Controversy: Fantastic Beasts’ Nagini was cast with a Korean actress

100th anniversary of the Royal Air Force

A few days ago, the final trailer for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald was released online. I didn’t pay much attention, because I made up my mind months ago to not care about any movie with Johnny Depp. Depp’s involvement is problematic enough, but there was a new problematic wrinkle that worried fans when the trailer came out:

It happens near the beginning of the trailer, do you see it? They cast Korean actress Claudia Kim as Nagini, the human woman “with a blood curse that causes her to transform into an animal,” in this case, a snake. The problem is that this is the first time anyone has seen the Nagini character’s human form, and people took issue with the role being played by an Asian actress specifically. The Potter universe is fantastical, of course, but people have always noted that the universe is dominated by white characters. The few non-white characters are poorly drawn, or two-dimensional, or in this case… an Asian woman who becomes the subservient “pet” of a white villain (Lord Voldemort in the Potter books).

According to author J.K. Rowling, Nagini is a maledictus — a woman with a blood curse that causes her to transform into an animal — and the author claimed she’s been holding onto this secret for nearly two decades. The knowledge now throws Nagini’s character and her actions in the Harry Potter books into a different light, with people pointing out on social media that in the books, Nagini is a submissive character who eventually becomes the property of a male blood supremacist.

[From Teen Vogue]

When people questioned JK Rowling’s choice here, she said she always intended for Nagini to be played by an Asian actress. Here’s one of her arguments:

I’ll buy JK’s argument that this wasn’t a late addition to make the Fantastic Beasts/Potter universe more diverse, and that she always intended for Nagini to be an Asian woman. That being said, just because this is now part of the canon, doesn’t mean it’s completely A-OK. Besides that, many people are pointing out that the mythology of Naga is rooted in Indian mythology and… if you want to get technical about it, maybe an Indian actress should have played Nagini instead of a Korean actress???

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Photos courtesy of WENN, screencap from trailer.

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81 Responses to “Controversy: Fantastic Beasts’ Nagini was cast with a Korean actress”

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  1. Clare says:

    I always thought the Nagini name was a variation of the Hindi ‘nagan’ or female snake?

    I’m shocked that jk is publicly trying to sell this As ‘Indonesian mythology’. Even if that’s where she come across it first, she’s had 2 decades+ to educate herself.

    • Des says:

      She’s technically correct in that the Indonesians also have a version … which originated in India. But why a Korean is playing it, I don’t know. She said something on Twitter about how Indonesia has multiple ethnicities – but none of them are Korean. I give her a long rope for my childhood’s sake but she’s really something these days.

      • Ophelia says:

        Interestingly, there’s a region in Indonesia that traditionally (as in dates back to a long time ago–thus of interest to philologists, historians, etc) uses austronesian/malay root language for speaking but uses korean/hangul for writing.

        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cia-Cia_language

      • Lucky says:

        Yeah, it’s like a racist triple-down to say, “Look, it encompasses all of these: Javanese, Chinese and Betawi – and THAT is why I am using a Korean actress!” Like, WTF?

    • zappy says:

      it is. Nagini is derivated from Nagan.
      Naga means dragon. a totally different myth creature.
      Ask any Indonesian and they’ll answer Nagini is an Indian folklore
      Yes we have our own “Nagini-like” myth creature. But it has different story than Nagini. I dont really care who played Nagini. But her explanation about it is laughable.

      • jessamine says:

        Her “latin-derived” spells are laughable, too. In addition to being problematic as heck on multiple levels (her horribly written female characters drove me nuts before I was old/aware enough to label the issues) but her overall relationship with the languages/cultures she appropriates from is ridiculous. Tolkien she is not.

  2. Pinar O says:

    Hey- i dont really get the problem. What should they do? No diversoty is absolutely not ok. I am livin as a diverse woman i a foreign country
    We can see it as a beginning – a miniml positive change or we can bitch around

    • Veronica S. says:

      Diversity is important, and I appreciate that J.K. Rowling is trying, but that doesn’t mean it should be immune to criticism. That’s the only way we learn to recognize and learn from our mistakes.

      We have to stop treating POC as afterthoughts in our Western media. The decision to add Nagini would have gone through several levels of management beyond JKR – and *nobody* thought, hey, maybe this isn’t the best idea? That tells you the problem is layered. There isn’t enough diversity in the actual media to put POC in roles that aren’t secondary to the primary cast, and there’s not enough diversity in production team for people to recognize these issues before it reaches the end product. It’s a problem up and down the line.

  3. Queenb says:

    JK Rowling had sooo much good will and lost it all. The cherry on top was casting Depp and liking transphobic tweets.

