.”
So here I offer my thoughts. As a Western born and raised Asian, I am with Oh and those calling out the racist tropes which the character “Nagini” brings to the table, because of what the character eventually becomes – the pet snake/Horcrux of Lord Voldemort ( a white male villain). However, I think that in Asia, the character of “Nagini” would not be seen in this light due to different environments, and circumstances in terms of understanding, race and what media representation means in light of white supremacy. For people like Kim, who is born and raised in South Korea, there really is no issues with the character. They see this as an opportunity for actors from Asia getting opportunities in Hollywood, and that is a big deal (despite Korean and other Asian film industries being much more successful that that of Hollywood). It highlights the gaps of understanding about white supremacy, fetishization, racist tropes and negative stereotypes between Western Asians and Asians in Asia. I also, don’t feel the comments Kim made in defending her playing “Nagini” as being malicious or dismissive. I feel its just about the gaps of understanding about these issues between Western and Asian Asians. In addition, English is not her first language, so there may be some words which are lost in translation.
For us Western Asians to be more united with Asians in Asia, there will need to be compromises and continued learning about the issues from East to West. Where, I am personally with Oh and those calling out the racist tropes, I also understand that there are gaps and differing understanding about what racist tropes and negative stereotyping means. I was due to comment on this controversy, but will leave this final thought – the person to blame is not Kim, nor is it the casting agents – essentially the blame should be placed on J.K. Rowling, who created this character and responded with a somewhat dismissive response to the controversy (via a Tweet):
“The Naga are snake-like mythical creatures of Indonesian mythology, hence the name ‘Nagini.’ They are sometimes depicted as winged, sometimes as half-human, half-snake. Indonesia comprises a few hundred ethnic groups, including Javanese, Chinese and Betawi.”
In her response there was nothing addressing the racist tropes of what eventually becomes of “Nagini”, and here is where we should place all the blame.
To read the original Huff Post article, please click on: Claudia Kim Seems As Out Of The Loop About Nagini’s Story As We Are and to read the original Glamour article, please click on: Everyone Is Going to Be Talking About Fantastic Beasts Actress Claudia Kim