Let’s Talk About the Failing Politics of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
Now is not the time to be polite to evil.
As promised in my review, I am back to talk politics in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, now that more of you have seen it and therefore will try to Rowling-splain to me how genius the film truly is. We’ve covered why the film is deeply harmful in terms of the depiction of Leta Lestrange, and why Johnny Depp is not the hill to die on.
But today, I want to break down the deeply disturbing political implications of Rowling’s new Wizarding World.
**Warning: Massive spoilers will follow for the entire film.**
Grindelwald is a fascist, a magic Nazi, hellbent on erasing most of the Muggle population from the face of the Earth. In an early scene, one of his followers simpers about how when he’s in power, the Muggles will flee cities by the millions, and he compares them to animals. This is immediately followed by him standing by as his follower murders a Muggle toddler.
Throughout the film, Grindelwald skulks about, trying to convince the good guys to come to his side, which works in two cases, and then hosts a rally to expand on his great dreams for the future; this ends with him literally trying to set Paris aflame.
Prior to this, Dumbledore tells several Aurors not to got to the rally or commit any violence against Grindelwald’s followers. Apparently, the best way to deal with the rising threat of a wizard supremacist is to just ignore him and hope he goes away on his own.
What a totally great, timely, relevant message to send—that we should just tolerate fascists in our midst. It’s not like it’s been proven that protests and pushing back against Nazis works at all. It’s not like major guests threatening to walk got Steve Bannon banned from the New Yorker festival (it did), or Milo Yiannopoulos has been infuriated as his events get cancelled due to protests (he’s really mad).
Rowling first hinted at this terrible plot point in a featurette on Dumbledore, warning against being “brutal towards [Grindelwald’s] supporters, because you’re playing into his hands.” Again, these are the people who murder a toddler in the first thirty minutes of the movie, but if you’re mean to fascists, you’re just as bad as they are, I guess?
It’s not like the first seven Harry Potter books also contained students forming an underground resistance movement against the Ministry and those in power on two separate occasions. Maybe if Harry and his pals had just ignored Voldemort, he’d have gotten bored and gone away.
Naturally, Rowling couldn’t resist making Dumbledore the wisest and bestest character, so she has an Auror kill a woman at Grindelwald’s rally; the woman goes for her wand, and immediately an Auror uses an Unforgivable Curse to take her out. I know that during the first war with Voldemort, Aurors were allowed to use the Unforgivable Curses, but I’m not sure why one whipped one out there, since that’s technically illegal!
But she had to make Dumbledore right somehow, even if he’s very wrong. The woman’s death is somehow a good reason for the remainder of Grindelwald’s followers to all Apparate away and use her death to draw more to their cause. If it’s supposed to be a police brutality commentary, it fails on several levels.
There was no need to make Dumbledore in the right here. Grindelwald nearly destroys an entire city with magic blue fire; had the Aurors arrested him or even provided enough pushback to make him rethink whether his goals were achievable, we could’ve saved a lot of lives, including Leta’s. But no, instead Albus “I mean, if I let Snape abuse children for years, of course I’d support letting genocidal maniacs have their platform” Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore’s problematic rhetoric reigns supreme.
The heroes must be punished for defending themselves or pushing back against fascism. Really, excellent message to send as fascism continues a worldwide rise.
And yet, there’s more. Grindelwald vapes from a skull to divine the future, and sees that WWII is coming. His response to a global tragedy and genocide is to … commit more genocide? Given that the last time I checked, Dumbledore doesn’t defeat Grindelwald until the end of WWII in 1945, this makes no sense. Grindelwald is supposed to parallel Hitler, down to the fortress in Austria where he houses prisoners that bears the inscription “For the Greater Good,” and yet now he has this grand noble goal of saving lives by taking out the Muggle population? It doesn’t line up with anything established in canon.
Also, this film takes place in 1927. Are we going to slap some makeup on the cast, or recast them so they’re the appropriate age in 1945, or just retcon that, as well?
Rowling also tries to make us feel for one of Grindelwald’s followers, Queenie Goldstein. Queenie starts the film off by revealing herself to be a somewhat bad person; she has magicked her Muggle boyfriend Jacob Kowalski so that he’ll marry her. Love spells remove consent, so Queenie’s already off to a really bad start here. When Jacob gets mad at her for enchanting him, she teleports off in a huff and falls in with Grindelwald, who offers her a solution to her problems.
Trouble is, her problem is wanting to marry a Muggle; wouldn’t Jacob be one of Grindelwald’s victims?
She drags poor Jacob to Grindelwald’s rally, putting his life in danger. After forcing him to listen to a speech about wiping out his people, she tries to get Jacob to join them. He calls her crazy. This is supposed to be a painful callback to when he thought she was crazy after she magicked him and dragged him to a different country, and yet we’re supposed to feel so bad for Queenie in this moment.
I’ve already seen people rush to her defense, saying it made sense because people had treated her badly all her life, and yet, I’m going to point to other Potter characters, like Remus Lupin, who got dealt bad hands and never went to the Dark Side.
I’m sorry, but the Wizarding World didn’t need a Serena Joy. Grindelwald makes his goals pretty clear in that rally, and yet Queenie still thinks that by solving her own problem, the rest of the world and the lives lost won’t matter. Queenie isn’t a sympathetic character, yet Rowling longs to make her one. It’s Snape Part Two.
A friend of mine pointed out that there’s an American Quidditch player with the last name Kowalski, which points to Queenie and Jacob reconciling and having a child together. If this is the route they’re going, I’ll be livid. Queenie and Jacob stopped being a viable ship with the love spell. Now, she’s willfully endangered him and abandoned him to pursue the anti-Muggle campaign. I love a good redemption arc, but this? This isn’t it.
Credence’s fall to Grindelwald’s side at least makes sense, and is an interesting commentary on fascism preying on disenfranchised youth with anger issues who don’t have a place to belong. Queenie seems a strange choice to me, though after conversations with a friend who did like the film, I recognize that anyone can be radicalized at any time, so the timing of her arc is more of a problem in how brief it is (this is a two-movie arc, at least) and why that makes it feel out of character, rather than it just being a completely wild ride.
I suppose Rowling wanted to try something new with having characters established as heroes switch sides to raise tension, but quite frankly, we don’t need heroes playing at being fascists to make us confused about who to root for. The originals worked just fine with having the heroes as good guys and the antagonists as bad guys.
Unless Queenie is playing a very long con, she is going to probably get a get-out-of-jail-free card after she gets someone killed and then cries about it. I’m sorry, but this franchise didn’t need moral ambiguity that’s all but promised to end with Queenie skipping out of jail with no consequences.
As I said above, Rowling’s previous works have never operated under this kind of weirdly “both sides are bad” political scale. Voldemort was a villain who didn’t want to spare the world another war; he just wanted domination. Harry and his friends fought back against oppression.
They didn’t sit mildly by and say that if they fought Umbridge, they’d be as bad as her. The Order of the Phoenix didn’t stand up for the Death Eaters’ rights to speak freely about their prejudice. They fought back and then won.
At one point, Theseus tells Newt he has to pick a side. It seems Rowling is loathe to pick one herself, preferring to walk a line where she sympathizes with both sides. Unfortunately, this is not the story, or the time, to do this. The original series was about fighting against prejudice and evil. I wish I could say that Fantastic Beasts seemed to send the same clear message, rather than bogging the core ideas down with heroes changing sides and “both sides are evil” rhetoric.
Grindelwald was crafted as a Hitler parallel, but like most of the series’ magic, Rowling seems to have forgotten that. Maybe she’ll remember for the third film.
(image: Warner Bros)
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