Some Notes On … is a section which features my autoethnographic fieldnotes as I document my thoughts throughout different parts of my PhD project. Here, I write about the text resources discussed in our podcast episode.
For Episode 12, The International Imagination: Exploring World Politics in the Fantastic Beasts Films, we discussed the following texts:
1) Movie – Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
Newt really can be read as neurodiverse. He doesn’t make eye contact, is super empathetic, has a strong connection with animals, says that he annoys people.
A group called the new Salemers army, led by Mary Lou, is trying to find and persecute witches. Does this have a religious context? Is it a Christian group? There is some historical precedent with Wicca being antithetical to both the dominant religion and to patriarchy. There’s no religious mention in the movie. Instead it seems to have a creepy cult-like atmosphere where she is trying to recruit children to her cause, Credence among them. Grindelwald uses a twisted version of this argument – about non-magical people persecuting magical people – to justify his bigotry I guess.
Newt’s fantastic beasts contribute to this problem of potential Muggle persecution when they’re accidentally set loose in New York and wreak havoc.
Newt wants to oblivate Jacob because he’s seen his magic. The magical world seems to have really questionable ethics when it comes to memory wiping Muggles.
Goblins only seem to appear in service roles – wand polishing, elevator operator. At one point, there’s a house-elf bartender Is wizard supremacy a thing in the US as well? Are there any non-human creatures in government? The only goblin they interact with seems to be a corrupt mafia boss kind of who sells them out after taking payment.
President of the American Muggles is a black woman which seems a bit odd considering the politics of 1920s USA. Why don’t black witches and wizards try to help black Muggles? Surely they descend from common ancestors and must have a semblance of racial solidarity in the face of persecution – which the Muggles are not half as equipped to deal with as the magical folks. Relatedly, the magical folk seem terrified of exposure and Muggle attacks. Aren’t they more powerful though?
Apparently they have really backward laws against interactions between No-Majs and witches/wizards in the US where magical folks can’t befriend or marry non-magical ones. Is this born out of fear? Or hatred? Or a combination of both? Is it to protect the No-Majs in case of a war? Unclear.
Queenie uses her femininity to get what she wants – assisted by her ability to read minds. Lorrie pointed out that this ability almost acts as a disability since she can’t control it.
The relationship between Credence and Grindelwald definitely reads as queer with magic as metaphor for gayness. Mary Lou beats all the kids she’s adopted but seems to hate Credence the most – beating the magic and/or queerness out of him?
2) Movie – The Crimes of Grindelwald
Grindelwald seems to be just a symptom of wizard supremacy. Many people in the magical community seem to be happy to be facists and rule both the Muggle and the magical world. Much like real-world fascists, Grindelwald recognises the importance of couching true intentions in carefully-disguised language: “We don’t say such things out loud. We only want freedom to be ourselves. For the greater good.” I suppose he was able to convince Dumbledore with much the same ideas. Grindelwald seems just as terrible and powerful as Voldemort. Fascists don’t seem to be able to stop rising in fictional or real worlds!
Dumbledore warns the minister of magic that his policies of suppression and violence are pushing supporters into Grindelwald’s arms. I’m sure there’s some truth to that but aren’t there more complex reasons to the hatred and bigotry? Surely, it’s been around for much longer than the minister or Grindelwald – though I suppose Grindelwald uses history to manipulate the present and control the future.
Queenie uses a love spell on Jacob – more questionable choices that magical folks make when it comes to non-magical folks. Jacob is understandably upset when Newt lifts the spell. Her reason for the spell is she wants to get married to him – illegal according to her government’s laws – while he’s looking out for her safety. Love spells and potions seems to be something women resort to in Rowing’s world – there was a student who tried using it on Harry in Half-Blood Prince, and of course, Merope whose actions resulted in Voldemort. Is that supposed to be a woman’s way of enacting violence? Or a really disturbing concept of love?
Grindelwald manipulates Queenie into joining him by preying on her hopes and fears. I’ve heard the theory that she’s just doing it as a double agent but she may also have been tempted into joining. Not all who join the dark side are evil so it’s nice that they have alternate motivations, just like in real life.
