NYCC Panels Inspire Discussion on Latinx Representation in “Fantastic Beasts”
After attending New York Comic Con virtually this year and viewing a variety of panels, two stood out in my head in the week that followed: “Feathered Serpents, Brujas, and Sugar Skulls: Understanding LatinX Representation in Pop Culture” and “Beyond Latinx: Diversity and Intersectionality in Media Representation.” The knowledge that Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore will take place in different parts of Asia left me wondering if future installments will continue to take us around the globe. One of the next places to explore is Latin America, and the NYCC panels gave me an idea of how such an exploration can, or should, take place within the franchise.
“Feathered Serpents, Brujas, and Sugar Skulls: Understanding LatinX Representation in Pop Culture” provided insight into how little representation there is in the media today. Dr. Joe Sanchez, a professor at Queens College, cited that from 2007 to 2019, only 4.5% of speaking characters in films were Latinx. This statistic continued to rattle around in my head, especially after Dr. Sanchez followed up with the fact that a quarter of frequent moviegoers identify as Latinx. Featuring Latin American countries and characters in a future Fantastic Beasts installment could mean providing more representation for a community that makes up a significant percentage of moviegoers, but there is concern over who would be writing that representation.
Mexican-American author David Bowles cited that around 20% of literature developed for children and teenagers today features people of color, and only half of the books featuring characters of color are written by authors of color. J.K. Rowling is not an author of color, and she has received criticism over how she handles other cultures, like her use of Native American culture, in the past. While there is some Latinx representation in the franchise, how she would expand it is of concern. A slight expansion of that representation appeared in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald with the inclusion of the chupacabra, a creature present in Puerto Rican folklore. The chupacabra we see is a baby and vaguely meets the folklore description. However, it was cast aside when Grindelwald threw the creature out of a carriage mere minutes after its introduction. Is this foreshadowing how Latin American culture could continue to be portrayed in Fantastic Beasts?
“Beyond Latinx: Diversity and Intersectionality in Media Representation” discussed the representation that members of the community would like to see. Mario de la Cruz, a college professor, discussed that representation “is not who’s on-screen but who’s behind the camera.” In order to achieve something beyond the common, stereotyped depictions, representation is needed on all sides. If Rowling were to expand her inclusion of Latin American culture, it would be best for her to work with writers and creators in the community to develop characters and narratives that don’t follow the traditional norms given to them. Members of the community have been included behind the camera before, namely the director of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Alfonso Cuarón, but including them in the writing process would be ideal.
Cassandra Curbelo also made the point that including Latinx characters and stories is not restricted to Latin American countries. Including these characters in places we may not “expect” to see them, speaking languages other than Spanish or Portuguese, creates new stories for audiences to experience. This means Fantastic Beasts never has to take place in a Latin American country to further include their stories in the franchise.
These NYCC panels provide a roadmap for successful, accurate, and inclusive representation of Latinx communities in media, including an idea of how this representation could and should look in future Fantastic Beasts films. Should Rowling include Latin American folklore and culture in future films, this is how to do it.