Fantastic Beasts’ Nagini Casting Met With Backlash, J.K. Rowling’s Defence Misses Indian Mythology Roots

On Tuesday, the final trailer for the upcoming Fantastic Beasts sequel revealed that Nagini, Voldemort’s pet snake in the Harry Potter series, was in fact previously a human carrying a blood curse that would permanently transform her into a beast. The fact that she is played by Korean actress Claudia Kim – the only Asian on the cast – has drawn severe criticism since then, with fans also bringing up other problematic aspects from the past, and creator J.K. Rowling’s response has only made matters worse.

The big note of disappointment for most is that the only role for an Asian performer in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is one that will eventually turn into a white man’s slave pet and be subservient to his commands, going so far as eating humans. Fans are upset, with some pointing out how there’s always been a lack of representation in the books. “Representation as an afterthought for more woke points is not good representation,” a Twitter user said.

That can also be read as a reference to Rowling revealing that Albus Dumbledore was gay, after the Potter books and films were finished. And though Dumbledore is set to be part of the Fantastic Beasts franchise, with Jude Law portraying a younger version of the character, the revelation continues to have no effect even now. The director David Yates has said in the past that he would not be “explicitly” gay in the sequel, essentially ignoring his sexual orientation, which naturally has not been received well.

While she has kept quiet on the Dumbledore thing, Rowling defended Kim’s casting on Twitter by noting that the character Nagini was always Asian as it is based on “the Naga” from Indonesian mythology. She added: “They are sometimes depicted as winged, sometimes as half-human, half-snake. Indonesia comprises a few hundred ethnic groups, including Javanese, Chinese and Betawi.”

Never mind that Indonesian and Korean are somehow similar for Rowling, her defence misses the actual origins of the mythology, as many including Indian author Amish Tripathi have rightly pointed out. In a reply to Rowling’s tweet, Tripathi noted that the word Nāga comes from the Sanskrit language, with the mythology travelling from India to Indonesia during “Indic/Hindu empires that emerged there in the early Common Era”.

The Nagini development only further exacerbates some fans’ issues with the Fantastic Beasts franchise, which continues to be embroiled in the casting controversy revolving around Johnny Depp, who has been accused of domestic violence by ex-wife Amber Heard. Rowling said in a statement that she was “happy to have” him and implied that fans don’t have the full story owing to non-disclosure agreements, while the director dismissed Heard’s claims and suggested that talent excuses abuse. And given his character’s prominence – Depp plays the villain Gellert Grindelwald – he will likely be present in all films.

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