I love this cross-cultural friendship between Newt and Jacob. I haven’t made up my mind about Jacob’s cross-cultural relationship with Queenie – I suppose it’s showing the difficulties of this – it’s not all roses and rainbows.
In the essay, Lorrie mentions how Rowling’s canon is more heteronormative than even the most consevrative estimates of queer people who exist in the real world.
She made headlines ten years ago with her unplanned announcement that Dumbledore is gay. On the one hand, the way Rowling got hundreds of millions of people worldwide to love the humanity of a fictional character and then identified him as gay, as just one more aspect of his personhood, is exactly how to combat homophobia and reduce prejudice. On the other hand, when you identify your one gay character casually, in an author appearance and not your official text, making it clear that you created gay characters but chose to keep that information off the page, that is a textbook case of marginalization rather than representation.
Fans, of course, don’t let this failure of imagination stop them. They not only queer the series and its characters but also accept these headcanons as accurate.
While Lorrie loves Fantastic Beasts, that doesn’t mean she’s unable to critique to problematic aspects of it – for example, the representations of blackness in 1920s USA as well as the queer-coding of characters. Grindelwald manipulates Credence which has undertones of using his queerness. The Harry Potter series has had anti-gay comments within canon as well.
“The secret meetings with Graves, the repressive abuse from the parent — these images and emotions are evocative of experience with homophobia. The film uses gay people’s experience to create a metaphor and draw emotional impact from those associations. To me, it feels oddly outdated and possibly misleading for Fantastic Beasts to centralize this dynamic so heavily without grounding it in context by naming gayness and showing matter-of-fact gay characters.”
Lorrie is impatient with the inclusion of queer-coded characters rather than just name them as explicitly gay – an impatience I share. It shouldn’t always be upto fans to imagine themselves into canon. It’s something fans have been doing out of a need to see their stories in media but media should also make room for these stories within canon.
4) Essay – Notes on Claudia Kim’s Nagini
Lorrie’s tweet when she found out Claudia Kim was cast to play Nagini:
A Korean woman in Potterverse! *instant identification*
Neville killed me, oh noes
“milk Nagini” GROSSSSSS
Impersonating Bathilda Bagshot’s corpse? That was a lot to ask of a snake!
Ugh, I had to eat Charity Burbage
OH MY GOD I ATE SNAPE
The backlash against Nagini’s storyline and casting felt unintentionally racist to Lorrie, even when it came from those who considered themselves as allies. I was really curious to know more about this from Lorrie’s perspective and was so glad we chatted about this in our episode. As someone who is Indian, I wouldn’t want to impinge my beliefs and opinions on someone from the community who finds something racist – but I’ve been at a position when someone calls a white tourist wearing Indian clothes as cultural appropriation and I disagree with this stance. At the same time, I also realise that I’ve grown up in India so my cultural privileges as someone from the dominant culture there may be different from an Indian-American or a British-Indian’s experiences as someone from a marginalised culture. I find Lorrie’s response to the backlash against Nagini’s casting intriguing – she lists all the other characters who were used and abused by Voldemort, the other tragedies in canon – and interprets the discomfort with Nagini’s role as fans preferring not to see a Korean character in the movie at all so they don’t have to deal with their images of subjugated Asian women.
Here is what I really hear:
This role should have gone to a white woman for the comfort of viewers who are uneasy with the images in their own heads of Asian women.
What I hear is: People were happier when there was no Korean woman in Potterverse. They don’t want us if it makes them feel uncomfortable.
Lorrie also points out that the life and story of a Korean woman in 1920s USA would have historically not been rosy – does that mean these stories don’t matter and shouldn’t be included?
On Nagini’s deleted scenes:
I hope more people take a minute to see more of the character Claudia Kim created. I liked Nagini in the movie, but I loved her in her two beautiful deleted scenes with Ezra Miller. They’re on the DVD extras — meaning the fullness of her character felt relegated to the margins. They’re clearly lovers in those scenes. In one, she encourages him to release his Obscurus peacefully and proves that it can pass through her without harm. In the other, he sees the skin on her hand turning scaly and he kisses it. They’re about the core of this Fantastic Beasts story.
