Since Shadowhunters premiered on Freeform last spring, I’ve become totally besotted with one of its lead characters, Magnus Bane (Harry Shum Jr.). The nearly six-foot, chiseled, bisexual “High Warlock of Brooklyn” is a storm of gusto and glamour who draws me in like a moth to the flame. Why I’m so aggressively captivated with the character, particularly as a black pansexual woman, isn’t immediately obvious. But even within the allegorical fantasy world of Shadowhunters, Magnus is a queer man of color whose distinct experience partly resembles my own. Magnus is the embodiment of ferocity. He’s the hero I’ve been waiting for.
Based on Cassandra Clare’s glossy urban fantasy novels The Mortal Instruments, Shadowhunters follows Clary Fray, a young teen who stumbles into the magical and monstrous underworld of New York City. When her mother is suddenly kidnapped by a rogue genocidal “shadowhunter”, Fray discovers her true identity as part of that half-human, half-angel race of warriors. In order to get her mother back, Clary turns to her own, a group sworn to protect humans and “downworlders,” a range of half-human, half-demon beings typically scorned by their angelic counterparts.
While the books are mostly told through Fray’s perspective, the show opted to flesh the individual perspectives of its large cast. This includes Magnus Bane, the powerful High Warlock of Brooklyn who reluctantly agrees to help the new shadowhunter with her mission. A true manifestation of the fire emoji, his comedic flare and natural wit is only surpassed by his unapologetic conviction. Outside of his rather spirited personality, Magnus’ physical frame and tactical experience make him a formidable opponent. A centuries old, incredibly versatile master of magic and supernatural combat, the warlock’s power inspires both awe and fear.
We so rarely see this mixture of electric spitfire and daunting defender on a character with his kind of layered identity, that I find myself clinging to him. The series features another LGBTQ character who challenges perceptions of gay masculinity and represents the experiences of young LGBTQ. But Magnus’ intersections speak to something that, in a more fantastical way, conveys the lived reality of someone who is completely honest about who she is, but has to defend that identity at almost every turn.
The coming out narrative is common on TV, and although it’s important to see, its repeated use has generated an illusion that public declarations are a one-time experience. In actuality, LGBTQ people spend their entire lives coming out. Again and again we’re forced to reveal ourselves and wait for people to either accept or judge us. It can be exhausting and, at times, painful. However, when it comes to Magnus and others’ responses to his sexuality, the warlock refuses to shrink back. From his imposing demeanor down to the details of his wardrobe, Magnus’ unshuttered boldness is a reminder of how comfortable I still want to be with my own identity every single time I declare it.
It’s also a nod to the days I power through micro and outright aggressions. Magnus is an Asian man who has lived 300 years and has experienced racism of both the mundane and angelic variety. Some of that was illustrated during one of the series’ most dramatic moments, which placed Magnus in the midst of a sacred–and segregated–shadowhunter ceremony. Magnus’ presence and refusal to leave was an outright and glorious act of defiance. Not only was his public rejection of prejudice admirable, it was incredibly empowering. Perhaps more importantly, it was self-validating, especially as a means of revealing Magnus’ vulnerability.
Magnus doesn’t struggle with openly being himself, but he is still affected by other’s judgements. Primarily, what can be a discriminatory shadowhunter mentality. Both his sardonic scorn of shadowhunter law and his magically disguised cat eyes–a mark of his demonic blood–are evidence that the belittlement and bigotry sting no matter how many centuries he’s dealt with it. I find that dichotomy of strength and sensitivity incredibly relatable. I am a black woman who is always told she needs to be strong, to be ready, but who is also fundamentally human and therefore unable to exhibit heroic amounts of emotional fortitude at will. Magnus is an illustration of my experiences at the hands of ignorance and hate. He’s a representation of how these moments can shape me, and an acknowledgement that they don’t have to define me.
Outside of Magnus’ internal struggles and development, even his stylistic choices champion the idea that I don’t have to be defined by anyone else’s expectations. His appreciation for what is typically deemed “feminine” is a finger to the idea that “girly” things are inherently fragile or inferior. Magnus Bane is tremendously adept and strong. Being covered in a slew of accessories and a cloud of glitter doesn’t change that. None of his trappings actually make him more “feminine” either. Instead, they subtly illustrate that no one had to be hyper masculine to be mighty. Male-coded things aren’t innately more commanding. Wearing bright purple doesn’t mean you can’t throw a solid punch.
Magnus Bane is so many things, all of which I love whether they are “me” or not. My love for this enchanting warlock lies in the message his very presence offers.
Through the complicatedness of it all, my existence is brave, it is enough, and no matter how anyone else sees me, I can be utterly fierce.