J.K. Rowling Addresses the Whiteness of “Fantastic Beasts”

Though Dylan Marron’s sobering “Every Single Word Spoken by a Person of Color in the Entire Harry Potter Film Series” has recently drawn more widespread attention to the lack of diversity in the world of Harry Potter, the supercut being featured on major news outlets like Seventeen and Buzzfeed since its release last week, the topic has been one of debate in the fan community for years – and for good reason.

Despite espousing the ideals of love and acceptance, some fans have been less than receptive of the idea that Harry’s world is a diverse one. Several months ago, we featured an excellent guest post by Marissa Lee, co-founder of Racebending.com, entitled “In Support of a Newt of Color,” and though Eddie Redmayne has been cast in the role in the time since then, ending that particular dream of many Potter fans, the essay is well worth a read.

With the announcement of Fantastic Beasts, many fans saw an opportunity for more diversity in the wizarding world, but as of this posting, all of the actors announced for the franchise are white. Twitter user Vividscarletsky brought her concerns to J.K. Rowling herself:

Although Jo and Dee were able to have a good conversation (and fans everywhere were given hope that there will be some diversity in Fantastic Beasts after all), the topic is far from closed. A call for diversity is a vital issue for fans to lend their passion to because when we work together, we really can make a difference in the world. All fans should hope for – and demand – a more inclusive representation of the magical world we all love so well. Let’s hope we get to see part of it in Fantastic Beasts.

The header image is cropped from art by Tumblr user Batcii.

  • frfr

    who cares?

    • Lel


  • Angela

    It’s beyond ridiculous that this is an issue. So sick of the “race” issue. Get over it.

    • thebravestheart

      Pretty sure only white people put the word race in scare quotes.

      • Emerald

        “Race.” There you go. A non-white person did it.

  • Slytherclaw

    Totally agree with Angela and frfr. Rowling is a white woman and most of her characters are going to reflect that because you write what you know. Not to mention, the Newt story is dated 70 years ago when England and the USA were not as diverse as they are currently. The race of the characters should not matter in the least because the story and personality of the characters should drive a viewer’s interest. I watch anime all the time and still love every character despite the fact that I’m not Asian and they will never be white characters. Anime, by its virtue of being Japanese, rarely if ever feature characters of another race, white or otherwise. Books or movies by other races tend to put themselves at the forefront regardless of who else exists in the world. Stop harassing Rowling and everyone else about this issue.

    • tbp

      It is utterly preposterous to claim that England was not “as diverse” 70 years before Harry Potter. 1897 (the year of Newt’s birth) is also the year of Queen Victoria’s jubilee – do you not think it possible Britain at the height of its Empire will experience high rates of immigration (as well as emigration)? Surely it is entirely possible that England had, at the very least, a strong Indian presence particularly from high ranking and privileged backgrounds. If your only objection to a non-white casting of Newt is a misguided and unfounded sense of ~~ historical accuracy, then I assume this will put that argument to rest as an Indian (or even Jamaican perhaps) Newt is not out of the bounds of history.

      In any case I wonder if “the race of the characters should not matter” then why are you so against the possibility of a non-white casting??

      • This is a non-issue

        tbp, Slytherclaw does not seem to be against the possibility of non-white casting at all, you must be reading into what s/he has written. In fact, Slytherclaw states that Rowling writes more in regards to what she knows. If she decides to write 99% of her characters black and only the ones that have already been cast white then that’s her prerogative. If she decides to do the opposite that is fine as well. What is bothersome is that people keep harassing authors (be it of novels, television programs, movies, etc.) for the forced inclusion of other races. So long as she makes a good story, with a great plot, and good characters, their ethnicity is irrelevant.

        Furthermore, one can never truly appease everyone as one might include all ethnicities and someone is still going to complain that it does not truly represent the ethnicity appropriately. So let’s just let Rowling do what she does, which is create compelling characters in a fantastic world.

        • Lisa

          Are you by any chance white? Who decides what is or isn’t an issue and what gives you the right to decide that? You can state your opinion, sure, but you don’t get to decide whether non-white people should or shouldn’t get upset about the all-white casting of a movie. HP has many non-white fans and they have the right to feel represented and to be given characters they can relate to. If someone has a problem with that, well, no one is forcing them to read these articles. A girl asked Rowling a question on Twitter. Rowling replied. What’s the problem? Why shouldn’t she ask it? As a non-white fan (judging from the tiny picture) she has the right to know why people like her weren’t included. So stop thinking that you as a white person have the right to be represented in movies but that it’s a privilege for other ethnicities. “Someone will always complain” So what? Should we just give up and make all characters white because that’s the default option?

