On the Shitstorm regarding Nagini’s Origin

Tuesday I threw myself into my cozy Gryffindor uniform and attended the midnight premiere of Fantastic Beasts – The Crimes of Grindelwald. As expected the movie theatre was sold out to the last seat and the atmosphere full of excitement. Now, I don’t want to talk about the movie in this article, rather than one of its characters and how the internet threw a shitstorm regarding its newly introduced „origin arc“, casting choice and position in the original Harry Potter storyline. Let’s talk about Nagini.

– Attention! If you have not seen the movie or trailer yet,
following commentary contains Spoilers –

The racism and gender issues

First of all, let me address what upset me the most about the current criticism – or should we say SJW outrage – directed towards Nagini. Let’s be honest, tearing casting choices to shreds is the hottest new thing to do nowadays. Everyone, no matter how unqualified the approach may be, has to make sure we know why castmember X of the new big blockbuster was the worst decision ever, racist, unfair, sexist, wrong or politically incorrectly depictured.
In this case, fans all over social media got infuriated that Nagini is revealed to originally have been an asian woman. Tweets such as „Maybe ‚circus performer who turns into a murderous snake‘ isn’t the best choice of role for one of the two (women of color) in the franchise“, „A racist, misogynist disaster“ and „Introducing the first asian role in the wizarding world and of course has to be submissive, enslaved woman to a white male“ went viral, next to many people personally attacking J.K.Rowling for her pick – who did not do the casting for the movie. But who wants to do a minimum amount of research when the all-caps paragraph is already typed, right?

Further comments stated how snakes having slanted eyes was a racist hint towards asians, as well as J.K would be implying that all women are snakes, because she chose a woman to represent Nagini. It shouldn’t surprise you that I needed to take a deep breath after climbing out of that verbal shithole. Last time I checked every snakespecies known to mankind had big round buttoneyes and Cho Chang, Parvati Patil and Padma Patil were introduced as reoccuring female asian roles throughout the books and movies over a decade ago. Not only is Nagini not the first POC in Harry Potter, there are way more than 2 represented in the FBAWTF franchise. Nagini was chosen to be played by a woman, because she is described as female in the original saga. By the logic that her transformation into a snake is „Implying that all women are snakes“ I guess all men must be dogs, right Sirius?

Nagini’s first appearance in The Crimes of Grindelwald takes place at a show in Paris by the Circus Arcanus, where she is – regarding all the other members – rather employed than enslaved, even though apparently treated badly. Her behavoir whatsoever shows no sign of submission, rather than resistance and determination. Later she acts protective and gentle towards Credence and – other than randomly brainwashed Queenie who actually should stand against Grindelwald by her own logic but decides to follow him – refuses to join his side even after Credence leaves for him. I understand the concerns about her later being „the pet“ of Voldemort. But even there, the relationship between the two is not really made out to be a slave and his master, which I want to talk more about later on.

Further, writing Voldemort as a white male was a completely fine and freely made decision by J.K.Rowling (talking literal here, that guy surpasses paper) and though he is called the „Dark Lord“ taking that title literal regarding his skin color would have just sparked another massive shitstorm and still feed into the „dominant male“ issue, no matter which „race“ he would represent. The point I’m trying to make is that you can turn it around and around as you want in terms of race, gender or heritage – someone will ALWAYS be offended no matter who would have represented Nagini, Voldemort or frankly anyone in the franchise who is shown as remotely evil or surpressed. Diversity is an important and welcomed aspect in modern cinema and I’m absolutely supporting it – what I don’t support is overly sensitive, incorrect, triggered roleshaming to a point where it ruins the project for everyone.

With creating Nagini’s name, J.K.Rowling related to the Naga / Nagi, a sanskrit expression refering to a „serpent“ or „snake“. Citing from Wikipedia:

„The term Naga in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism denotes divine, semi-divine deities, or a semi-divine race of half-human half-serpent beings that resides in the heavenly Patala (netherworld) and can occasionally take human form. (…) A female naga is a “nagi”, “nagin”, or “nagini”. (…) They are common and hold cultural significance in the mythological traditions of many South Asian and Southeast Asian cultures.“

Although with Claudia Kim a korean actress was casted for the role, people got upset that they didn’t pick an indian or indonesian woman. Unfortunately no one seems to acknoledge that they in fact DID, as the role was originally given to an indonesian actress (confirmed in april with script and everything) but who got pregnant and had to cancel her part. Besides that, Nagini was NEVER stated to be of indonesian heritage NOR a Naga to begin with, it is just the origin inspiration of her NAME.
She is a Maledictus, not a Naga, but again people chose ranting over paying attention to detail. Even if she would have been, this „fairytale logic“ would have suggested, for example, that you’re not allowed to be a vampire unless you are born Rumanian. Sorry Sanguini. Luckily, “fantasy creature discrimination” does not exist there, only in our pseudo tolerant world it is ironically an issue.
Sometimes it makes me sick to my stomach how consumed people become by their urge to hate, being barely informed about the matter at hand, yet clawing onto the tiniest bit of shame-worthy output to smartass about. I’m always all about acknowledging and discussing different opinions, especially as an issue arises – but blaming the wrong people, accusing the worst without evidence and spinning out of proportionality as cancel culture takes over, are not an opinion.