I love that Lorrie has offered such a different perspective to the one I otherwise encountered which unfairly influenced my thinking about the Fantastic Beasts movies in general and Nagini in particular. To me, Nagini was just another character in a movie I quite enjoyed – but Lorrie’s analysis and commentary really expands the scope of both Nagini and the movie at large. While I credit fandom with a whole lot including opening my mind up to different possibilities I never considered, fandom discourse may also lead to a closed mind in some contexts – as in this case – and it is something I’m going to be try and be more aware of.
For its many flaws, Fantastic Beasts is an international story about the oppressions that led to World War II. The two films we’ve seen so far have been about the stories that those places don’t want to acknowledge: witch hunts and politicized capital punishment in the U.S., racism and colonialism in France. I can understand not trusting Rowling and Warner Brothers to tell the story of Korean women during that time. However.
It is a destructive trap to hold that it’s somehow wrong or improper to tell in public the stories of Korean women who endured slavery and trafficking in the first half of the 20th century. We’re not the only ones that happened to – not even in this movie series – and the survivors and their younger generations continue to pay the cost, like a blood curse. Shame and silence only lead to more damage, with the greatest burden on the people who have suffered most already. This is part of the global story that Fantastic Beasts is telling about then and about now.
5) Fan podcast – Women of Harry Potter: Angelina Johnson with Bayana Davis
In the beginning of the episode, they promote a fundraiser for refugees by drawing parallels to Petunia’s lack of empathy and generosity when given the responsibility of bringing up a child left on her doorstep and how people in the US should be better, despite the hostile border and immigration environment. They believe that the people in the US are currently failing just as much as Petunia did. I loved this example of cultural acupuncture – using popular culture texts to draw parallels to real-world events.
This episode kicked off a mini-series started in response to a fan’s critique of the Yule Ball episode where Parvati and Padma Patil are disposable but something the hosts didn’t discuss because, as they admit, as white hosts, it’s something they didn’t notice. The mini-series attempts to focus on women of colour to make up for the hosts’ blind-spots born of their whiteness. Even in well-intentioned spaces, people can replicate systemic injustices. For example, in the podcast which tries including multiple perspectives, they still unintentionally reify these systems.
The episode features Bayana from the podcast #WizardTeam and she offers a black fan’s interpretation of Angelina Johnson, a black character in the books. They discuss her roadblocks as a Quidditch captain by both Umbridge as well as Harry. In a Sacred Text episode, they pointed out the gendered difference between Wood’s training style being accepted by the Gryffindor team but Angelina’s being criticised for making them practise in bad weather. Bayana proposes that since Angelina is also friends with the Weasley twins, it reflects her playfulness and sense of fun.
Both Robyn and Bayana think about Angelina’s hair and the way in which she wears braids all the time. They talk about how, as black fans, they know that people can’t wear their hair in braids all the time because of the tension and stretch and attributes this aspect to Rowling’s ignorance born out of her whiteness and lack of knowledge about black haircare. However, they soon began to consider that since Angelina has magic, she uses a magical haircare routine, shares it with her friends, and they eventually headcanon her into having a haircare business post-Hogwarts. As someone whose hair takes a long time to do up and manage, Bayana likes to think about a magical fix for it. The politics of hair also comes across when Pansy says Angelina looks like she has snakes coming out of her hair – an overtly racist thing to say. Angelina could choose to “pass” with her hair by straightening it and making it resemble white hair, but she chooses not to. Another headcanon is that Angelina’s parents made sure to educate her about her hair and establish a sense of pride.
Racism in the series is otherwise explored through metaphors with house elves, werewolves and giants. In the case of Pansy’s comment, it is a rare example of explicit racism rather than metaphorical racism – which doesn’t have any impact in the scene and is just passed as an offhanded insult. The hosts make a connection between Hermione’s hair and white privilege where she makes it sleek for the Yule Ball but she’s able to leave her hair bushy otherwise. Bayana interprets Hermione as black, Vanessa interprets her as Jewish. Bayana talks about her own experiences with hair and sometimes just being tired of spending time on her hair and leaving it as is and how society perpetuates this idea of acceptability.
