Nagini is no longer just a snake. But is there a problem with her casting?
The Harry Potter fandom has been shaken recently by the reveal that Voldemort’s snake/Final Horcrux, Nagini, is not just a snake.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald will reveal Nagini as a new creature called a Maledictus. She can, to begin with, voluntarily transform into a snake, but suffers a blood curse that will eventually make the transformation permanent and irreversible.
Korean actress Claudia Kim has been cast as Nagini’s human form in Fantastic Beasts. Some fans have frowned upon the choice, deeming it racially insensitive. There are, admittedly, a few unfortunate implications – the most obvious being casting an Asian woman as a character we know will ultimately become subservient to a white man.
But is it really as big an issue as some fans think?
The choice makes sense, from a mythology standpoint.
One fan voiced their displeasure directly to J.K Rowling on Twitter. They accused her of ‘suddenly’ making Nagini Korean in a misguided attempt to retroactively diversify her franchise.
Rowling responded with this:
The Naga are snake-like mythical creatures of Indonesian mythology, hence the name ‘Nagini.’ They are sometimes depicted as winged, sometimes as half-human, half-snake. Indonesia comprises a few hundred ethnic groups, including Javanese, Chinese and Betawi. Have a lovely day 🐍
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) September 26, 2018
The Naga, usually seen as a snake-like creature, is a prominent figure in Indonesian mythology. This implies that Rowling did not ‘suddenly’ change Nagini into a character of Asian descent. She always has been. It just never came up, because Nagini had never appeared in human form prior to this second Fantastic Beasts film.
From this perspective, the casting makes a lot of sense.
We know very little about Nagini’s character Arc
Most of the film’s trailers have focused on the conflict between Dumbledore, Newt Scamander, and Grindlewald. We only have a few brief shots of Nagini to go on.
Most of our information on her comes from the synopsis and other sources, and they don’t give us a whole lot more to go on.
We know that Nagini is the main attraction of a Wizarding Circus, Circus Arcanus.
Skender, the ringmaster of the circus, exploits Nagini’s ability to transform.
Credence, the sympathetic monster of the first film, befriends Nagini while working at the circus.
And of course, we know that Nagini ultimately ends up as one of Voldemort’s seven Horcruxes.
Otherwise, we know very little about the path Nagini will take. We don’t know whether she is a hero who meets with tragedy, a sympathetic figure forced into villainy, or a villain right from the start.
Her friendship with Credence seems sweet from the little we’ve seen of it, but poor Credence does have a history of being manipulated.
Perhaps most importantly, we don’t know what – if any – of her human nature Nagini maintains after her final transformation. Or any of her transformations, for that matter.
Nagini as a snake could be very, very different from her human self. She could, rather than being enslaved, serve Voldemort quite willingly.
We need to look at the situation in the context of the whole story, rather than just our own values.
It’s equally likely that Nagini does end up in a Master/Slave relationship with Voldemort. But that doesn’t necessarily make the choice to cast Claudia Kim a bad one.
Voldemort is a villain. He does evil, unspeakable things. Enslaving Nagini would be a despicable act no matter what race she was.
This scenario would not be portrayed as Nagini’s happily ever after. It would be a tragic fall. Just another evil act to add to the list of Voldemort’s evil acts.
Nagini’s story, however it transpires, will be a fascinating one to tell. We’ll see some of it unfold when Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald hits cinemas in November.