    • BaBaDook says:

      I didn’t know that. What tweets did she like? >.<

    • enya says:

      Yeah–what tweets? Very interested in hearing this. Not cool if true, JK.

      • ichsi says:

        Yeah, I’m interested too since there’s a lot of stuff called transphobic nowadays that just plain isn’t, because it’s an easy way to shut up or manipulate people.
        The casting choice is pretty terrible and it’s so sad that no one on that production team noticed how effed-up the idea is. I still love HP and mostly like JKR but she has sold out a LONG time ago and those continued “canon” additions, so it fits the money-grabs are so tiring and disappointing.

    • BorderMollie says:

      What even happened to her?? She basically spends her days writing rubbish and retweeting right wing newspapers and threads from bigots.

      I guess money really does change people.

      • Jester says:

        If she’s retweeting right wing news and bigots, it’s not because she agrees with them, as you seem to be implying.

    • Paula says:

      What about gary oldman he was also acussed of DV when he enjoy the harry potter franchise back in 2004

      • SallyS says:

        @Paula, unlike Depp Oldman wasn’t handpicked by Rowling herself when he was cast back then. Depp on the other hand looks like he was personally picked by her for that role and she went out of her way to stress how happy she was with Depp on the team.

  4. Caity says:

    As a diehard potterhead, it’s been a rough few years watching jkr go from goddess of creation, to problematic fave, to this bitch.
    And she defended casting POS wife beater Depp.
    (Not even mentioning cursed child bullshit)

    • Millenial says:

      Yeah, I lost the JK Rowling faith after the Johnny Depp debacle. It was kind of heartbreaking because I LOVE Harry Potter.

      Jo should really just stop tweeting at all, honestly. I don’t know why she feels compelled to weigh in on casting decisions at all.

      • Lex says:

        It’s okay because this ISN’T Harry Potter. It is shameless moneygrubbing and leaching off the reputation of a previously loved story. FBaWTFT wasn’t a story book at all – this entire plot is made up.

        These monstrosities have nothing to do with HP, especially now abusive turd slash trainwreck JD is involved.

  5. Erinn says:

    Claudia is super pretty. That’s about all the good I have to say.

    I loooooved HP. I loved it. But JK has been such a royal jerk in the last few years, that I just can’t be bothered to care about anything she’s been doing. Hufflepuff for life, but man. It seems like she’s just randomly picking bad decisions out of a hat at this point.

    • OSTONE says:

      I know. JK was my idol growing up, she gave me characters and a Universe I love and grew up with. Harry, Hermione and Ron were my friends when I had none. However, the last few years have shown how out of touch and surrounded by white and wealth privilege she really is. It’s so sad.

  6. Leesa says:

    I’m guessing Claudia Kim was pretty psyched to get the part?

    • diana says:

      I watched an interview with her and she was very excited.
      I understand the criticism but have a hard time engaging. I hope it doesn’t sour her experience with all of this.
      As for JK, she’s been cancelled long before the Depp shenanigans.

    • ZGB says:

      I can’t even engage in this outrage. My introduction to the name, ‘Nagini’ was in Indian movies, so I’m surprised by the Indonesian explanation.

      All I can contribute here is that I’m happy for Claudia Kim. She was cute in AOU

  7. elvie says:

    JK Rowling doubling down on the casting on Johnny Depp killed my admiration for her. I adore the Harry Potter series, but I’ve given up on this franchise because of Depp, which hurts, because Jude Law as Dumbledore is perfect, inspired casting. This Nagini shit is problematic AF and makes me REALLY uncomfortable, even without the race issues.

  8. MousyB says:

    I’m mean I’m glad were finally getting some diversity in the potter world but im sorry JK if full of s***. Shes been pulling this “potter world was ALWAYS diverse guys” and giving us “oh this character was really ‘insert some minority status here ALL ALONG” ever since she got twitter a few years ago. Honestly if it wasnt so annoying Id find it sad – she needs to let this series go and let people enjoy it for what it was/focus on her more recent projects…

    • Jess says:

      It shouldn’t be diverse. You won’t believe it, but it’s ok to write a peace of fiction based on your own experience (even though you add magic to the universe).

      • MousyB says:

        Great job at missing the entire point of my comment!

        My issue is that JK’s experience in the UK did include a lot of diversity actually – she’s said so herself several times. Instead of retroactively trying to make up for lack of diversity in her books by saying ‘oh this person was a minority the whole time guys’ she should just let it go is what I’m arguing. It seems inauthentic.

        I dont think ALL books need to be diverse by the way – however, I do think its great and allows more people to see themselves in stories.

        Also, you spelled “piece” wrong.