Vanessa can’t believe that Rowling pretends she intended to have Hermione as black all along. Bayana didn’t initially read Hermione as black because she assumed whiteness unless explicitly mentioned. This is similar to my own experience with my colonised mindset and absence of characters who looked like me in the books I read. What black HP fans did in the fandom when they racebent Hermione influenced her mind and made her connect with Hermione even more than she did as a kid. There are parallels between Hermione’s Muggleborn experiences in the magical world and a black woman’s experiences in a white supremacist society. Black Hermione and her founding of S.P.E.W. would make even more sense because she’s able to recognise oppressive structures in the wizarding world and her realisation that she is at the bottom; thereby recognising Dobby and house-elves’ oppression. Their criticism is that Rowling didn’t take it as seriously as she should have, Hermione wasn’t always a good ally but this wasn’t critiqued in the series. her activism was largely mocked. Additionally, she didn’t listen to what the house elves wanted in an example of white feminism. Hermione’s organising efforts in S.P.E.W differ from her efforts in Dumbledore’s Army where the latter i.e. Umbridge’s reign and a corrupt government directly affects her. Can that explain why she was more careful at ensuring the latter’s success?
Bayana likes imagining how Angelina and black Hermione would interact with each other as two black women in Gryffindor. How would being a witch of colour impact a person’s life? It’s not something that’s addressed in the series. They think the witches and wizards in England profited off the slave trade and colonisation – where did the Malfoy wealth come from, for example?
6) Fan podcast – Women of Harry Potter: Parvati Patil with Proma Khosla
Proma identified with the Pail twins. Her viral tweet about how to pronounce Parvati and Padma’s names – to correct how Americans and British people have been saying it – took her fifteen years as a Harry Potter fan to be able to challenge this popular, incorrect pronunciation – an instance of fans of colour giving way to the white, Western-centric nature of fandom? Based on the history, the twins were most likely first or second generation immigrants and their names would be pronounced in the Indian way, only Anglicised outside the home. People in the West do learn to pronounce difficult Western names – it’s a matter of exposure and practice. As someone points out, if you can learn to say Daenerys Targareyn, you can learn how to pronounce an Indian name.
You only see Parvati through Harry or Hermione’s eyes. She’s not really a character who comes into her own. What we mostly know about her is that she likes to gossip and likes Divination. Proma recommends Hermione and the Quarter Life Crisis, a web-series whose creator thinks Parvati and Lavender should be respected for doing what they love and not dismissed for their likes – the dismissal reflects gendered criticism of their interests. Hermione rejects traditionally feminine things, this doesn’t make feminine things bad – feminism has room for all women and we shouldn’t throw practices which don’t mirror our own under the bus.
Proma also briefly talks about Bollywood, which needs different kinds of critique since everyone is India is of the same race which is why class, caste, religion and other identities come into play. In the West, representation used to be about visibility which is why these superficial or stereotypical representations weren’t initially critiqued. Now, there are more calls for nuanced representations rather than just mere visibility.
Proma didn’t dislike the twins’ representation in the books because she didn’t expect the Indian girls to go on adventures. Maybe they could have been happening in the side unbeknownst to Harry? Surely there’s fanfiction out there. She does mention Parvati and Padma’s terrible Yule Ball outfits in the movie and how offensive she finds it – something which I and a lot of Indian fans agree with! In the podcast, a listener called in to critique their lack of discussion about the way in which the twins were tokenised and dismissed in the Yule Ball. They also needed to have more separate identities. Particularly in the movies, they’re conflated and have no real personality whereas in the books, they’re considered cool and pretty and popular who know their worth. When they don;t get attention from their dates, they go find other boys to hang out with.
Proma also mentions how she wore Indian clothes at a convention by drawing from her own lived experience and wearing Indian formal wear, but people thought it was a costume and thought she and her friend were cosplaying as Parvati and Padma. This reminds her of how she’s upset about Halloween costumes which use cultural clothing – culture not costume as she says. This may also reflect the fact that many of the convention people’s only experience of Indian clothes might be through the Harry Potter movies. As Arianna points out, people need to expand their ideas of the correct clothes – gender clothing and cultural clothing.
