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), to take on the political maneuverings of the newly transformed Gellert Grindelwald (previously played by Johnny Depp, but now 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. The first film, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” took the wizarding world to the United States. “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” goes to Paris. But 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.
If you aren’t familiar with the two previous films, here’s a refresher.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)
The film begins in 1926 when the British wizard Newton “Newt” Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York City with a suitcase that deceptively appears to have nothing more than clothes, but actually contains magical creatures within an interior that expands once one enters. Newt is a magizoologist and when his suitcase is accidentally switched things become complicated. That might signal a slapstick comedy, but there’s more serious games afoot. Some of these magical creatures, such as the hoarding Niffler, escape. This is disastrous because the world of wizards are under fire by Muggledom.
Muggles/No-Maj are not allowed to marry witches and wizards. Magical creatures are illegal in the US. The laws of wizards is enforced by the Magical Congress of the United States, led by the President Seraphine Picquery (Carmen Ejogo). Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein thinks she has nabbed Newt in the act of breaking laws, but he turns out to only have a suitcase full of baked goods.
Aspiring baker and No-Maj/Muggle Jacob Kowalski (Dan Folger) ends up with Newt’s suitcase. Eventually, Newt and Jacob meet and together attempt to re-capture the escaped creatures. Through Tina, Jacob meets her sister, the mind-reading Queenie (Alison Sudol), and there’s chemistry there.
Newt and friends recapture two of the three escaped creatures, but the Director of Magical Security, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), believes that Newt is working with the dark magic wizard Gellert Grindelwald. Newt and Tina are sentenced to death, but rescued by Jacob and Queenie.
Graves asks the adoptive son of Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton), Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), to help find the remaining escapee, an Obscurus. The Obscurus is a parasite that grows within magically gifted kids when their abilities are suppressed, causing most to die before they become pre-teens. Mary Lou is the leader of the New Salem Philanthropic Society, an organization determined to exterminate all wizards and witches. This particular Obscurus is believed to have killed Senator Henry Shaw Jr. but there’s a different Obscurus lurking about and that’s the one responsible for Shaw’s death. That Obscurus kills Mary Lou and her eldest daughter, Chastity.
The Obscurus and Credence are all part of a plan by Graves to expose the magical community to the world with the intent of Newt taking the blame. The murderous Obscurus is hosted by Credence who joins forces with Graves. Graves, is actually Gellert Grindelwald in disguise. Newt is able to use a Thunderbird (which has been based in the US) to spread a potion in rain that makes the humans of NYC forget the events. In the end, Queenie kisses Jacob goodbye. Newt returns to England. Jacob opens a bakery with breads and pastries in the form of the magical beasts he saw. Queenie enters his bakery at the end and they share a smile.
The diversity here is Folger and Miller are Jewish. Carmen Ejogo is half Nigerian (father). Gemma Chan as Madam Ya Zhou who is a delegate to the International Confederation of Wizard, who meets with MACUSA (about the NYC 6 December 1926 disturbance that resulted in the death of No-Maj Senator Henry Shaw Jr.). Keep in mind that in 1926, the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) and the Immigration Act of 1924 limited Asian immigration were already in place. Ya Zhou (亚洲) is again, like Cho Chang, another weird Asian name because while Zhou could be a surname but Ya doesn’t seem like a surname or a given name.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)
The next year, 1927, the Magical Congress of the US extradites Grindelwald to Europe to stand trial in a carriage drawn by skeletal horses (Thestral), but Grindelwald escapes. Three months later, Newt, as a result of last year’s events, is under a travel ban. He appeals it at the Ministry of Magic, where his brother Theseus (Callum Turner) works. Theseus is in an Auror for the Department of Magical Law Enforcementand and fought in World War I. He is now engaged to Newt’s former classmate, Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz ), and hopes Newt will help track down Credence who is in Paris. Newt isn’t interested because he’d have to work with the bounty hunter Gunnar Grimmson.
However, Newt isn’t off the hook. Albus Dumbledore asks Newt to seek out Credence who he believes is Leta’s half-brother, Corvus Lestrange V.