      • Veronica S. says:

        ?? Why wouldn’t there be diversity? The United Kingdom is a huge international hub. The British empire colonized the hell out of the planet for several centuries. There’s been cultural exchange there for forever. London is itself only slightly smaller than New York City and has one of the ethnically diverse populations in the world. I find it EXTREMELY difficult to believe that JKR wouldn’t have run into POC and other minority groups in the UK throughout her life.

      • Jess says:

        @Veronica, Britain is officially only 90% white, look it up.
        Regarding colonies, I just actually finished reading a book on crimes and atrocities committed by Britain in India, how much they impoverished India and exploited its population, it’s called “The era of darkness, British empire in India”.
        Still, don’t see how it should affect ART and a result of someone’s imagination. I don’t think literature should get policed.

      • Anon says:

        Jess says that Britain is “only” 90% white. I guess she won’t be satisfied unless it’s 100% white.

        Guys, we should let Jess have her idealistic, all-white, non-diverse ART. That’s the only way she’ll be happy.

      • Jess says:

        @Anon, it’s not about me being happy. “Only” was obviously a typo/I clicked on the wrong autofill on my phone. It literally doesn’t make sense and doesn’t fit with the sentence. (I don’t know if you know this, but 90% is a majority, regardless of what you’re talking about, so “only” doesn’t even apply) I’m glad that that single typo made you so amused and gave you a chance to act “clever”. My point was that Harry Potter is not a freaking cultural heritage, it’s a book written by a single person, who’s art shouldn’t be policed by people who don’t even understand what a British society is. As an author she can write whatever the hell she wants.

      • Veronica S. says:

        Britain is 90% white. Gloucestershire, where Rowling grew up, is 84% white. London is 40% non-white, and since a fair amount of the “muggle” action takes place there, that’s kind of glaring. I mean, where exactly do you people live where you don’t see minorities on a day to day basis? I live in a city that’s 70% white and a fraction of the size of London. I encounter POC EVERY DAY. Half of my coworkers at my last job were non-white. One was Iraqi, two were Bhutanese, two were Ethiopian, one was Nigerian, another from Fiji. At my current job, nearly 20% of the staff is Asian and my supervisor is Jewish. When I worked retail, I had deaf clients, I had mute clients, I had trans clients, I had clients visiting from all over the world. If you live in a metropolitan area, you see diversity all the damn time. It is impossible not to see it. It is, however, easy to willingly overlook it.

        Miss me with this “she’s a single person writing a book” nonsense. I also write professionally for a living. Beyond the fact that her series was an international phenomenon with immense reach and influence, the entire idea that writers aren’t responsible for what they put out in the world is a crock of sh*t. The moment you publish, the work stops belonging to just you. You are responsible for your words and what you put out in the world. I like JKR and I love Harry Potter, but being an artist does not make you immune to criticism. Nobody is “policing” her. She has a right to say whatever she wants, but that comes with the responsibility of dealing with people’s responses to it her statements. Nobody gets the privilege of one-way dialogue on the Internet.

  9. BaBaDook says:

    All of this aside. Wouldn’t Nagini have turned into a human when she got beheaded? How is this only a thing now?

    • Laughysaphy says:

      Yeah, I’m confused about that as well, and actually kind of retroactively uncomfortable with the idea of Neville beheading a human, even an “evil” one, but now that’s questionable because apparently Nagini is confined to that form because of a curse. It’s all very disturbing.

    • Anners says:

      I really prefer the thought of Nagini just being a snake, doing what super large, possessed by the soul of a dark lord snakes do. The idea she was once human is disturbing. I liked the idea that Voldemort only liked his snake, not people.

      • Laughysaphy says:

        Yeah, she eats people! It’s super disturbing to know now that she’s actually a human. Urg.

      • dokilis says:

        Plus the fact Nagini had to be milked to keep Voldemort alive suddenly becomes far more disturbing if she’s actually human…

    • M.A.F. says:

      It’s a thing now because Rowling is editing her universe as this continues. I highly doubt this was the narrative during the original run. She is changing her stories and characters because as those who were children when the books came out are now turning into adults, they are starting to see through the problems some adults saw at the time and are calling her out on her BS. She says this has always been the case because what else can she possible say? Her universe was never that evolved like Tolkien’s world and that is where she is trying to push it.