          • Emerald

            I’m not white and I found myself relating to many (presumably, considering various canon factors as well as the fact that they were cast as white in the movies) white characters. I’m sure that you’ve found yourself relating to characters of other races or cultures as well. I honestly don’t see why the f*** race matters. What matters to me, as a fan, is a compelling story and endearing characters. Who cares if they are black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, whatever? If what race they are makes a difference to you, no matter positive or negative, then you are racist. End of.

        • tbp

          It occurs to me that claims of “historical accuracy” and well as “writing to what she knows” are entirely ridiculous considering we are discussing a Wizarding World in which all manner of magical and fantastic beats exists that surely Rowling does not know?

          Furthermore, as far as I am aware no physical description of Newt was ever given within the Harry Potter books so the matter seems to be more that he was assumed white as default, which can be rather alienating, rather than any notion of fans unjustly harassing and demanding for a non-white casting.

          And I stand by my original comment. Its all well and good to make grand claims that “ethnicity is irrelevant” but it all seems pretty hypocritical when you reject the notion that non-white HP fans have a right to feel included and represented. If, as you claim, ethnicity does not matter, then surely they can be cast as non-white and it would STILL not matter? If it is a non-issue that Newt was cast as white would you also find it a non-issue if Newt was cast as Black?

          If the root of your issue is truly the harassment of authors on this topic then, as Lisa has pointed out, fans have the right to engage in critical conversations (which is certainly not the same as complaining) with the authors and nothing about the exchange above indicates harassment.

  • thebravestheart

    Why should anyone trust Rowling to wait and see on this? Obviously waiting and seeing means buying a ticket to this movie, will she be personally offering refunds to the people who aren’t satisfied by the ancillary characters of color she’s alluding to? She’s done nothing to earn the benefit of the doubt from fans of color, and neither has Warner Brothers. It’s pretty disrespectful to ask these people asking these important questions to trust them when they’ve done nothing to earn it.

  • I sure hope there are more POC in Fantastic Beasts. It’s nonsense that there weren’t so many non-white people at the time. It’s way after Britain abolished slavery, so black people would be there, and so would be people from the then-territories. And yes, HP movies are terribly white-washed – I feel like the people who say they’re not “because Britain is predominantly white” in their YouTube comments must have never been to Britain.

    • Emerald

      I have lived in Britain my entire life and am not white myself and can, confidently, say that Britain is predominantly white. Just because London is one of the most racially and culturally diverse places on Earth, it does not mean that it does not have one race which has a far more vast population than the others.

  • Mithrandir Greyholm

    If people want a magic book filled with people of color than why don’t they write one? Instead of whining about it!

  • Dale Huxley

    The books seem to be a fairly accurate representation. The main characters are all white, but other than that there is diversity. People need to remember that a piece of literature needs to be analysed in the context of the author, not that of the reader. So don’t judge the lack of diversity based on you living in a more multicultural society. Rowling grew up in the UK and her own experiences would have shaped the HP Universe. Maybe if she grew up in more multicultural areas she would have had more people of colour in the books. A chinese novel will likely have mostly chinese characters in it. A novel by a Londoner will likely be more ethnically inclusive than a novel written by someone from a rural, monocultural area. The books are not about race, they are about magical Brits. And as a British citizen (not from a major city) I can honestly say that Rowlings representation matches my own experiences quite closely – mostly white people. So if you aren’t from the UK your condemnation is baseless and your opinion irrelevant. If you are from the UK and you find the books non inclusive, I suggest you visit Cornwall and you will soon realise that not all regions are as multicultural and therefore accurate representation is COMPLETELY DEPENDANT ON CONTEXT even within one country. Finally, I would like to speculate that witches and wizards in the Harry Potter Universe would be less likely to immigrate to England anyway due to the fact that the magical world is hidden and therefore the magical community itself is separated from muggle society and its problems. This would surely remove the main drivers of immigration (war, poverty etc.). Therefore the post WW2 cultural boom would have less impact on the magical world. My speculation may be incorrect, but at least I applied logic: I didn’t just apply an unrelated personal context to a made up world and claim there are too many white people in it.