J.K. Rowling using Fantastic Beasts to send a political message?


According to interviews with the producers of Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them, writer J.K. Rowling imbued the script with political import.

The Harry Potter saga was never an explicitly political story, but it was no secret, for example, that Voldemort and his Death Eaters resembled Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. Politics have always run under the surface of the story, and that looks like it’ll continue with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, according to a new article in The New York Times.

“Things are happening now that are extreme and extraordinary in some way,” said David Yates, the film’s director. “[A]nd to not reflect that or to explore those things seems to be a missed opportunity, especially as our film is going to reach so many people.”

What extreme things is Yates referring to? J.K. Rowling has made no secret about her views on important issues of the day, from the Brexit vote (she opposed Brexit) to Donald Trump’s political ascendency in the United States. (Rowling called him “fascist in all but name” in an essay published earlier this year.) According to her collaborators, her concerns about the increasing tide of nationalism made their way into the Fantastic Beasts script. “As a writer, she’s seeing the world take a different shape in front of her eyes,” Yates said, “which inevitably imbues itself on the subconscious and pours out into the writing.”

(Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty Images)

Producer David Heyman described the movie as having an “incredibly humanist message,” but reflected that any political concerns it has aren’t new for Rowling.

"The Malfoys and Voldemort were echoes of Nazis. These are themes of Jo’s that have interested her forever. Now maybe it feels more acute or more relevant, but I don’t think we set out to make a political film with a capital P. This is an entertainment with themes that resonate across time. Alas, some of the issues we face in this film are timeless."

Yates also took care to point out that Fantastic Beasts is meant to be entertaining first, but that at its core, is “fundamentally about how communities learn to live with each other or end up destroying each other.” That’s something that will continue into the film’s four sequels.

"The stories going forward have that ambition, in a way that’s not too earnest, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. There are enough negative values put out into the world, it would seem like a shame not to push out some good ones."

Speaking of the Fantastic Beasts sequel, which I am tentatively calling More Fantastic Beasts and Where Else to Find Them, Yates hinted at the kind of villain our heroes will be facing.

"Unlike Voldemort, who was an angry brute, the next iteration is much more lethal. He wants to win the hearts and minds in a way that’s quite beguiling and sophisticated, but his values are dangerous."

Who is Yates talking about? Based on trailers, we may get up close and personal with Gellert Grindelwald, a dark wizard who plays a small part in the Harry Potter books and is rising to power in the ’20s, when the first Fantastic Beasts film is set. Whoever this figure is, he’ll be “able through sheer charisma and ability to inspire and hypnotize and carry the crowd, and take the world to a darker place. That’s where the next story is going.”

Draw whatever parallels to real-life figures you want.

Next: Fantastic Beasts posters blanket Times Square

Yates also talks a little more generally about the movie. Apparently, Rowling’s script went through a few rewrites before it struck the right tone. The first draft was “predominantly dark and intense and fundamentally more serious,” he said. Later, it became “very broad and playful, and that felt quite young.” But that also made it feel like they were “just remaking the earlier films.” Sooner or later, Rowling found the middle ground. We’ll all to see where she landed on November 18.