  10. Jess says:

    She’s not a “pet” of a villain, it’s not the 80s romantic comedy. She’s a familiar of a magician.
    Also, why on Earth should Harry Potter be diverce? Yes, London is diverce because of the immigrants and tourists, the rest of the England – not so much. Why author can’t write about her own British experience (and add a magical twist on the universe)? Will you ask Chinese or Korean author why their books are not diverce?
    USA need to realize that not every country is a melting pot and was built by immigrants and slaves. Asian countries (Korea, Japan) are actually the most racially homogenous, not accepting towards newcomers and immigrants. Ask them what’s good

    • Des says:

      That’s literally what POC want to know too – why can’t she just keep her fantasy world white as she obviously intended it to be when she wrote it instead of trying so hard to be diverse and missing the point by a mile.

      If you want to be diverse, then do it properly. Don’t just jump on the bangwagon to head off criticism and do this bad a job.

    • Clare says:

      Jess – the U.K. is pretty damn diverse. Not just London. Ever been to Manchester? Birmingham? Cambridge? Leeds? Bradford? Glasgow? These are just cities I’m pulling out of my hat to make a point – not an all encompassing list. There is a long history of migration here from former colonies – and to intimate that only London is diverse, in nonsense.

      To represent Britain as mostly white, as Rowling has done in her books, in nonsense.

    • Tanesha86 says:

      Totally off topic but where are you from Jess? Trying to understand your thought process here…

      • Jess says:

        @Clare, both Glasgow and Leeds are 85-90% white, Britain in total is 90% white. it’s not difficult to look up.
        Again, I’m all for diversity in a workplace and in general, I just don’t think ART (and fictional literature is definitely art) should be policed in accordance with someone’s political agenda. And I’m not even a fan of Harry Potter

      • Jess says:

        @Tanesha86, I’m from Europe (not Britain)

      • ValiantlyVarnished says:

        @Jess the UK is 81% percent white overall and that’s according to the last UK Census.
        Also according to that census London has a racial makeup of 59% white. That’s a pretty slim majority.

      • Alyse says:

        JK’s grew up in a village in Gloucestershire though. You’re talking about London, and you’re talking about now. There’s much less diversity in English villages and towns than major cities and even less so when JK grew up. Her world probably was very white, and that’s probably why she really didn’t think about the optics here at all. I’m not excusing her as I find her comments, and actions, disappointing, I just wanted to add my 2pence worth about the differences between British cities and towns/villages.

    • Starkiller says:

      Europeans need realise that bringing up the USA nonstop, especially on topics that have literally nothing to do with it (the discussion is about a British author, a British film series and a part played by a Korean actress, so please explain where the USA comes in?) looks weird and obsessive.

      • Jess says:

        @Starkiller, because you are constantly discussing diversity in countries that don’t have the same history (built by immigrants) as USA. Like, “why isn’t Germany diverse”. Because, it’s freaking not historically. Why isn’t Kongo diverse? Why Japan is 99.9% Japanese and you won’t be welcome there as an immigrant?

    • LadyLilith says:

      Hey Jess, how about you don’t try to justify your racist bullsh*t Mmkay? Thanks.

      ✊🏽❤️✊🏽❤️✊🏽❤️✊🏽❤️✊🏽❤️✊🏽❤️✊🏽❤️

  11. Sara Martin says:

    I thought the book states Nagini was “Albanian”?

    • Amelie says:

      I think you might be thinking of when before Voldemort returned to his human form. Between the time baby Harry made him lose his human form and the time he regained his human form, for many years Voldemort wandered around without a body, I guess some kind of demon spirit. And I think he wandered around Albania a lot and possessed snakes here and there but they’d always die pretty quickly due to Voldemort possessing them. I think he may have met Nagini during his wanderings in Albania maybe? But I don’t remember him specifying Nagini was Albanian. I think he explains all this to Harry in the cemetery in the 4th book when he’s holding Harry hostage right after the ritual has been performed to bring him back to life. This is what I remember anyways, it’s been awhile since I’ve read the series!

      While I can understand the disappointment of Nagini’s casting, I don’t think we should be mad at poor Claudia Kim. She might not fit the part “mythologically” but she’s probably so excited to be part of this movie. I also never realized Nagini had a human backstory. Was it Neville who killed her in the final battle at Hogwarts??

    • chinoiserie says:

      No it doesn’t, Voldemort was just in Albania right before we knew he got her.

  12. Case says:

    This movie is already canceled because of Johnny Depp.

    • Cali says:

      This.

      I didn’t even watch the trailer until the Nagini is a human buzz hit the internet so I took a quick peek.

  13. Alix says:

    Needless to say, only Irish actors should play Irish characters, only French actors should play French characters… I get that you don’t want a Caucasian actor done up to look Asian, but we seem to be forgetting that the whole concept of acting is to portray someone you’re not. I expected an Asian performer in this role; I’m not going to freak out that she’s not from a specific country; this isn’t a documentary.