Parvati wears her bangles and Indian outfit to the Yule Ball which shows she’s comfortable in her own identity and isn’t afraid of bringing attention to herself or to call out behaviour she doesn’t agree with (for example, when Malfoy bullies Neville in The Philosopher’s Stone). Proma loves the fact that Parvati and Padma were one of the first to join Dumbledore’s Army even though their parents want to and eventually do take them out of school Parvati is not afraid to ask questions. Proma thinks Harry would have benefited from being friends with his entire class rather than just Ron and Hermione. Parvati is curious, justice-oriented and good at her school work. She was his first-ever date but he has no real thought of her. Harry’s two dates before Ginny were women of colour, as Proma points out in delight.
7) Fan podcast – Women of Harry Potter: Cho Chang With Kathy Tu
Kathy Tu proposes that Cho Chang reminds her of the trope of a minority who excels but also suffers in the magical world. She has to be a good student, good at Quidditch, a good “woman” able to attract popular Cedric and Harry. It’s almost like she has an “ethnicity tax” where she has to be exceptional in order to be considered important. At the same time, the character didn’t signal an immigrant experience. There’s no other exploration of her Asianness and she could be read as a white character. It almost reads like superficial diversity.
Both the host and the guest think that Cho’s defense of her friend Marietta in Order of the Phoenix is something the trio would have done for each other too. But Cho’s actions are met with much less empathy and her act of supporting her friend is dismissed.
As a young person, Kathy’s mind was blown by encountering Cho’s Asian character with a Scottish accent. She had anticipated a Chinese accent, a perception based on what you’ve previously encountered in media and what you’re used to.
They talk about how when it comes to marginalised group representations in media, there is lots of pressure on anyone in the public eye whether it be Jewishness or Asianess whereas white people or people from the dominant culture get to be individuals. This is true both in media and in the series. When a Jew has done something bad, the Jewish community wishes the person wasn’t Jewish. Minority cultures are held to higher standards and represent their entire race, ethnicity, religion, culture etc.
Cho was there as a perfect character and then disappeared when Harry loses romantic interest in her. The female character is just there as a plot point. This is not just common with characters of colour but just women in general. Harry is upset whenever Cho isn’t perfect, for example when she cries on their date as a result of some very real trauma. Both Harry and Cho are traumatised but aren’t able to work through their emotions and trauma and grief together.
Arianna’s theory that Marietta is in love with Cho which is why she first goes along with her to Dumbledore’s Army and then betrays them is so great. She also believes that maybe they get together eventually – a theory Kathy loves. Fans are so innovative!
8) Fan podcast – #Wizard Team: Blood Purity and Mixed Race Identity
Guest Xandra didn’t feel Asian enough for a previous Asian representation episode with Proma since she is mixed race.
The episode signposts Heroine Training, a programme which takes inspiration from different stories and employs their characteristics and attitudes in your own life.
Robyn has grown up not fitting in for not being considered black enough. I relate a little bit to this because of my geeky interests as well as my feminism and lack of caring about how I dress, look, whether or not I’ll get married in my middle-class environment in Mumbai (which is different from middle class in the UK or the US) so I always felt like an outsider. Even as a teenager, I found most of my most important connections in online fandom and just the internet in general thanks to encountering other people like me as well as other people who weren’t like anybody I’d encountered in my own personal life. Being a person of colour in a predominantly white space is only something I encountered after I moved to the UK. This is another kind of not fitting in which requires a different kind of code-switching from the one I employed back home. Even in India, I moved between my identities depending on which environment I was in.
Xandra talks about her own engagement with the series as a mixed-race child reading about half blood witches and wizards in Harry Potter. This feeling could also be related to Muggle-born witches and wizards entering Hogwarts and navigating the magical world where they’re the minority culture for the first time.
All of the feminine characters in Harry Potter are treated as stupid influencing people’s attitudes who treat femininity with distaste. While intelligence and curiosity should be valued, it shouldn’t be at the cost of other things. Fleur, Parvati, Lavender do not have the same interests and values as Hermione or Ginny, but that doesn’t make them worse people or worse girls. Villains in HP are described as ugly or fat. Hermione is singled out by Draco for being Muggleborn. Xandra proposes that this signifies his own insecurity that he’s not as clever as someone from a non-magical background and he’s projecting that on Hermione; something which his father calls him out for when he’s complaining about Hermione in Chamber of Secrets.
