Recently, you’ve probably been hearing a lot about a character named “Nagini,” from the Harry Potter World. Ever since the trailer for “Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” was released, controversy centering the casting of Nagini has aroused. The movie cast Claudia Kim, a South Korean actress, as Nagini. So, what’s the big deal here? Why are fans freaking out about this?
Here’s why: In the Harry Potter series, Nagini is a cursed woman who is stuck in a snake’s body and is able to shift back and forth between snake and human. She’s also famous for being the pet of the main villain, Lord Voldemort. Her role throughout the story is to provide Lord Voldemort her venom milk to sustain his life. Even though people have always advocated diversity in films, the casting of Nagini has made many people feel uneasy. As the only woman of color in the movie, Claudia Kim is not only portraying a submissive character, but she is also a white man’s pet.
It’s quite clear that casting Nagini as Asian further perpetuates the “submissive” stereotype we have seen in the movie industry; throughout film’s history, Asian women have always been cast as servant-like or less-than characters. In Nagini’s case, she dies when Lord Voldemort is killed because her life is dependent on his, indicating that she’s property of her master, rather than an individual. Moreover, Nagini doesn’t have her own personality or voice throughout the series. Her whole life is defined as the subordinate of Lord Voldemort. Playing both a snake and a piece of property, doesn’t this narrative reinforce the ideology that Asian women are secondary, inferior, and weak?
After the controversy went viral, J.K. Rowling came out and explained through Twitter; she claimed that she got her Nagini inspiration from an Indonesian mythical creature, Naga, and how Indonesia is comprised of multiple ethnic groups, such as Chinese, Javanese, and Betawi. While some saw this as an adequate explanation, it actually isn’t–it only makes the situation even worse. First off, Claudia Kim isn’t Chinese or Southeast Asian, she’s Korean. This is a classic case of the West generalizing the East by lumping us into one big group. By explaining her stance like this, J.K. Rowling’s tone is both ignorant and disrespectful. Furthermore, Amish Tripathi, an author who has expertise in Naga, even pointed out J.K. Rowling’s use of false information. He corrected her by saying that Naga is actually a mythology rooted in India, and was only brought to Indonesia during the Hindu empire. Although Claudia Kim herself has also defended the movie by saying that she feels honored to represent Asia in a Hollywood movie, this is still an issue worth pondering.
While media has been the easiest way to represent minorities, it has also been the easiest way to misrepresent minorities. We know that every person’s heritage should be cherished, valued, and properly represented–we can only hope that Hollywood will one day learn the same thing.