By Jana Monji, AsAmNews Arts & Culture Reporter
In this third installment of the Fantastic Beasts film series, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) teams with his brother Theseus (Callum Turner) and the No-Maj baker, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Folger).
They take on the political maneuverings of the newly transformed Gellert Grindelwald (previously played by Johnny Depp, but now, without explanation, Mads Mikkelsen) as the world of witches and wizards head toward a major election and the No-Maj world heads toward World War II.
These films are a prequel to the Harry Potter series and thus part of the Wizarding World franchise, but you don’t have to know about the Potter series to understand what’s happening. You will need to know what happened in the first two films: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. The first film was based in the US. Grindelwald had disguised himself, but is revealed. The second goes to Paris where Grindelwald reveals his plan to have wizards and witches dominate the world. (For a more complete synopsis, visit my blog entry.) The third film, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, the wizards end up in Bhutan, but unfortunately, despite the magical creature name-dropping and a political candidate with an East Asian last name, the Asians are strictly background players. This is set up from the beginning. None of the main characters from the first two films are East or Southeast Asian.
The meaning of the vial of blood from the second film is explained as Dumbledore waits for Grindelwald (now Mads Mikkelsen) at a posh tea spot. They once were much in love and determined to change the world as was their supposed birthright. Yet, they have, obviously, parted ways. Mikkelsen’s Grindelwald isn’t a man with a shock of wild white hair and heterochromatic eyes like Depp’s was. He’s a more precise-looking man with ordinary hair color and almost boringly normal style, but his coolness has that twinge of serial killer calculation leftover as a visual legacy of Hannibal Lector.
Elsewhere, in a pastoral surrounding, Newt is searching for a creature and finds it, but he is not alone. The creature is taken by followers of Grindelwald. Grindelwald kills the deer-like creature, a qilin. If you had any doubt about the evil nature of Grindelwald, they will be erased. Who kills helpless baby animals? Grindelwald is the kind of guy who would bloodily slaughter a defenseless rare newborn animal with his own hands. You might not want your young children to see this CGI death.
If you’re up on your East Asian mythology or cryptozoology, you’ll recognize this creature variously as qilin (麒麟), Kirin (Japanese) or gilin (Korean). If you read Chinese characters, the relationship with deers will be obvious. In Japanese (and even Chinese), the name has now come to signify either a beer brand or an ordinary giraffe.
In the international wizarding world, there are two issues: Capturing Grindelwald so he can be put on trial and an election of a new leader. The two candidates are Liu Tao (Dave Wong), who is the Supreme Head of the International Confederation of Wizards (ICW) and Minister of Magic for China, and Vicência Santos (Brazilian actress Maria Fernanda Cândido), who is the Supreme Head of the International Confederation of Wizards (ICW) and Minister of Magic for Brazil. The current Supreme Head of the International Confederation of Wizards (ICW) and Minister of Magic for Germany is Anton Vogel (German actor Oliver Masucci ). Dumbledore sends Vogel a message: Don’t take the easy path. You probably can guess what path he takes.
And guess which candidates has the most lines and wins? There will be a surprise candidate and the action will end up in Bhutan because that’s where many aspects of important magic originates according to the script. And yet, the main players are White with a sprinkling of Black people. Even with the inclusion of Nadylam (father from Cameroon and mother from India) in an expanded role (compared to the last film), the optics are still White with some Black players.
If you have any doubt to the marginalization and usage of people of Asian descent as decorative background pieces and diverting pieces of diversity, look at the posters. As noted above, the Fantastic Beasts franchise made mention of Japanese and Chinese cryptozoological creatures in the second installment. Now in the third installment, the whole plot turns on the preservation of a Chinese (East Asian) mythological creature, qilin.
And yet, how much understanding does the franchise have of East Asian traditions? How much investment does it put in its East Asian characters? Is this cultural appropriation?
This film and its diversity optics might have been fine a decade or two ago, but if bringing diversity to the Wizarding World was the grand scheme of the Fantastic Beasts saga (there will be two more films), then one of the main cast members should have been East or Southeast Asian. Otherwise, this is another example of Asians or others being background players in their own backyard. That’s not diversity.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore will be released in the US on 15 April 2022. According to The Hollywood Reporter, some dialogue has been removed to facilitate its release in China were it opened on 7 April 2022. It has already opened in the Netherlands (6 April 2022), Australia, New Zealand (7 April 2022) and in European countries such as the UK, Finland, Spain and Germany. For my complete review, visit AgeOfTheGeek.org.
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