Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’s final trailer reintroduces a key Harry Potter character, just not quite as we know her.
Nagini is a core figure in the Harry Potter universe. She’s Lord Voldemort’s loyal snake; a creature who slithers close to him, acting not only as the Dark Lord’s weapon, but also a safe keeper for his horcrux. She’s a mysterious creature, and one with very little backstory. She’s never received a proper history — even in all of author J.K. Rowling’s additions, confirmations and revisions of Harry Potter lore in recent years. Fans have widely believed up until now that Lord Voldemort first came across Nagini during his exile in Albania after his fall in 1981. Rowling described Voldemort than as a ghostly creature who survived in the forest by communicating with animals — especially snakes.
The only other facet of Nagini’s character that Rowling made crystal clear was her avid devotion to Voldemort. She was turned into a horcrux following the death of Bertha Jenkins in 1994. Her connection to Voldemort only grew more devoted, giving wizards like Albus Dumbledore enough pause to suspect she became a horcrux as their souls basically became intertwined. Nagini tolerated Death Eaters, but her only true affection was for the man she helped return to the world.
Crimes of Grindelwald will act as the first canonical extension of Nagini’s history (sorry, Harry Potter theorists who still believe the boa constrictor Harry helped free in The Philosopher’s Stone was Nagini). For example, Nagini used to be a woman, and according to actress Claudia Kim, is a Maledictus. She can transform into a snake at will, but will eventually stop being able to transform back into her human state. Rowling followed up to a fan’s question on Twitter about the difference between an Animagus (a wizard who can turn into an animal at will, like Sirius Black transforming into Padfoot), and a Maledictus.
“The slow transformation into a beast is beyond their control, but they aren’t destined to be evil,” Rowling tweeted. “Maledictuses are always women, whereas werewolves can be either sex. The Maledictus carries a blood curse from birth, which is passed down from mother to daughter.”
Think Bruce Banner’s ongoing struggle with the Hulk in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe.
“She does feel sometimes it’s not controllable,” Kim told Entertainment Weekly. “She is bound to [permanently] transform at some point to a beast so she feels this pressure that the clock is ticking.”
There is one issue
An exploration of Nagini — one of Harry Potter’s most treasured or hated characters based on who you ask — is exciting, but people have one major concern. Nagini eventually becomes an evil character (something Kim told Entertainment Weekly not happen yet in Crimes of Grindelwald). She helps a fascistic supremacist strike down and kill all types of wizards, witches and muggles. She eventually even kills the person believed to be Lord Voldemort’s right-hand man: Severus Snape.
The decision to reimagine Nagini as an Asian woman does play into harmful stereotypes, according to culture critics.
“Let’s retroactively turn a woman of color into a literal object owned by a white man inspired by Nazis,” io9’s Charles Pulliam tweeted following the trailer’s debut.
“This most questionable part of all of this is that a character named Nagini isn’t South Asian,” Mashable’s entertainment reporter Proma Kholsa tweeted, adding that Nagini’s name is Sanskrit, an ancient Indian language.
Hoai-Tran Bui at Slash Film wrote about the issue in her article about the trailer, noting that casting an Asian woman as a character known for its evil and often violent tendencies is concerning for numerous reasons.
“In a franchise that has frequently been criticized for its lack of diversity, one of the few characters of color is now doomed to become enslaved by a villain who is a thinly veiled Nazi metaphor,” Bui wrote. “Not only that, she is turned into a literal object who the heroes must kill as part of their quest. Yeah, this may be an even worse retcon than making Dumbledore gay and refusing to follow up on it.”
Rowling hasn’t responded to any of the criticism, and neither has Warner Bros. Kim also hasn’t said anything on social media.