Newt is then visited by Queenie with her fiancé, Jacob, but Newt quickly realizes that Jacob is under a spell. Queenie, after telling Newt that her sister Tina is seeing someone else under the mistaken belief that Newt is engaged to Leta, leaves Jacob and Newt to find Tina. Tina is in Paris looking for Credence.
Credence is also sought by Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam) who believes Credence is his half-brother whom he has sworn to kill. Yusuf’s father, Mustafa, made him swear an unbreakable vow to kills Corvus V because their mother, Lauren was kidnapped (using the Imperious Curse) and raped by Corvus Lestrange IV. She died giving birth.
In Paris Credence has made a friend Nagini (Claudia Kim) who is the main attraction in a tawdry circus’s freak show. Nagini can transform at will into a large snake and eventually that transformation will become permanent because she is a Maledictus who has a blood curse. (For those unfamiliar with the Harry Potter series, Nagini is the familiar snake of Voldemort. It is introduced in “Goblet of Fire.” )
While in Paris, Queenie is convinced by Grindelwald to join with him. Newt and Tina attempt to find documents about Credence’s identity at the French Ministry of Magic. They run into Leta and Theseus. Tina then learns that Leta is really engaged to Theseus. This foursome meets Yusuf and Leta reveals that the real Corvus V died voyaging to America because she switched him out for a quieter baby.
This quintet now go to a rally for Grindelwald. Grindelwald believes that the Wizarding World could prevent a future global war and it is the laws prohibiting them from dominating, killing or enslaving the No-Maj that keeps them from doing so. Grindelwald and his followers leave after killing some of the Auror and Queenie leaves with him for Nurmengard Castle in Austria. There Grindelwald reveals that Credence is Albus Dumbledore’s brother, Aurelius.
But Newt and his friends haven’t left empty-handed. Newt has stolen something from Grindelwald that he gives to Dumbledore at Hogwarts. The object is the embodiment of a blood pact between Grindelwald and Dumbledore, preventing them from killing each other.
For the diversity score, we now add Zoë Kravitz, who is Black, and Claudia Kim (a South Korean actress). William Nadylam is a Black French actor with roots in Africa and Asia (father from Cameroon and mother from India). Also a diversity diversion is the chupacabra (a legendary creature of the Americas) what manifests as a spiny, six-legged reptile what is Grindelwald’s pet at the beginning of the film. At the circus, we also see a kappa, that is described as a Japanese water demon. Newt and friends also meet with a zouwu (騶虞). And yet, none of the main roles are given to a Japanese, Latino or Chinese person in the Wizarding World.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore
The meaning of the vial of blood 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. He’s a more precise looking man with an 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.
We’ll have two teams: Team Dumbledore and Team Grindelwald.
Looking at these two candidates–Liu and Santos, guess who has the most lines? Guess who will win? 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 in an expanded role (compared to the last film), the optics are still White with some Black players. And that seems to follow the Doctor Strange strategy of White people obtaining magical secrets from Asia and making it better because of their White superiority.
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?
Can we mention the phrase: cultural appropriation? According to Britannica, “cultural appropriation takes place when members of a majority group adopt cultural elements of a minority group in an exploitative, disrespectful, or stereotypical way.” The Fantastic Beasts franchise is using East Asian animals as a bit of exoticism. While actors of East Asian descent are visible, as they were in the original Harry Potter series, they are marginalized even when the action moves to Asia. When the Harry Potter series was based in England, the portrayal of people of Asian descent was still problematic, but they are a minority in England and Great Britain. Asians are not a minority in Asia and that includes Bhutan and the mythical lands where the qilin would exist. I also think the qilin’s bowing action is more like a Western curtsey, but I’m know little about the customs of Bhutan.
If you can overlook this slight toward Asians in the diversity evaluation card, then this film moves briskly and engages more than the previous two. For dancers, there’s a charming reminder that one should never step on one’s dance partner, even if one is an arachnophobe. Arachnophobes might want to avoid this film or at least keep their eyes closed for a brief prison escape interlude. This film and itkends 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. What we have here is just more White tourism, expanded to include Black people as tourists.
“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.