Hermione is called Mudblood but Dean isn’t – does gender play a role here? Why is Harry considered half-blood when both has parents are magical. It reflects the idea that even a drop of non-pure/non-white blood marks you as other, similar to historical (and potentially contemporary) American attitudes about black people.
Xandra felt like a white girl on the inside and didn’t realise she’s a minority until she was in high school where she was seen as a minority because it was a posh private school and they wanted to include her in their diversity counts. This resulted in feelings of isolation and not fitting in and not being represented in media. She felt like a brown-skinned Caucasian girl – only found recognition in animated characters. Xandra is familiar with the food from her Asian background because she likes it and not because she grew up with it. She has only been to Korea once – “I feel like I’m tip-toeing through my own identity.” She inhabits different cultures.
Xandra finds herself represented in To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. However, unlike that family where the white father wants to instill Korean culture in his half-Korean kids after his wife dies, her own mother’s experience moving to the US as a child was very different. Her parents made it a point to assimilate into American culture and become American – the tension between minority and majority cultures. As a result, Xandra herself grew up quite distanced from her Korean culture and she has some blind-spots about it. She knows some things but knows all the things she doesn’t know – something that I, much like Robyn and Bayana, relate to. I’m the worst token Indian to have in the UK because if you ask me about religion and culture, there’s very little I do know. Or even to cook Indian food. The first time I properly cooked Indian food was in the UK … but I suppose that’s also a way of being Indian. What makes a proper Indian person anyway?
When Xandra wrote books as a child, all the children were white because that’s what the books she read had. This is so similar to my own experiences. She had to research other cultures because she didn’t think her own culture could be represented in stories.
She talks about living as a mixed-race American in Scotland with the intersection of national and ethnic origin. When you have to tick off an ethnicity box in the UK, one of the options was British. As Robyn says, “Is British even a race?” That’s the problem though, right? A lot of people in the UK – white people – do think (white) British is a race and they don’t see brown or black or Asian or mixed-race people who were born and live in the UK as British. Xandra talks about the nuances of race and ethnicity and nationality in different contexts. In the UK, class is more of a mainstream concern than race. Different accents and regions have different connotations, something that Robyn learned about by being a Doctor Who fan. The politics of representation of working class Northern accents and Scottish accents plays a role too – something I’ve learned through my secondhand observations of my Scottish boyfriend in England.
They talk about how white people in the UK don’t consider how black British people are racialised. When Robyn and Bayana identified themselves as black when in England, they were told that that’s not something that’s really done in the UK but they were told this by a white person. It’s something that they know is untrue from their interactions with other black British people – so that ignorance of being racialised comes from a place of privilege.
9) Fan podcast – Woke Doctor Who: Harry Potter and the People of Colour
They talk about how there are very few characters of colour in the magical world. They list the following:
- Dean Thomas
- Angelina Johnson
- Blaise Zabini
- Parvati and Padma Patil
- Cho Chang
- Kingsley Shacklebolt
- Lavender Brown
- Hermione Granger
- Leta Lestrange
- Yusuf Kama
- Lee Jordan (mentioned in passing)
- Alicia Spinnet (not mentioned)
Dean Thomas exhibits an intersection with race and half-blood whereas Hermione has intersections of race, Muggleborn origins, and gender.
They discuss stereotypes about black people in Dean and Blaise Zabini’s parents – black kids who aren’t raised by both parents and black parents don’t stay together. The background story which has Dean’s father being murdered is too close to real life. It’s not enough to have diversity just in the form of characters of colour. There needs to be more nuance and complexity. At the same time, it’s important to not uphold stereotypes with your only black character. They also think it’s weird that the magical world has only two black men, considering the racial make-up of the UK.
Lorrie’s discomfort with the hostility in this episode has made me think of critiques more critically. I sometimes tend to take other people’s perspectives as valid – which they are – without interrogating my own responses to them. In this case, I agree with some critiques in the episode and don’t agree with others. For example, they speak about Angelina being reminded of her trauma every day of Fred’s death due to her marriage to George Weasley. However, isn’t George’s trauma worse in this case?
