Fantastic Beasts 2 offensively mishandles its World War II imagery

FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALDCopyright: © 2018 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC.Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. PicturesCaption: A scene from Warner Bros. Pictures' fantasy adventure "FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALDCopyright: © 2018 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC.Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. PicturesCaption: A scene from Warner Bros. Pictures' fantasy adventure "FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. /

Harry Potter has always been an allegory for the dangers of intolerance, but Fantastic Beasts 2 took the metaphor too far.

This post contains light spoilers for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a creative failure in almost every conceivable way. It’s also the only Harry Potter property that can be legitimately considered offensive.

There’s frankly a lot to be offended by here, especially how distracting it is to watch alleged wife-beater Johnny Depp as Grindelwald and, more importantly, how even the most hardcore Potter-heads will be constantly scratching their heads at what the hell is going on for large stretches of the movie. If we’re confused, one can only imagine how casual fans will feel.

But, after careful consideration, the most offensive part of this movie is its apparent disregard for muggle — specifically Jewish — history. This is the first time a Harry Potter story has ever tried to tie itself into real-world events, and it’s clear screenwriter J.K. Rowling overestimated her ability to pull this off.

She also happened to ruin one of the first Fantastic Beasts‘ most fun characters in the process.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald takes place in 1927, notably between the end of World War I and the beginning of World War II. Though the first film was set in the United States, this one moves the action to the United Kingdom and France.

For the uninitiated, the original Harry Potter saga served as an elaborate metaphor for how racism and intolerance can tear a society apart. Voldemort, its main antagonist, was intent on creating a world where wizards — only pure-blooded ones, to be exact — ruled over muggles and those with muddled magical ancestry with an iron fist.

Grindelwald’s plan is essentially the same, and the bulk of Fantastic Beasts 2 involves him recruiting Death Eater-like followers who also believe in that singular goal. The way he goes about it, though, should be offensive to anyone with knowledge of the atrocities committed during WWII.

The climax of the film occurs at a meeting Grindelwald holds to convince those potentially interested in joining his cause to commit to his mission. It’s a large, dark amphitheater packed with mostly pure-blooded wizards already wary of their changing roles in both wizarding and muggle society. Sound familiar?

One of the tactics he uses to play into those bubbling fears is to show them all images of what at least appears to be the advent of World War II. Anyone who’s seen a war movie will immediately recognize the trenches and fighter planes that strike fear into the hearts of everyone in attendance, including Jacob Kowalski, ostensibly the only muggle at the gathering.

“Not another war,” he says, terror making his voice shake.

Using the threat of another large-scale muggle war to make wizards afraid of their magic-less counterparts is a brilliant propaganda tactic on Grindelwad’s part. The trouble is he also shows what looks like a group of people dressed in black being led on what anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the Holocaust will recognize as a death march.

It’s one thing for the Harry Potter franchise to traffic in allegories for Nazis, but it’s another thing entirely to show them on screen. Showing Jews being led to slaughter isn’t the same as Harry and Hermione infiltrating an interrogation of a presumed mudblood in Deathly Hallows. It’s a jarring juxtaposition that is more offensive than useful in illuminating Grindelwald’s ambitions.

It’s worth noting that the scene could also be read as muggles leading witches and wizards to their deaths, which is basically the scenario Grindelwald is trying to implant in his minions’ brains. But when you evoke WWII imagery in your film, you have to take its implications and associations in your audience’s mind into account. Either way, it’s a gross miscalculation on the part of the Fantastic Beasts 2 decision-makers.

That’s not even the worst of it. Here’s BuzzFeed reporters Julia Reinstein and Alanna Bennett (the latter of who wrote a brilliantly scathing review of this dreadful film) laying out the most offensive thing to take place in Fantastic Beasts 2.

That’s right: Queenie Goldstein — a sweet, flighty, Jewish mind-reader — ultimately turned into the wizarding equivalent of a Nazi. This came just a few weeks after a mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh and during an era when reported anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise. The timing does Fantastic Beasts 2 no favors, but it’s still an incredibly tone-deaf character beat.

Her motivations don’t hold up under much scrutiny either. Earlier in the film, she had expressed her dismay that her lover Jacob won’t marry her. He reasonably reminded her that he would marry her in a heartbeat, but wizarding society frowns upon wizard-muggle relationships. He didn’t want to open either of them up to that kind of persecution.

During the climax, Grindelwald tells all who support him to step forward and become a member of his Death Eater-lite group. Queenie starts walking toward him, and Jacob desperately tries to convince her otherwise. She says that in the world Grindelwald is trying to build, they can be together freely. Jacob can’t believe she bought into the propaganda and calls her crazy. She balks, and runs to Grindelwald’s side.

A Jewish character choosing to help a Hitler-like figure out of love is as dark a moment as the Harry Potter franchise has ever presented. It’s a flimsy motivation on its surface, and becomes even more problematic when you remember Queenie can read minds and should be able to discern Grindelwald’s true intentions.

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The Fantastic Beasts franchise is at a crossroads. So far, it’s given us one mediocre but fun romp and an anger-inducing and downright offensive film to mull over as the next three entries in the planned five-film series are constructed. No Harry Potter fan over the age of 10 should be excited more Fantastic Beasts films after this cinematic abomination. Warner Bros. and J.K. Rowling should seriously consider quitting while they’re behind.

If they do insist on proceeding with more Fantastic Beasts films, they better start crafting movies that don’t actively make large segments of the Harry Potter fan base angry. Evoking WWII imagery to highlight your villain’s plan is clearly not the correct course of action going forward.

J.K. Rowling: On behalf of Jewish Harry Potter fans, keep Nazis out of this story please. We have to deal with them every day in real life; the last place we want to worry about them is in the wizarding world.