Back to the content of The Crimes of Grindelwald, please also regard the TIME and the SETTING of the story, which is very different in its portrayal of women compared to nowadays too. Don’t get me wrong, I agree that the underrepresentation of asian women – in my opinion next to many other minorities in film – is an issue and the industry has my full support on changing that asap, but certainly not on the kind of communication level that currently takes place online. Give opportunities, abandon the bias, open the boards to change, but please don’t aggressivly badmouth people who aren‘t in charge, disrespect each other, force roles for the sake of it and make every single new movie coming out strictly about gender and race.

Funfact: After reading close to a hundret tweets attacking J.K for chosing an asian woman, I couldn’t find one of them actually being asian, but white teenage girls with profiles brimmed with the same politically incorrect contents they were hating on. That does not make their statement less valid, but it is striking how restricted the source of the complains is. Most asian reactions were indeed very positive and happy seeing Kim on the big screen for Nagini instead of another white Hollywood actress. The situation can be considered a prime example how you can never please everyone, as casting AND not casting a certain person will be made into a problem regardless. Casting an asian? Racist. Not casting an asian? Racist.

Issues with Nagini’s role in the storyline

Now, this is a whole other point. In The Crimes of Grindelwald, Nagini’s state is explained as being a „Maledictus“ a mythical creature that gets a first time introduction at that point. Citing from the Harry Potter Wikia:

„A Maledictus (plural Maledictuses) was a female individual who was a carrier of a blood curse that would eventually lead her to turn into a beast permanently. The curse was carried from birth and was passed down from mother to daughter. The beast ultimately transformed into could vary based on the curse.“

With this approach I fully understand the bitter reaction of the fans, claiming how it was a very lazy and convenient choice to handle the explanation of what Nagini is. Nowhere in the franchise of Harry Potter or Fantastic Beasts was a case of a Maledictus ever mentioned, so regarding that error most fans don‘t believe the statement of J.K. how she kept Nagini‘s secret for over 20 years. Having no other sign of Maledictus creatures through the entire storyline makes it look poorly written for the sake of the new movie‘s moment. The only case of a mysterious „blood curse“ involved Astoria Malfoy (born Greengrass) the wife of Draco in „The Cursed Child“, but is not further specified or mentioning any kind of transformation. Citing from the Harry Potter Wikia:

„Astoria died during the summer of 2019, due to her blood curse.(…) During the summer before Scorpius’s third year at Hogwarts, Astoria died due to the toll of her family curse, leaving her son and husband heartbroken.“

In general, many longtime Harry Potter fans are happy to experience more stories out of their favorite universe with Fantastic Beasts, but criticize J.K strongly for messing with the established Harry Potter storyline and characters in retrospective. Nevertheless, the audience might benefit from taking a deep breath, as the movie just got released and there is still plenty of information surrounding the Maledictus idea and Nagini as a person, that we just don‘t know of yet. Only when her arc proceeds we will be able to tell if there are actual racist or illogical issues involved.
There is always a place and time to voice reasonable and precise criticism, but mass spewing blame with false info won‘t help the situation, as weak and agenda ridden arguments not only deter from the core problem, they are not getting more right, with being spread more loudly. It will make everyone involved in the production tense, regretful and messing things up even more to „make up for“ the backlash.

We don‘t know if that curse did not occur anymore in the far future timeline of HP, because it got extinct or curable. We don‘t know how Nagini turned evil or why, how and when she followed Voldemort. Maybe if she indeed faced years of sexism and specicism while losing everyone she loved, it wouldn‘t been a surprise that she‘d snap one day. Maybe Voldemort was the only person that gave her a feeling of still being treated like an honorable human being after her transformation, as he could communicate with and cherish her. Maybe he met her when she was still human and promised her to save her when she‘d follow him. Maybe young Dumbledore did something to make her hate him, so she joins whoever wants to destroy him too (Grindelwald, later Voldemort). Plus, we did not see Nagini cast a spell, so we basically don‘t know if she is a witch or a muggle, but her high age being still alive in HP, indicates she is not a normal human. A lot of „Maybe“s and more that we can‘t answer yet.