They point out that Angelina was the target of explicit racism when Pansy Parkinson says she looks like she has worms coming out of her head. The trouble with race-blindness in the series means like an overtly racist example like this goes without comment – and indeed, it’s something I wouldn’t even have recognised had it not been for this episode and the Women of Harry Potter one.
They note that Ron had some wizard supremacist sentiments. I think this is more about growing up in a wizard supremacist society which he slowly begins to unlearn. For example, he considers the danger to house elves in the Battle of Hogwarts.
They complain about the casting of the Patil sisters in the movies as one of the actresses was Pakistani or Bangladeshi. This falls into the any Asian will do trope. I disagree with this to an extent. I understand that in terms of East Asian representation it’s different, but India/Pakistan/Bangladesh all have common relatively recent ancestry. Of course, I may think this because I’m Indian and not Indian-American or British Indian so I’m used to being surrounded by representation in Bollywood. Also, people from Pakistan and Bangladesh might not take too kindly with being lumped in with Indians all the time.
They talk about the widespread use of Latin words in magic which erases the contribution of different religious and cultural beliefs like Chinese, Indian, and students with African or Caribbean ancestry. What are you learning in Hogwarts? Is it just the British system of magic or are there different magic systems? If not in Hogwarts, is there room for this in different parts of the country/world? They admit it’s not something they’re complaining that JKR didn’t include – they’re exploring the gaps in the text because they think it’s fascinating. They discuss how experiences of second generation immigrant children might differ – which the Patils and Cho likely are. These students might mix two cultures together and their different cultural systems of magic.
They are outraged that there’s just one African school for magic in Nigeria (when even just in west Africa, many different systems of magic are practised, let alone other parts of Africa). There’s just one Asian school of magic in Japan (when in real life Japan invaded China so real-world politics would impact witching world attitudes – as Eugenia says, her grandfather wouldn’t allow her mother to buy Sony just because it’s a Japanese company, similar to Jack’s mum’s attitudes towards Germany in sporting matches, though less extreme). Also, Japan is tiny versus India and China – where do they fit all the students? The distribution of schools is quite Eurocentric.
“Europe has three schools. Africa has one. Asia has one. All of North America has one. South America has one.”
They also discuss the problem with Nagini. Both hosts hate what happens to the character though Lorrie loves her. They dislike that she is an East Asian woman who can turn into a snake but eventually will only be stuck as a snake and also becomes Voldemort’s pet and Horcrux who is slayed by two white men – Neville using Gryffindor’s sword. Eugenia is very upset about this layered objectification of this Asian woman. They think that none of JKR’s editors or movie producers would have been people of colour because they can’t see how problematic this is. They discuss superficial diversity and not researching how your choices impact interpretations (in the Fantastic Beasts movies).
There’s also a lack of people of colour among the adults in the original Harry Potter series. They critique the lack professors of colour in Hogwarts where even creatures are hired over them. Does this reflect a lack of solidarity among marginalised people? It reflects real-life examples of people of colour being passed over for jobs, in academia and elsewhere, as if there’s only room for one.
They propose that people of colour exist in the British magical world because of slavery and colonialism. Does this erase experiences of early multiculturalism? The Roman Empire was vast and had Egyptian people in England, for example. I do agree that racism may have played a role in the magical world as well due to how it connects with the Muggle world – doesn’t Muggle history and witching history intertwine at any point?
They mention how JKR has said that she doesn’t write for the audience, she writes what interests her. While this is a valid perspective, this is increasingly at odds with what the fans are interested in and the kinds of diversity they now demand from their media.
They also discuss racebending Hermione and Lavender Brown and the different implications of this. There was furore against Hermione being cast as black in The Cursed Child but this outrage was missing when Lavender Brown was recast as white in Half-Blood Prince when she got a major part. They also cite the racist outrage against Rue being cast by a black actress in The Hunger Games, even though she is canonically black.
They conclude the episode by calling for people of different abilities, races, genders, body types to be represented in science fiction and fantasy. They end by asserting their right to criticise the world because they love the world and demand more from it.