Movies, Pop Culture

“Fantastic Beasts” is a perfect example of why Hollywood needs to take diversity seriously

"Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" took a baby step in diversifying the Potter-verse, but for it and the rest of the industry, there's a ways to go.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has been near and dear to my heart for a very long time. As a child and into burgeoning adulthood, I loved seeing a book I read realized on a big screen, and “Harry Potter” was one of the most wondrous and magical. J. K. Rowling managed to get children, who over the years had been losing interest in reading, to not only read a book over 200 pages but then read 6 more books after that. The wizarding world taught us acceptance and the upside of being an outsider.

While Harry Potter may not have been the book that stoked my reading fire, it was definitely something that engaged me. I’d always been an avid reader but those books fed my soul. A new book is like a whole new world, and it does go beyond the page. Rowling wrote a story so vivid and imaginative that, as readers, we were able to run with it. For me, it was something to fill my days. It gave my young mind more material to bend and shape, to absorb into my own story. For me, every story that grabs me in such a way adds to who I am.

While the Harry Potter experience has meant so much to me, as I got older one thing started to creep into my head. Rowling likes the idea of writing about ‘outsiders.’ There’s Harry, the chosen one, unaware of his power, Newt Scamanader, an oddball magizooligist, Hermione, hands-down the smartest, but muggle-born and often reminded of it and Ron who comes from a kooky and financially-strapped family. However, her main characters i.e. Harry and Newt (so far) are white hetero-normative men. And in general the cast is white.

In “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” there has been some ‘color-correcting’ (pun 100% intended). The Head of MACUSA is Seraphina Picquery, a black woman played by the elegant Carmen Ejogo and the scene with the magical heads of all the countries displayed a diverse cast of characters. And yet it still feels like something isn’t fully connecting.

The crux of Harry Potter is prejudice based on one’s inherent circumstances, being a muggle or wizard, and this easily translates to so many problems that the world is facing and has been facing since the dawn of humanity.

The fact is, we are living in a world strife with hate derived from irrational fear. A fear of our inherent differences creating a divide, a fear of the other, whoever that may be. In the wizarding world, these differences manifest as being a magical being or a muggle. And like our reality, these perceived differences can sometimes lead to violence. Voldemort and Grindlewald preach a manifesto of ‘mass slaughter for the greater good.’ They hurt anyone who gets in their way. Today, and throughout history, people are killed because a group of someones decided they were lesser.

Movies dealing with the oppressed or societal outsiders often cast the outsiders in a shadow. Films dealing with other cultures (“The Wall”), the empowerment of black women (“The Help”), the white nationalists movement (“Imperium”), can sometimes detract from the experiences of the people facing discrimination. Even those who would normally identify with those outside characters may find it harder to connect with the movie because they’re made to jump through hoops.

It’s just like how women are objectified onscreen. Women see other women being portrayed a certain way and not really question it, instead taking the objectified portrayal and absorb it as their own. At least now there is an acknowledgement of the problem, but little has been done to find a solution. Rowling has mentioned further exploring Dumbledore’s homosexuality and Zoë Kravitz has been casted as Leda Lestrange, but these occurrences don’t fully address the overall problem. In terms of “Fantastic Beasts,” there is still time for a shift. With four more films to go, there is room for improvement.