Looking back at the Harry Potter storyline, it is equally as fucked up as fitting that Nagini would originally be a human. The fucked up part is that she got milked for Voldemort to nurish him and ate another woman, technically making her a cannibal. The fitting part, and basically why I had the urge to write this article, is that I personally always kept that theory of Nagini not being a snake, because she doesn‘t act like one. For years I was convinced that something was off about her, as there were plenty of situations and moments where she was way too smart and humanlike in her behavoir. Compared to the snake in the zoo of the first film, any birds, horses, cats, frogs or owls of the HP story, she does not act like other „just animals“ at all. I could not tell what she was, maybe an Animagus, but certainly not a simple reptile. Compared to J.K’s general approach of giving most of the characters in her saga a very detailed backstory, Nagini’s past was always left unknown despite her playing such an important part.

Of course you could say it‘s the Horcrux-part that makes her bond with Voldemort so strongly and gave her humanlike intellect. And alltough the Horcrux inside of Harry didn‘t really make him much smarter, it is a logical possibility. The respectful and almost loving way Voldemort treated her and reacted to her needs or statements, even set her off from the rest of the deatheaters in his following.
The chapter in Godric‘s Hollow for example, shows how she was able to identify certain humans (Harry and Hermione), managed to lure them away from the graveyard, navigated through several alleys, opened a lock and understood basic communcation. She knew how to coordinate a body (Bathilda) that coudln‘t be more different from her own, in a complete natural and experienced way.
Besides that, she reacts correctly to Voldemort‘s Parseltongue, but also when he addresses her in english. All that could be because of her being a Horcrux OR being a human originally. To close this off, here are some excerpts from the books that make Nagini out to be more than a simple pet.

“Where is Nagini?” said the cold voice. “I — I don’t know, My Lord,” said the first voice nervously. “She set out to explore the house, I think… .”

“Nagini,” said the cold voice, “you are out of luck. I will not be feeding Wormtail to you, after all … but never mind, never mind … there is still Harry Potter… .” The snake hissed. Harry could see its tongue fluttering.

“….Wormtail was able to follow the instructions I gave him, which would return me to a rudimentary, weak body of my own, a body I would be able to inhabit while awaiting the essential ingredients for true rebirth … a spell or two of my own invention … a little help from my dear Nagini,” Voldemort’s red eyes fell upon the continually circling snake, “a potion concocted from unicorn blood, and the snake venom Nagini provided . . . I was soon returned to an almost human form, and strong enough to travel.”

“He [Harry] will be allowed to fight, and you will be left in no doubt which of us is the stronger. Just a little longer, Nagini,” he whispered, and the snake glided away through the grass to where the Death Eaters stood watching. “Now untie him, Wormtail, and give him back his wand.”

“I don’t think so,” said Dumbledore. “I think I know what the sixth Horcrux is. I wonder what you will say when I confess that I have been curious for a while about the behavior of the snake, Nagini?” “The snake?” said Harry, startled. “You can use animals as Horcruxes?” “Well, it is inadvisable to do so,” said Dumbledore, “because to confide a part of your soul to something that can think and move for itself is obviously a very risky business.“

The great snake, disliking the disturbance, opened its mouth wide and hissed angrily, but the Death Eaters did not hear it, so jubilant were they at Bellatrix and the Malfoys’ humiliation. Bellatrix’s face, so recently flushed with happiness, had turned an ugly, blotchy red. “She is no niece of ours, my Lord,” she cried over the outpouring of mirth.“Enough,” said Voldemort, stroking the angry snake. “Enough.” And the laughter died at once.

“As we know, he failed. After an interval of some years, however, he used Nagini to kill an old Muggle man, and it might then have occurred to him to turn her into his last Horcrux. She underlines the Slytherin connection, which enhances Lord Voldemort’s mystique; I think he is perhaps as fond of her as he can be of anything; he certainly likes to keep her close, and he seems to have an unusual amount of control over her, even for a Parselmouth.”

Fotos: Titlepicture: twitter / @BeastsMovieUK, Warnerbros,
The Crimes of Grindelwald, Edit: Chery
Ticketrole, Igor Ovsyannykov
Hogwarts, Sebastian Wagner
Tweet, Twitter / J.K.Rowling
Snake, Michael Schwarzenberger

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  • Bethany Vowl

    15. November 2018

    What the hell! I haven’t seen it yet but I already knew from the trailers that she likely was a human. I think it’s outragous how people respond to this so badly and try to push racism into it, what a joke. Maybe it was not the most sensitive thing to do, but since when do hollywood actors always need to BE the ethnicity they play? And you are absolutely right, who said Nagini was a Naga? It’s just about the name! People want to hate that’s all. I’m going to watch it on saturday, can’t wait!

  • Clemens

    15. November 2018

    Who cares about that millenial crap, let them talk! Let them get offended by things that don’t even exist! Nagini being a human was a great idea, even tho I agree that the whole “suddely there’s the maledictus” stuff was utter rubbish. Should have made her animagical!


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