  14. KMarcus says:

    JK lost me with the casting of Depp, and really lost me with defending him. Now this? It’s really hard for me and I’m sure a lot of other Potterheads to feel this way now, but I can no longer bring myself to even want to watch or keep up with the Fantastic Beasts spinoffs at this point. I can’t support it, and it’s just too confusing to try and fight ure out how they keep f***ing up with casting SO bad. Bad casting is one thing, but hiring a messed up abuser and then this bs? I can’t.

  15. Adrien says:

    Poor Ms. Kim. Let her enjoy the role.

  16. Lala11_7 says:

    I can’t with J.K….and that was even BEFORE all of this…….

    • Anners says:

      Right?! I wish she’d just written the HP series (minus that horrific epilogue) and then remained silent. I don’t enjoy the website, I dislike the movies, I can’t even with the US school of magic, and WTF was the Cursed Child????? That’s on top of all of her weird attempts to wedge in being diverse and LGBTQ friendly *after the fact*. Just seems grasping and virtue signalling and gross.

  17. Mira says:

    Can J.K Rowling for once respond to controversies in a non-condescending way? It’s like she thinks that people should be grateful for her half-assed attempt to put some diversity in the franchise.

  18. Cee says:

    I won’t watch these films because of Depp. But now I’m just puzzled at how wrong everything is about this universe.
    At least Scartlett Johanson is not playing a Korean playing an idonisian or indian myth snake. *sarcasm*

    Edit: I hope this role brings exposure to Ms. Kim and access to better/more projects in the future.

  19. Marty says:

    You you include diversity for the sake of diversity, this is what you get. A poorly thought out character plot add-on. This is why it’s just as important to have diversity behind the cameras as on screen. This movie doesn’t need anymore controversy.

  20. Ty says:

    That what struck me too, in the books
    Nagini literally means female snake in Hindi/ Sanskrit

    The mythology of Naga travelled to far east from India.

    But JK is not the only one.

    Loads of western books , movies use Indian mythology and characters and paint them as villain.

    Entire Cassandra Clare series called a demoness as Kali, not to mention League of extraordinary gentlemen.

    Recently BlackPanther used Hanuman as a semi villanous sidekick cult when he is considered the most loyal devoted wrestlerdemi God. Ruined Blackpanther for me.

    There are plenty subtle racist jabs at Indian or essentially Hindu culture which people , black or white, do not give a second thought while doing.

  21. Marianne says:

    Nagini isnt really Voldemort’s pet though. Shee is one of his most trusted companions which is why he makes Nagini one of his horcruxes.

    • chinoiserie says:

      I thought the controversy was about that she was Korean not Indian like the name implies. I don’t understand why people think it’s offensive to have this character who has a interesting story here and turns probably tragically to of Voldemort’s most important weapons is an issue.

  22. Krissy says:

    (Eye Roll) Some people have wayyyyy too much time on their hands and love to nitpick or be offended. This from a mixed race black woman.. I said what I said…

    • chinoiserie says:

      I just feel that if role would be just fine for a white actor and there is no offensive specific stereotypes about it (like if Koreans and snakes had some offensive association like black people and monkeys have) it’s not an issue and it’s a good way to give someone a good part who is a good actress.

  23. Reece says:

    Using this as the example because it is here,
    I feel as if the people who are so upset about this are saying that a person of Korean descent can’t be from anywhere but Korea or have a name not of Korean origin. They’re all essentially swinging the pendulum to the other side and not allowing for cultures to blend. I’m done.

    ETA This from a mixed race black woman who has been told what I am supposed to be my entire life.

  24. Mika says:

    Naga means “dragon” in Malay. If she’s saying that the legend is based on the Indonesian mythology, why not find an Indonesian or at least a South-East Asian actress. Korea is nowhere near South East Asia. There are Chinese people in the region yeah, but still.
    Didn’t she pull the same shit with Native Americans? Man, she’s problematic as hell. Using people’s legends and cultures without even knowing what to do with it but still act like you know it all. Ugh.

  25. Reloaded says:

    As Indonesian, why I feel that she just threw out the word Indonesia out there because not many people know Indonesia, so nobody will question it. I’m not sure she knew where Indonesia located when she wrote Nagini.

  26. blueberrymuffin says:

    Yep, even if JKR always intended it it fits the pattern. Mantis in Guardians of the Galaxy is another obvious one. No agency, kind of slow or innocent, subservient to a non-asian male, etc.

  27. SallyS says:

    In a few years Rowling would tell us that The Sorting Hat was a trans, I guess.

  28. raincoaster says:

    Wait, Cho is problematic too? Cho kicked ass.