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New ‘Fantastic Beasts’ film sparks dispute over casting of Korean actress as ‘pet snake’

By Yim Hyun-su

  • Published : Sept 30, 2018 - 15:02
  • Updated : Sept 30, 2018 - 15:02

The casting of South Korean actress Claudia Kim as Lord Voldemort’s pet snake in the latest installment of the “Fantastic Beasts” series has sparked yet another debate over typecasting in Hollywood.

Kim, whose Korean name is Soo-hyun, sounded excited Tuesday when she revealed on her Instagram account that she would appear in the upcoming Harry Potter spinoff “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” as Nagini, originally described as Lord Voldemort’s right-hand snake in the books and films.

However, the news that the submissive snake character will take the form of a young Asian woman in the high-profile film has landed the actress in headlines, drawing criticism over what many see as a “politically insensitive” casting choice.

Claudia Kim is pictured during Comic Con International in San Diego, in July. (EPA-Yonhap)
On Wednesday, Twitter saw a flurry of heated posts between a fan and J.K. Rowling, the author of the “Harry Potter” series, over the casting decision.

“Listen Joanne, we get it, you didn’t include enough representation when you wrote the books,” one Twitter user said, slamming the decision. “But suddenly making Nagini into a Korean woman is garbage.”

Rowling hit back in a Twitter post saying, “The Naga are snake-like mythical creatures of Indonesian mythology, hence the name ‘Nagini.’ They are sometimes depicted as winged, sometimes as half-human, half-snake.”

The criticism stems from racial stereotypes in Hollywood and the West that Asian women are submissive. Mantis, a fictional superheroine from the “Guardians of the Galaxy” series, also faced similar criticism for perpetuating submissive and exotic female Asian stereotypes.

Some came to Rowling’s defense including American actor Macaulay Culkin.

“Nagini can be whatever she wants to be! She’s a strong woman/snake,” the actor wrote on Twitter, lending support to Rowling’s view.

Nagini, played by Claudia Kim, appears in a captured image from the trailer for “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald”. (YouTube)
Some Koreans refrained from jumping to conclusions. A user of the country’s biggest web portal Naver asked, “Does nationality really matter when it comes to acting?”

The “Fantastic Beasts” series has had no shortage of controversy. In 2016, when the first installment, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” was released, the film’s all white cast came under fire despite the “Harry Potter” books enjoying unprecedented global success.

Last December, Rowling had to defend the casting of Johnny Depp as Grindelwald after domestic violence allegations surrounding the actor emerged.

While acknowledging concerns, the author said in a statement that she and the filmmakers would keep their original casting based on their understanding of the circumstances.

In 2017, popular US animated series “The Simpsons” came under similar criticism after documentary film “The Problem with Apu” starring comedian Hari Kondabolu took issue with the show’s Indian character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon.

Shopkeeper Apu, voiced by white actor Hank Azaria with a thick accent, was accused of being a racial caricature and has been slammed by South Asians as providing material for bullying.

The controversy over Nagini’s casting comes just over a month before the new “Fantastic Beasts” film hits the big screen in the US on Nov. 16.

By Yim Hyun-su (hyunsu@heraldcorp.com)

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